Acting Directing Production

The First Rehearsal Read-Through: Yay or Nay?

First Rehearsal Read-Through
Written by Kerry Hishon

When working on a production with students, one of the first rehearsals (if not the very first rehearsal) is often dedicated to a full read-through of the script. This generally consists of the full cast assembling together in a room, sitting in a circle, and reading the full show out loud, with the a stage manager reading the stage directions.

While this initial read-through can have many benefits, I’m going to go out on a limb and ask the question: “Is the first read-through an absolute necessity?” I must admit that for the past few shows I’ve directed, I have skipped the read-through altogether.

Let’s look at some pros and cons of having a first rehearsal read-through.

Yay!

First, and possibly most importantly, it brings the cast together for the first time so they can get to know each other. It gives them a chance to hear the full show, out loud. This is especially important if it’s a show students aren’t entirely familiar with. If the show is a musical, students can hear the music as it will be performed in the show. If possible, let them all sing along. This is a great bonding opportunity and, for many of the students, it might be their only opportunity to sing some of the songs (especially the solos).

It gives students the chance to notice any cuts or changes to the script, particularly if the show is based on a book or film, or if it’s a school or “junior” edition of a famous show.

It gives you, the teacher/director, the opportunity to listen to the cast’s initial interpretations and thoughts of the characters and situations. You can listen for how lines sound, how jokes land, how words might be mispronounced, and how students react to the show. You may also notice potentially difficult or problematic scenes to block or choreograph.

It gives you the chance to explain your vision for the show, and answer any questions that students may have about the script or show. With the cast fully in attendance, everyone will be able to hear and understand your plans. This is your chance to get them really fired up about the experience! It’s also your opportunity to explain rehearsal procedures and expectations, and convey any important information that the cast must know about, like rehearsal and performance schedules (including off-book day).

Nay!

A full read-through can be a lot to sit through, particularly for younger students. While it’s good practice for being quiet backstage, sitting for long periods of time can get tedious (especially for ensemble members, dancers, or students with few lines). They may feel that they are less important to the whole of the show. While we know this isn’t true, it’s important to remind students of their importance to the team (no matter how small or big their role is).

It can get confusing if any roles are double-cast. Will you have your double-cast actors read in unison, or split up the lines? (Perhaps one actor can read during Act One, and the other during Act Two.)

It can be seen as more beneficial to the cast than the crew. It may appear that there isn’t much for the assistant stage managers, designers, or techies to do during an initial read-through. You may want to figure out an alternative activity for the crew– perhaps they can start working on designs and planning at the same time.

If you have limited rehearsal time, it may be more helpful to your schedule to skip the initial read-through in favour of getting right to work. I rarely schedule a read-through in my rehearsals anymore; rather, I like to start my first rehearsals by learning a big group number, or blocking a full-cast scene. This way, the full cast gets together and gets to know each other, but they also get right down to work.

What are your thoughts on the initial read-through? Is it a vital part of your rehearsal process, or something you leave out? What are your best tips and tricks for having a great read-through? Share them with us!

Click here for a FREE first rehearsal read-through tip sheet

Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer, and stage combatant from London, Ontario, Canada. Check out her blog at www.kerryhishon.com.

About the author

Kerry Hishon

Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer and stage combatant from London, Ontario, Canada. View her blog at www.kerryhishon.com.

1 Comment

  • It is imperative that a HS Theatre director conduct a read through. There are many reasons mentioned above and more. It is a fatal mistake to skip it. Here’s why. The student actors and crew need to bond together. Good food, a full understanding of the script, the symbolism, the set, major themes and the vision the director has for the show are required. The more serious the play, the funnier it usually is for everyone. The tech crew can’t add any ideas if they don’t understand the show. The actors can’t deeply understand their characters if they don’t know what the author is saying. Knowing the themes and having a deep understanding of the play as a whole helps the students respond intelligently when people criticize or question the work in any way. I have seen shows where the students clearly have no idea what the play is about. I’ve talked to techies who have never read the play. I’ve talked to student actors who only know what’s happening in their scene and have no idea what the rest of the play is about. Those shows are awful every time. Those bad shows prove that a complete read through is necessary. I never want that to happen in a show I am directing. Granted, many HS Theater directors don’t really know what the show is about to begin with. That’s why their shows are embarrassing. (A serious version of FOOLS comes to mind.) The director must take the time to guide the cast and crew in the read through and cover all the basses. Early in my career I didn’t include the tech crew in the read through. I don’t make that mistake now. It should take a couple of two hour rehearsals but it will pay off later. I rehearse my students for 28 days. (I add four days if it is a musical.) The reason we are so efficient is because I train my actors, pick shows that showcase their talents and make sure they know what is going on. One can’t love something if there is no understanding. It starts with a fun yet focused read through.