Ask Playbill.com is a weekly Playbill.com column that answers questions about theatre, generated by readers and Playbill.com staff, every Thursday. To ask a question, email AskPlaybill@Playbill.com. Please specify how you would like your name displayed and please include the city in which you live.
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This week's question comes from Ross Weiner.
Question: I was wondering what makes an Equity rehearsal different than a typical community theatre rehearsal. Answer: The short answer is that for Equity performers, acting is their full-time job, so they tend to rehearse all day. At community theatres, performers tend to rehearse at night.
"They work during the day," says Joseph Conklin, the chairperson of The Park Players, a community theatre company in Bergen County, NJ, that will mark the beginning of its 30th year in January. "They have actual full-time jobs as teachers or waitresses," or other jobs.
The Equity requirements for rehearsals are rather complicated, but we'll try to describe them with as little confusion as possible. Here are the rules that apply to Broadway shows: Shows can either rehearse for up to seven hours out of a maximum of eight-and-a-half consecutive hours in a day, or up to eight hours out of a maximum of nine-and-a-half consecutive hours. If they choose the latter option, they get two days off per week, as opposed to one.
In terms of breaks, rehearsals can't go more than five hours without stopping to take a one-and-a-half hour break. Plus, there must be a five-minute break after each 55 minutes of rehearsal or a ten-minute break after each 80 minutes of rehearsal.
Conklin said that The Park Players rehearsals typically run Monday through Thursday from 7-9:30 PM, with an occasional rehearsal on a weekend day. About halfway through the evening rehearsal, the actors will take a 15-minute break. Conklin says this evening schedule is typical of community theatres.
For both Broadway and community theatre, things change during the final week before performances start, when the cast goes through grueling technical rehearsals, in which the technical aspects of the show are introduced. For Broadway, during the last seven days of rehearsal before the start of performances, rehearsals can be longer than they usually are, but they can't exceed ten out of a maximum of twelve consecutive hours per day. The final week before the first performance does not have to include a day off. Plus, during the last three days before performances begin, the show does not have to abide by the rules for breaks.
For Conklin's Park Players, the rehearsals from Monday through Thursday during the week before the first performance — which typically occurs on a Friday — will last a little longer than usual, around 6:30-11 PM each night. The show might also devote a Sunday or two right before tech week to an all-day rehearsal that would last from morning until evening.
There are various other Equity rules for such issues as payments for rehearsals that go overtime and rehearsals during out-of-town tryouts. For more information, one can mine through the actual Equity contracts, which are available at Equity's website, www.actorsequity.org.