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Is The Role Of A Rehearsal Director Artistic Or Scientific?

By Katie Hurrey

Is the role of rehearsal director/ associate choreographer wholly creative? Or is it more of a scientific logistical challenge? The dichotomous skills needed to succeed at the job encompass both sides of the brain and require strong leadership abilities and intuition.

It may seem like a simple succession from dancer, to dance captain, to rehearsal director, but very often the scientific aspect of the job is underestimated by those who assume they will simply be teaching steps they already know and continuing to do what they love all day. Holding the attention of entertainers for eight hours a day, six days a week in rehearsal is not as easy as it looks and takes more energy and mental capacity than anyone imagines, not to mention the artistic side of teaching style and direction and running a professional and efficient work environment.

Under the roof of Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s multi-million dollar rehearsal studios in Florida, where as many as fifteen casts can be in rehearsal at any one time, there is what appears to be a corporate factory of entertainment, a production line of casts learning shows, performing their final rehearsal and quite literally shipping out all over the world. With cast size ranging from twelve performers to twenty-eight, every style of dancer is represented and within each company is a wide range of skill, style and talent.

Contrary to the conveyor belt image, each cast must emerge with its own unique set of two or three different shows that belie the ‘cookie-cutter’ stereotype of the review-show genre.

It is of the utmost importance to honor the original choreographer(s), and in a production show, there are often at least four different choreographers’ styles to master to give the show its nuance and journey. Finely tuning ten to sixteen dancers with different training and background into a unified company while celebrating their individuality is no small feat. Too clean, and the dancers appear regimental and unemotional physically; allow too much freedom and the choreography will not be in unison. The simple way would be to teach from count to count or line to line very cleanly and devoid of emotion….but what about the journey? The resistance of the arm from here to there? The seeming abandon with which some lines need to be placed? The Fosse wet tissue paper flung to the ceiling, not the upstage wall? Nuances which are so easily or lazily overlooked but which can transform a company of dancers with the talent and capacity to learn.

Assessing strengths in line and performance and planning the blocking for every moment of the show is one of the most important facets of the job; it can be argued that this is more of a logistical challenge than a creative one. To focus the eye of the audience on whom you intend them to watch (and hide those you don’t) in a way which doesn’t damage a performer’s delicate ego and doesn’t always block them in the upstage left corner is not an easy task, but one with a huge payoff. Finding a moment for each individual to shine, feel valued and fulfilled and to encourage team mentality can ensure a healthy not-so-competitive work environment. Let’s face it, dancers are used to being judged, assessing themselves in the mirror, and certainly comparing their strengths against each other.

The beauty of the production show is that the ensemble is featured and dance for almost an hour of stage time non-stop. There’s room for everyone to be noticed, and it’s up to the rehearsal director to ensure they are noticed for the right reasons!

Directing the leads in a production show is a skill an ex-dance captain may not have cultivated. Often more mature, and used to more undivided attention, the soloists will all have a different way of receiving information. The impact of an ‘honest’ genuine performance is far different than a presentational ‘put-on’ micromanaged version, even in a production show setting, and goes without saying for musical theatre shows. This is usually the biggest challenge for a young rehearsal director finding their voice and learning how to communicate with confidence. A note may need to be articulated ten different ways before a performer arrives at exactly the right choice, and steering an artist to the appropriate choice while giving them the freedom to explore is important.

Along with scheduling, planning blocking, designating costumes and preparing the cast for the technical aspects of the show, which are mostly left-brain skills, the right-brain artistry of the movement itself remains at the core of the job.

Those who are passionate about their role as a rehearsal director/ choreographer can inspire, influence and impart skills a performer can use throughout their career, not simply one show.

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