First Rehearsal

Managing Rehearsals

Rehearsal Reports

Preparing for Tech

Technical Rehearsals

Dress Rehearsals

The length of the rehearsal phase of production can vary, but is usually six weeks long. By the time you enter the first rehearsal, you should be very familiar with the script, anticipated rehearsal needs, and organizational structure of environment in which you will be working. It is time to begin the process of transforming the play from a written script into a world of living characters.

The First Rehearsal

The first rehearsal usually consists of a read through of the play, director’s discussion of his/her vision of the play, design presentation, and discussion of administrative matters.

    The Read Through

A read through is exactly what it sounds like. The actors sit down together for the first time and read through the script from start to finish. As stage manager, it is your duty to make sure that everyone has copies of the scripts, and to time the read through. Timing the read through gives you a general idea of the least amount of time the play will run. As blocking and character development occur throughout the rehearsal process, the show’s run time will increase, but the read through’s run time gives you a ball park figure as to what to expect. You may be expected to read the written stage directions during the read through. Check with the director on this point prior to the beginning of this rehearsal.

    Design Presentations

If the designs are completed by the first rehearsal, there may be a design presentation. This is where designers (usually set and costume) display and explain their designs to the actors. These designs may be changed or modified as the play develops in rehearsal, but the presentation gives the actors a good idea of what the over all visual effect of the play will be./p>

    Administrative Matters

Administrative matters such as rehearsal schedule, are presented to the actors at the first rehearsal. Actors should be handed hardcopies of all information that they will need. Contact lists, rehearsal schedules, fact sheets, shop hour sheet, and any other information you have prepared should be handed out in packets. Shop hour requirements are also explained to the actors. The necessary number of shop hours required from each actor varies depending on student group and production. The actors should be made aware of the production web page (if one exists) and e-mail list, and that they need to notify you as soon as possible if an unexpected conflict arises with the schedule.

Managing Rehearsals

The saying that a stage manager is "the first to arrive and the last to leave" describes the attitude and actions of any good stage manger. You should be the first to arrive at the rehearsal or performance space and the last to leave it. From preparing the rehearsal or performance space to making sure it is locked, a stage manager is attentive to the needs of the director, actors, and technical staff. The trust placed in the stage manager by the entire company is a result of this reliability. However, like all things, trust must be earned. Skill in managing rehearsals will help you to earn the faith of the company from day one.

The following section discusses various aspects of managing rehearsals. While directing styles, rehearsals (staging, music, dance), and productions may vary, there are some generalities that hold constant in any production.

    Blocking Notation

A large part of stage managing a rehearsal is recording blocking. Even very preliminary blocking needs to be noted for later reference. Blocking will change a lot throughout the rehearsal process, and the director, actors, and technicians will need to be informed of the changes that effect them. Always take blocking notes in pencil, and have a large eraser handy.

There are many ways of record the blocking for a show. The optimal method is, obviously, the one which best allows you to record the necessary information for your production clearly and quickly. If you have not already, you will very likely develop your own personalized method of taking blocking. What you must remember is that others must be able to read and understand your blocking notes. This way if you are not present questions regarding blocking can still be easily resolved.

One method of taking blocking notes is to use stage direction notation. The stage can be divided into several areas such as "upstage right" or "downstage center". Stage directions are always given with regard to the point of view of the actor. Appendix E contains a simple reference for stage directions. In this style of blocking notation "X" is used to represent "crossed". Therefore "XDR" means that an actor has crossed down stage right. You can, of course, designate your own area names if these directions are not specific enough.

It may also be helpful to use points of reference. For example "X Window" means that the actor has just crossed to the window, a part of the set. Your blocking notation should include symbols for "sit" "stand" and symbols for each individual actor. A key should be developed and kept in your production book near your prompt script. Examples of blocking and keys are available on pages 41- 44.

To the inexperienced stage manger, trying to keep up with blocking in rehearsals may seem frustrating at first. Not to worry, with practice you will develop your own method and it will get easier.

