BWW Blog: Greg Reuter - Rehearsal Laughs and Note Nodding
Hey readers! Today's blog should be fun. If it's not fun, I guarantee it will be informative (I don't think anyone has formally documented these two theatre phenomenons). I have to give a shout out to my pal Chris Hoch, who is always willing to debate these fringe theatre subjects in the dressing room!
Before I begin, make sure to check out Neka Zang's blog on BroadwayWorld. I'm reading it and think it's great!
Here we go. When you start a rehearsal process for a show, a weird thing happens to the cast. You develop a collective force field that deflects negative energy away from your project. It's normal. You all WANT the show to be great, and you genuinely enjoy the talent of your colleagues. There are exceptions, but I can safely say that the theatre community puts on it's supportive hat, before it's judgement cap- at least to each other's faces. However, this force field of positive energy can have strange by-products. The cast is protected by the walls of the rehearsal room, and guests are not allowed in. Why? This is a vulnerable period. The creative team needs "space" to…well…create. You try things. Sometimes they fail. It's an integral part of the gestation period of any artistic creation.
The specific by-product of this force field that has always fascinated me is the rehearsal laugh. Let's set it up. You're in your safe rehearsal hall, maybe even having talent crushes on your cast members- but when you're not on your feet working, you sit with your smoothie or power bar and WATCH. These times* are precious.
Note- the next part applies to musical comedies and comedic plays. If you're doing Les Miz, this may not apply- except for "Master Of The House", which is objectively funny.
Actors love watching each other, and can be very generous with their laughter in the rehearsal hall. They're not being fake, it's a visceral reaction to being "all in this together". What's interesting to me, is that once a show gets on it's feet in front of a paying audience- the comedic temperature almost always changes. The audience tells you what is working, through their laughter, or applause. This inspires late night creative team meetings, wherein extremely talented people have to figure out what were rehearsal laughs, and what is landing with the audience. The public is seeing the show for the first time (generally), and their reaction has to be respected as pure. Changes and tweaks are made. Actors collaborate with directors to find rhythms. It can be as simple as taking a tiny pause, or using a traditional convention to get the laugh. Or, sometimes (often- actually), rewrites come flooding in.
The rehearsal laugh is so seductive, that many important choices are cemented in our favorite shows because of it. Next time you see a show, try to look at the rhythm of the show through this lens. You might even hear a rehearsal laugh coming from the wings.
The second subject to tackle is more to the point. Actors get notes. We get notes from the producers, the creative team, stage managers, associate directors, resident directors, and dance captains. It's not always fun, but it IS vital to the process. Often, notes are given in a group setting- this is where it can get tricky. There is a phenomenon amongst actors to be a note nodder. I've caught my self being sucked in to it, so this is not a judgement. What is a note nodder? It's someone who quietly nods during a note session while another performer gets a note. It's usually a by-product of insecurity, or just a subconscious manifestation of wanting the show to be good.
If you are in the business, fight against note nodding. I have received countless notes from creatives, and when you see a note nodder out of the corner of your eye- your confidence drains out of the soles of your feet.
I guess in some ways, note nodding is the opposite of the rehearsal laugh. Misplaced insecurity, versus misplaced support.
Go support live theatre!! It's better than a movie.
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Cristopher Sieber never not funny…