In this article we'll discuss methodologically what is the best way to schedule one hundred rehearsals. The advice given here can be applied to any software of your choice: Google Sheets, Microsoft Excel, Google Calendar, or Cast98's Rehearsal Schedule Maker.
Reminder this: No software can automate a rehearsal schedule. Yes, I've been asked this before about Cast98. "Can it automatically build my schedule?" No. As my preschool teacher wife would say, "El-mo". There are too many variables and director whims that make every show cycle totally unique. Veteran theatre directors: Can you imagine Alexa or Siri building your schedule for you? You might do High School Musical twice in four years, but you will never recycle your rehearsal schedule the second time around. It will not work.
If you want the advice without all the reading (on Reddit we call this the TLDR, or the "too long, didn't read"), it boils down to this:
First schedule the rehearsals that require the largest groups, and work backwards. Front load the schedule where possible.
If you get into the habit of doing this, it's kind of funny how it also helps you decide how long your production cycles should be. Although there's more variables that go into that like seasonality and cast size and... well I'm already rambling and we're only in the summary. So let's go ahead and discuss rehearsal scheduling at length so that I don't feel guilty for being so wordy.
First we need some ground rules to make sure we're all walking up to the same starting line, like an ingredients list for a recipe or the big white line at the start of a marathon. These are some of the assumptions I'm making about the information you've already collected, and how each assumption might impact your specific scenario.
You have probably collected conflicts already, but if you haven't you're smarter than most. Why's that? Because if you're reading this article and haven't even collected conflicts, you must be planning ahead and that's good. That's really good, because your method of collecting cast conflicts is going to have a big impact on the amount of work that's front loaded on your scheduling process.
If you're using Cast98 for scheduling, you're in luck because the conflict calendars submitted through the audition form will automatically sync to the rehearsal scheduling software (which we call the rehearsal schedule maker). That's the smartest and most efficient pathway for this whole process, but I'm biased. Seriously though, I made Cast98 to eliminate tedious tasks and nothing is more tedious than converting conflict calendars into a master spreadsheet.
The conflict calendar requirement for scheduling is simply that you need to have your conflicts in the same place as your schedule. If you're building the schedule in Google Sheets, you need the conflicts in a separate tab. If you're using Google Calendar, go ahead and put those conflicts into a subcalendar (and give them a dirty brown color because you'll feel poopy when you're done).
You can't start scheduling without knowing the conflicts. Actually you can, but we'll get to that in Step 1 below.
Obviously, the size of your cast is going to severely impact your rehearsal scheduling challenges. The larger the cast, the more conflicts and the more total rehearsal time you'll need.
My wife runs an art truck business where children at birthday parties pile onto the truck to do some messy art project, and observing her stress level when she has 15 kids versus when she has 7 heightened my awareness of the time requirement based on group size. Theatre rehearsals are the same.
Have you ever tried to run a 1-hour choreography rehearsal with 12 people but only 6 showed up? I'll bet you finished early. Rehearsals with more people require more time. That's a fact of life that every dance instructor knows.
Same for your costumer. A small cast of 20 people can get sized up all on one day. A cast of 70 is gonna take a whole week. That time spent backstage with a tape measure is time not spent running scenes and working on blocking, so you'll need to plan accordingly.
Typically, long shows have more scenes. Typically. Sometimes they don't, but they do always have more time on stage and it doesn't really matter if there are four scenes or 27, filling three hours of stage time means more blocking, more line delivery, more choreography, more music... just more stuff to learn.
Not only does a long show require more rehearsal time, but it'll also affect the timing of your All Call Rehearsals (note reference for later). That is to say, you can try and stumble through an act sooner if the act is short, but you'll need several weeks of learning/reviewing to try and run a long act.
You have limited time before opening night. For me personally, as a performer I hate joining a local theatre show with a long production cycle. 11 weeks? Three months? No thanks... I'm way too busy to commit to that. I think the optimal production cycle is 7-8 weeks for most directors, but I prefer a more intensive production cycle with a tighter turnaround, like 5-6 weeks.
It is only relevant because depending on how many weeks you have before opening night, you have more wiggle room with your rehearsal scheduling. You might have the standard 4-day tech week (Mon-Thu with a Friday opening night). You might have time for a couple of tech runs in the venue on the weekend before. You might only be allowed in the venue for one dress rehearsal, which means... stress.
Alright, now that we have the underlying assumptions and a mutual understanding that every show is like a new puzzle. It may portray the same general image as another, but the pieces will definitely vary between them.
Time to dive into the real meat of our discussion. Here are 7 steps to streamline your time as you plunge into the most hectic part of putting on a theatre show.
Tech week is a fixed obligation for all your cast. Sometimes you'll have a dual cast and want to work with casts separately, but still... tech week is mandatory and so it's easy to go ahead and put it on the schedule, as are the performance showtimes.
Earlier I hinted that you can start scheduling rehearsals before you have conflict calendars sorted out, and this is it. Tech week and any preliminary Full Run rehearsals are calendar items you can add right away because you don't have to navigate conflicts. If you do navigate conflicts for tech week, you're doing it wrong.
Total rehearsal count: 4
Right before tech week, as any director knows, you'll be doing full runs of the show. Usually these happen a couple days leading up to tech week (aka hell week), and before that you're running Act 1, then Act 2, then Act 1, then Act 2. put them on the board right away
So here is another full week of rehearsals that you can add without having conflict calendars in hand.