    Prop Tracking

During the rehearsal process, it is to be expected that the placement and usage of props will change as the action of the play develops. The props will travel from one area of the stage to another and from one wing to the other as they are used. It is imperative that you know where the props are so that they can be made ready when an actor needs them during performances.

As the rehearsal process starts to enter its final stages, and the blocking becomes more solidified, you should begin do what is known as prop tracking. Prop tracking involves the formulation of a simple, clear sheet from which you can tell at a glance when props come onto the stage, how they get there, and how they come off. All pre-sets should be included in this list.

The prop tracking list becomes invaluable when technical rehearsals begin and during the show’s run. Examples of ways to format your prop tracking list are included at the end of this section (Figures 12 and 13). Remember that your entire run crew must also be able interpret the list so that the show will run smoothly, and props will not be misplaced.

    Rehearsal Cues

At some point during the rehearsal process, you will need to begin giving rehearsal cues. Cues, noted in the script or not, will effect an actor’s timing. Such things as telephone rings, or a sudden blackout all fall into the category of cues you will need to begin giving in rehearsal. These are all elements that a character reacts to, and events for which an actor must be prepared. You should discuss the giving of rehearsal cues with the director, and decide on a method that would most enhance the creative process.

When giving rehearsal cues, just reading the cue from the script, "phone rings", is not necessarily optimal. There is no sense of how long the ring is or how many times the phone rings. Actually making the ringing sound "brrrriiiinnnnnggg" will probably be of more help to the actors. Important light cues should also be read aloud. For example "lights up" and "lights out" at the beginning of a scene. If you are giving a verbal cue such as the phone ring remember to treat it very seriously, and not to laugh or even act as though it is out of the ordinary. If you don’t take the cue seriously, the actors won’t either, and you will break the moment and hinder the rehearsal.

Be consistent in your cue calling. Once you have started to read a cue, always read it unless the director has opted to omit it. An actor may depend on the cue to provide motivation, or as part the rhythm of the scene. Calling cues infrequently will only disrupt the concentration of the actor and director.

Other alternatives to giving verbal cues is to acquire rehearsal sounds. For example, a CD with sound effects would work fine. Make a great effort to use the same sounds that will be used in the actual performance. The closer rehearsals reflect what will be the final reality of a production, the easier and faster an actor will be able to adapt once rehearsals begin in the performance space.


Prompting (cueing the actors on their lines when they have forgotten them) is something that should be discussed with the director early on in the rehearsal process. As a rule, once actors are off book, an actor should only be prompted when s/he requests it by saying "line".

A stage manager should always be on book when the actors are not. If you have an assistant available to help you, make sure that s/he is on book in order to free you to take care of other matters in the rehearsal. If no assistant is available, following along in the script while you are taking blocking is also an effective way of staying on book.

Make sure that you are only prompting actors when you hear "line". This helps you to avoid giving them a line while they are experimenting with new ideas, and breaking their concentration. Lines should be given promptly so as not to interrupt the momentum of a scene. Often actors will only need a partial reading of their line in order to remember it.

Anytime you give a line or a verbal cue of any kind, make sure to speak loudly and clearly so that the actor can hear. The actor should not have to ask you to repeat what you just said because they could not understand you.

    Line Notes

Once an actor is off book, you should begin making note of the lines s/he misses, and give them to him/her after rehearsal. This way, an actor can identify trouble spots, and review specific sections of the script. Blank forms for line notes are included in Appendix C. The actual line note slips can be handed to an actor after rehearsal, or sent via e-mail.

If you notice that an actor is consistently missing a line, or having trouble memorizing a specific part of the script, offer to help them outside of rehearsal. If an actor is not in a scene currently being rehearsed, and you have an assistant at the rehearsal, your assistant can also run lines with the actor.

    Time Keeping

Throughout the rehearsal process you will need to keep careful track of the running time of the show, acts, scenes, and even smaller sections of the performance. This information will help the director determine the final running time of the show, and aid in his/her directorial process.

