The Tech Week Survival Guide
photo by Mike Shafer
Tech week. The last few rehearsals before the doors open and people get to actually see everything you’ve been doing for the last two months.
There are a few things to remember during this time.
1. The first tech rehearsals aren’t for you
Gasp! But I’m an actor, you say, I am the most important part of this production. Of course, every rehearsal is about me.
Not quite. If the production requires light, sound, costumes, and set changes, it’s important to give the technicians their time to figure everything out with live people. You as an actor have been learning your show for weeks if not months. Technicians have to implement all of their work in a matter of days.
Why is this important to survival? Well, if you piss someone off enough, you run the risk of getting blacklisted. There are people at my small-town university who will never work on our stage again because of their behavior, especially during this most stressful time of tech week. Being purposefully obtuse, selfish, or rude will only get you one thing - banned.
2. Drink water. Mostly.
Anyone who has to do long hours doing anything has probably been told this. Water is incredibly important. There should be lines of water bottles backstage. I keep a gallon of water with me during shows. By the second technical rehearsal, it’s half-way gone.
Obviously, water will keep you hydrated and your body feeling refreshed as you run the same scenes over and over so that the stage manager and light designer can work out when exactly a specific lighting effect is supposed to happen. Water also keeps you cool when your costume has three layers and you feel like a damp sponge of sweat. That’s important, too. No one wants to see anyone pass out on stage.
But. If a latte in the morning relaxes you, don’t cut yourself off completely. In a perfect world, we will all be drinking water non-stop and allowing no other substances into our bodies. Yes, caffeine dries out your vocal cords*.
In the days and weeks leading up to the show, you should cut back. But stressing yourself out about drinking enough water will only add to the stress of the whole show. Drink water. But let yourself have some fun, too.
Maybe an obvious one, but one people tend to forgo. Sleep is the only way your body can recuperate after hours and hours of rehearsal. Whether you’re in a musical or a straight play, it’s important to stay rested during this time. Schedule your life carefully, make sure you can catch a nap or two during the day. Find ways to unwind after a rehearsal or a performance. Being wired all night will only make the next day that much harder. And if you’re like me, you still have classes to pass. Not sleeping will make everything about this week so much harder. So do it. Even if it means taking melatonin to get your brain to shut off.
4. Know your show
At this point, if you’re not memorized, you had better be spending every waking moment learning your lines. Your director and stage manager do not have time to hold your hand.
In my last production of James and the Giant Peach, fellow actors and I found a close room to run lines when we weren’t on stage. It’s tedious, yes, but your lines determine when the button is pressed that make lights do pretty things.
You are the guiding force of the show when you are on stage. If you can’t do that job, you really don’t have a chance of surviving much longer. Similarly to the rule about being nice and patient in the face of long technical rehearsals, you also have to be prepared. If you’re not, word gets around pretty fast and you might find yourself blacklisted.
In university or school settings, you might not be outright banned, but you will be delegated to parts that require less focus and preparedness. You have to prove that you can do the work asked of you, or you won’t be asked again.
5. Have fun.
Okay, yes, this is cheesy and predictable. I know. But it’s the most important rule by far. If you aren’t having fun, the audience knows. An unresponsive audience is like the death knell to an actor. We feed on praise and applause. If you aren’t out there immediately giving the show 100%, you aren’t going to be able to get them back by the time the curtain falls.
Love what you’re doing. If it’s a serious drama, you still have to love it and find moments that are fun for you. I recently performed in a series of scenes taken from Rabbit Hole. This is a very serious play about loss and death but there are moments in each scene that bring about levity and create real people on stage. That is your job. If you can’t find the fun parts, you aren’t going to want to keep doing it.
This is a short guide and you can find many others, though I would steer clear from the ones that encourage constant coffee-drinking. Tech week is stressful and harrowing. But it’s also the time when everything you have been working for comes together. It is the preparation for an audience - and that audience better love every second of sweat you give them.
*1999 study done on the effects of caffeine on the vocal cords https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10474669