Total rehearsal count: 10
The methodology we're using, for those who didn't read the TLDR above, follows the pattern of scheduling your largest rehearsals first and working your way down to the solos. This is your optimal route because scheduling for 40 is harder than scheduling 20, and scheduling 20 is harder than scheduling eight.
So think of all your everyone needs to be here rehearsals and put them on the schedule ASAP. Don't forget:
At this point, you can't continue recklessly throwing rehearsals onto the schedule because you'll need to start finessing what timing is appropriate for your show. If it's a long show, you'll postpone running a full act longer than you would a very short show. If it's a musical, you'll also need more time because you have to learn song lyrics and music in addition to choreography, blocking, and scene changes.
Total rehearsal count: 17
We're finally a notch down from e'erybody needs to be here territory, and now you can start to divide your rehearsal days into hours and stagger actor arrival times (kids can leave at 8, ya know?)
Please stagger your actors' arrival times. PLEASE. Especially if your actors are working adults, and especially if your actors are parents, they have better things to do with their time than sit on the wall and surf Instagram.
The ol' "use this time to go over lines" is an eyeroll adage unless it's mid-rehearsal break where you (the director) need a few minutes to work with a subset of your rehearsal attendees. Note that I said a few minutes which is less than 10. If you ask half your attendees to hang out for 30+ minutes unexpectedly, you're inviting distractions from socializing and noise levels, and you're aggravating the grown-ups in the room who feel like their time is being wasted (because it is). If you need a block of 15 or more minutes to work with a small group, schedule that small group for their own rehearsal time.
Mature adults understand that sometimes questions get asked that cause a rehearsal to stumble down a rabbit hole, or occasionally there's that trouble spot that comes up unexpectedly that derails even the best director's plan for a block of time. An great director can recognize those barriers quick and say "ya know what, we don't have time to work on this right now, but check the schedule for a bonus rehearsal next week to sort this out".
This is how to be a hero director. Now back to the regularly scheduled programming (see what I did there?).
What qualifies as a large group rehearsal depends on the overall size of your cast, and what show you're doing. If you have a 30-member children's choir and a 16-member ballroom dance ensemble, schedule the choir first and and dancers second.
The idea here, as previously stated, is that scheduling more people is harder than scheduling a few, so always target the largest groups first.
Here's part two of our guiding principles:
Front load your rehearsal schedule whenever possible.
This doesn't mean turn your 8-week production cycle into a 5-week intensive workshop and take it easy for three weeks, but wouldn't that be amazing? Things come up that require more work or fine-tuning and when you front load rehearsals, you create margin for yourself closer to showtime that might save a lot of headache and stress.
Think about your largest groups and what rehearsals you'll need to have with them, which ones you can have sooner rather than later, and look for available rehearsal dates to book them ASAP.
Examples of large group rehearsals:
Total rehearsal count: 40+
Kids (and we ain't talkin' #theatrekids here) have limited hours they're able to be at rehearsal, because they have bedtimes and after school activities and Saturday morning soccer practice that will drive any scheduler batty (can we give a round of applause to the children's theatre directors? Eh? Eh?). Unless you're working with a kid or two at a time (I'm thinking of the kid leads in Secret Garden), go ahead and get rehearsals for your child actors out of the way.
The fewer the children, the more you can treat the kids like adults. Parents are usually willing to let their kids stay late, but it's easier to have those conversations with a couple than with a dozen.
Total rehearsal count: 50+
Maybe it's a duet with a tough dance and sing sequence, or a series of fast-paced lines, or action with uncommonly sensitive cues. When a difficulty exists, your actors will rise to the challenge but you're still more likely to hit a snag that'll might require more work later on.
These troublesome scenes will usually require 2-4 rehearsals each. One or two for learning, a 3rd and maybe a 4th for reviewing, and another one or two to run it as a refresher after another couple weeks.
There's not many folks in these scenes, but you'll need the quantity and repitition.
Total rehearsal count: 70+
I don't have to tell you that after running a rehearsal with 50 people in the room, working with 1-3 people to coordinate schedules is a sinch. And to teach them music? Easy. Blocking? No problem.
Congrats, you've finally made it to the effortless part of scheduling. Right? Well, maybe, but more than likely you're deep in finesse it territory and competing for space in the crevices between the 70-or-so rehearsals you've already put down. A really nice director will realize that your leads don't want to spend every night at the theatre for hours, just to have 2 hours of rehearsal and 2 hours of downtime waiting on a rehearsal to end.
Total rehearsal count: 100+
This is the finish line for rehearsal scheduling, so let's recap some of the most important bits. Overall, these two objectives are driving all the hardest parts of scheduling a large cast:
The full gambit of advice starts with putting large rehearsals on the schedule without a lot of need for conflict calendars, and goes all the way to easy rehearsals with only one or two actors at a time. Let's look at all the steps:
Notice the language difference between the first few steps, where we're "adding" rehearsals, and later when we're "scheduling" them. After you've been a director for a few years, you'll develop your own checklist for how to build the best rehearsal schedule. And of course, if you use Cast98 you'll discover that rehearsal scheduling doesn't have to be such a tedious task.
You've reached the finish line. Give yourself a high five and get excited about your next production!