Others to whom this information is vitally important include house management and the lighting and sound designers. Timing plays an extremely important role in both designs and you should be prepared to answer any number of questions regarding the length of different pieces of the play. A stop watch is provided in the stage management kits at Rinaldi. If you do not have access to a stop watch, make sure you have a watch with a second hand at every rehearsal.

It is also your responsibility to keep track of the length of the rehearsal itself, as well as any breaks. For example, if the director tells the actors to take a five minute break, it is your responsibility to let the actors know when their five minutes are finished, and they are to return to rehearsal. Many directors will lose track of time, and it is the stage manager’s job to keep them on schedule using gentle reminders. By keeping careful track of time, you help the director and your actors. As the end of rehearsal nears, find a convenient time to inform the director of how much time s/he has remaining in the rehearsal. The director will be able to pace the rest of rehearsal, and your gesture will be greatly appreciated. If a rehearsal is running over time, you may be hindering the actors by eating into time that they had planned to use for their studies or another activities. If a rehearsal runs significantly over time, it is your job to politely inform the director. Some times the actors will opt to continue working, but it is always best to give them the option.

Rehearsal Reports

One of the key elements of keeping the lines of communication open throughout the rehearsal processes is the daily rehearsal report. Rehearsal reports must be sent out after every rehearsal, even if there are no new developments to report. Rehearsal reports can be sent via e-mail to all production staff, the producers, and the director. The stage manager should also have a hard copy of all production notes in his/her prompt book. It is often very helpful to be able to refer back to previous rehearsal reports, especially for the designers.

The rehearsal report should consist of separate sections for all technical aspects of the play. An example of a rehearsal notes form is included at the end of this section. Any format that works best for you can be used, but remember that all rehearsal notes should be kept concise and to the point. In the template for the production web page, there is included a web based rehearsal notes form, which allows you to easily send out rehearsal notes over e-mail.

What do you include in each section? What kind of information is it important for each technical department to know? Below are suggestions as to the kinds of things that you would want to include in each section of your notes. These are by all means not the only things that should be included, but will give you a good idea as to what is expected. If you have no notes to include in a section, simply write "no report". The following list was composed by the Rinaldi staff for their fall 2000 stage management workshop.

Your report to all departments include:
  • Any script changes, additions, or cuts.
  • Any changes in the production week schedule (these changes must be approved by the technical director)
  • Any particularly athletic or tumultuous movement (i.e. "The actor stands on the table.")
  • Any additional characters the director has added to the play
  • Any problems concerning rooms, CAC, late actors, etc.
  • Changes in the rehearsal schedule
  • The next day’s rehearsal schedule.
  • Activities unspecific to the script (i.e. The characters have a picnic)
  • Any sex changes to characters. (i.e. Much Ado About Nothing’s Dogberry has been cross cast. Will the character be played as female or male?)
  • Quick changes and where they will be happening.
  • Run crew needs
  • Any damage that has occurred to props, costumes, set pieces, etc.
Report to Sets:
  • Any movement that may require special set considerations
  • Any leaning, slamming, or opening of practicals
  • Changes in furniture requirements or usage
  • Food needs
Report to Costumes:
  • Any movement that may require special costume considerations (i.e. going up a step unit in kimonos, sitting on the floor in period clothes, or the need for knee pads)
  • New costume needs (Be specific as possible. There are many kind of "hats" but "a beat up old gray fedora" is much more specific)
  • Items that will be handled. Include size, how they are handled, if it is stored in a pocket, and how it is put away.
    • For example: a character is told to look at his pocket watch in rehearsal, you know that 1- the character will need a pocket watch, and 2- he also needs a pocket in which to put the watch.
    • Another example: a character hides a map somewhere on his person, you know that 1- properties needs to provide a map (and need to know what kind of map), and 2- both properties and costumes need to know where the map is hidden.
  • Any cut or addition of props or costume accessories
  • The usage of practicals or perishables such as food or cigarettes
  • Places in the script where clothing will need to be distressed (i.e. rips, tears, "wear", filth)
  • Any use of blood
  • Any garments (like an overcoat) of which the character disposes
  • Any costume changes that will occur on stage.
Report to Properties:
  • Any new props that are needed
  • Be as specific as possible when requesting new props. Include the number, size, usage, and classification in your description.
  • Any prop cuts
  • How the props are handled
  • Any usage of food, blood, cigarettes or practicals
Report to Lights:
  • Any use of practicals
  • Cue lights you may need backstage
  • Any time an actor breaks the proscenium arch
  • Usage of unusual parts of the theater
  • Times of day discussed in rehearsal
Report to Sound:
  • Any cuts or addition of sound cues
  • Background sound the director may want to add
  • Any comments on sounds that start or stop with a visual cue (i.e. the character’s piano playing is interrupted suddenly.)
Report to the theater arts administrative assistant:
  • Any rehearsal space cancellations

What kind of things should not be included in the rehearsal report? Rehearsal notes should not contain blocking notes unless they are directly related to design alterations that designers and technical crews may have to handle. Costume notes given by actors should also not be included. Actors may come up to you saying "I need a ___" or "This needs to be fixed." But the actors should be made to understand that all design notes must come through the director, and that if they have comments or suggestions, they should discuss them with the director. Of course, if an item becomes damaged in some way, for example, a skirt gets snagged and rips, the note must be given to the costume designer. This however does not involve modification of the actual costume design. All creative decisions must be referred to and approved by the director.

Preparing for Dress and Technical Rehearsals

Because at MIT the average amount of time between put-in, and a show’s opening is a week or less, it is very important to be as well prepared and organized as possible for technical rehearsals. What is known as "hell week" (named thus because of the amount of work, and often frustration, involved in bringing all elements of a theatrical production together) begins with Put-in, and ends with the opening night performance.

The process of put-in involves moving the set from the shop and installing it in the theater. The lighting equipment must be hung, and props and costumes transported from Rinaldi. This process is a great deal of work, and many hands are needed to help. At MIT, it is a requirement that all actors help with put-in. They should have been informed of this at auditions, had the date pointed out to them on their rehearsal schedules, and reminded as the time for put-in drew near. It is the duty of the stage manager to ask those in charge of the various crews how many actors they will need and for how long, and then schedule actors accordingly. There may also be a preference described by some crews. For example, lights may specify that they would like to work with actors who have had some previous experience hanging lights, and are not afraid of heights. A sign up sheet should be passed around at rehearsal, and the final schedule should be passed on to the technical director.

    Stage Managment Areas

Once the set has been put into the theater, and with the go ahead of the technical director, you can begin to prepare your areas of the theater. This would include the prop table, backstage, off stage costume change booths, your area in the booth or stage management table, and green room area.

    Prop Table

The prop table should be located where actors can easily access it, and be lit just enough so that they can easily find the prop they need. If your prop tracking was done carefully, it should be a simple matter to determine your prop preparation needs.

The prop table should be divided into sections using tape. All sections should be clearly marked so that each prop has its place (see Figure 14). Before every rehearsal and performance, the prop table should be checked and double checked to make sure that no props are missing. A well sectioned off and clearly labeled table allows you to identify any missing props at a glance. At the end of each performance, all props should be returned to their proper place on the table, or locked up securely if classified as valuable or irreplaceable.


The backstage area is also your charge as stage manger. You must make absolute sure that it is safe for actors and technical crews. Glow tape any areas that may be tripped over or bumped into in the dim backstage light. For example, backstage stairs should be clearly marked by placing a long piece of white tape at each step’s edge, and the center and sides of the edge marked with pieces of glow tape. All cables running along the floor should be secured and covered with gaff tape. These cables should also be clearly identifiable so actors do not trip over them. If you have any doubts as to whether an item needs to be glow taped, tape it.

Both the stage and backstage area should be swept before every show. Special care should be taken to search for stray screws, staples, etc. that may have escaped notice after put-in. This is especially important if actors will be barefoot or in socks on stage. Safety is a primary concern of any stage manager.

    Off Stage costume Change Booths

The location of off stage costume change booths should be decided upon by you, the Technical Director, and Costume Designer. You should also consult the Costume Designer about any basic needs that s/he might have (i.e. mirrors, tables, chairs, screens, etc.).

    The Booth

The booth or stage management table is the place from which you will be managing the rest of rehearsals, and calling the shows. In some cases you may not be able to move into the booth until after the bulk of the technical rehearsals have been finished, but because Little Theater and La Sala both have easily accessible booths, this should not be a problem. From wherever you are to be sitting during technical rehearsals, you should have a way to communicate with the actors on and off stage, the stage crew, lighting board operator, sound board operator, and director. You should have plenty of space on which to put your production book, any other necessary records you will need to run the technical rehearsal and performances, and a place to write.

    Green Room

A green room area may or may not be available to the actors. Generally this area is a small section of the dressing room where water and other refreshments can be placed. If a separate room is available, put all refreshments in there, and not in the dressing rooms. Keeping this area organized and clean is a must. Initial set up of this area may include setting out plastic cups, napkins, etc.

    Managing Rehearsals

Although stage management is only directly responsible for overseeing the set up of their specific areas, it is the stage manager’s responsibility to manage the actors and notify the proper people of any problems with technical aspects of the show. Because of this, it is best to begin several practices that will carry over into the run of the show. You will want to post a sign-in sheet for actors, and create a pre-performance check list. Both of these items are covered in the "Pre-performance preparation" section of this manual.

    Taping the Floor

Once the set is in place and the floor painted, you will want to lay down spike marks. Spiking is the process of laying down small pieces of tape to indicate the placement of props or set pieces. This is especially important for any set pieces that move. All spike marks should be clearly marked with a felt tip marker, and taped over with a small piece of packaging tape. Covering the spike mark with this clear tape keeps the mark from coming up and you will not have to replace it as often. Throughout the technical rehearsal processes you should never be without spike tape, and the stage crew should also have easy access to tape.

If the placement of the item you are spiking has to be handled by an actor, or in dim light, it is a good idea to use bright spike tape. If the object must be set in a blackout, use glow tape. However, if your stage hands will be setting the object in a preset or at intermission, you can probably use spike tape that is closer to the color of the floor. Prior to the beginning of the technical rehearsals, you will want to walk the director through the stage area, explaining to him/her exactly where and what everything is regarding the set etc.

If you are unable to have specific spike marks measured before moving into the theater, due to the fact that you have not been rehearsing in a space that has lent itself to accurately measuring the location of objects in the rehearsal room with precision, you will have to take time during the first technical rehearsals, to have the director approve of the placement of objects, and spike as you go along.

    Dress Parade

The dress parade, scheduled at the beginning of the rehearsal processes, also usually occurs just prior to or within this final week of rehearsals. The actors wear their costumes, if possible on the set with performance lighting conditions, and the director and costume designer discuss any necessary changes or improvements that need to be made to the costumes. This is very likely the first time that the director will see the costumes as they appear on the actors, and each actor should be viewed individually, as well as part of the group. (The dress parade may not be necessary if the director has already seen all the costumes. Check with the costume designer and director to determine if this will be necessary.)

    Paper Tech

A paper tech is the time in which the stage manager, director, and designers sit down to finalize the technical functions of the performance. Here all cues are defined and recorded in their appropriate place on a master cue sheet and in the prompt book. All elements such as lights, sound, curtain, scene changes, special effects, and quick changes should be noted in this meeting.

Cues should be numbered and clearly printed in pencil at the appropriate places in your prompt book. If there is more than one element that needs to be cued, the elements are numbered/lettered separately and given a letter designation (Using letters for sound cues and numbers for light cues can help alleviate confusion). For example, a lighting cue might be designated as "L-17" and a sound cue may be "S-G". These lighting and sound cues are then called as "Lights 19" and "Sound G". Each technical element is given its own designating letter (i.e. L for lights, S for sound, etc.). It is very likely that the exact placement of these cues will change during the upcoming technical rehearsals, but by holding a paper tech, the bulk of cue placement is done and will help the technical rehearsals move along much more smoothly.

After the paper tech, and before beginning your first technical rehearsal, make sure to take the time to write in warnings or "standby"s for the cues you have just acquired. "Standby"s are given a short time before the actual cue is called and ensures the person awaiting the cue is prepared to execute it. For example, "Ready Lights 25". "Lights 25- Go" would be the sequence given for a lighting cue. Warnings and "Go"s should be clearly marked and easily distinguished in your prompt book.

Technical Rehearsals

The first technical rehearsal marks the final stage of the rehearsal process in theatrical productions at MIT. It also marks a shift in your role as stage manager. Although up until now you were responsible for organizing and overseeing the rehearsal process, the control of the show was completely in the hands of the director. Beginning with the technical rehearsals, the production becomes almost entirely yours. This transference of authority is complete with the opening of the show’s run. It is now your responsibility to run rehearsals. The director, actors, and technicians will all look to you to keep the rehearsals moving along, and oversee the run of the show.

There are three kinds of technical rehearsals that are common to theatrical productions: Dry Tech, Cue-to-Cue, and Wet Tech. Each is discussed in detail below.

    Dry Tech

A dry tech is a technical rehearsal done without actors present. The technical aspects are rehearsed and specific problems worked out. This is a great opportunity for run crews to become familiar with scene changes and the operation of trap doors, curtains, etc. For example, a dry tech may give a crew member the chance to figure out how to manipulate a large prop through a trap door. Unfortunately, in the time squeeze characteristic of the technical schedule, there is rarely time to arrange a full dry tech. However, a scene shift rehearsal or partial dry tech is sometimes scheduled for a time prior to the start of actor attended rehearsal.


One type of technical rehearsal is called a cue-to-cue. The name originates from the fact that a cue-to-cue literally moves from one cue to another, and may skip over much of the text of the script. The rehearsal is used to rehearse and adjust lighting and all other applicable cues accordingly. A cue-to-cue can certainly be done without actors present. However, it is usually done with them on stage in order to set the timing of cues etc.

    Wet Tech

A technical rehearsal with actors present is called a wet tech. The actors are not generally required to wear costumes or makeup during a wet tech unless quick changes or special makeup effects need to be rehearsed. Actors are expected to speak in the stage voices they intend to use during the performance so that sound levels on microphones or sound effects can be set. However, an all out performance effort is not generally required, or even possible to achieve. The scenes are often interrupted and repeated in order to adjust lights, sound, etc. Technical rehearsals can often be long and frustration is not uncommon. Make sure that you assure the actors that you understand they are tired, and thank everyone involved for their patience and hard work.

Please note that a wet tech is not a staging rehearsal. Some directors may want to make changes in staging, or coach the actors in their scenes. This is entirely appropriate if lights needs to be adjusted, or the rehearsal has stopped for some other reason. Allowing the director the freedom to work with actors for a short amount of time is a perfectly valid option. However if the direction is obviously holding up the process of the tech rehearsal, you should politely inform the director that the rehearsal must move on, and take a note of the scene in case the director wants to work on it later. Most directors will respect the fact that the technical rehearsal must continue in an efficient manner, and allow the rehearsal to continue.

Dress Rehearsals

A dress rehearsal is a rehearsal in which all of the elements of the show are put together. Unlike technical rehearsals, actors are required to treat the rehearsal as a performance. There are usually two dress rehearsals scheduled for each production. During the first dress rehearsal, the only stops that are made are in the case of pressing immediate problems. The second dress rehearsal is run entirely under performance conditions-- no stopping. The calls for all dress rehearsal are the same as they would be for performances, and pre-performance checks should be done before every technical or dress rehearsal.

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