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Question: I stage manage a regional theatre's youth conservatory in Teaneck, NJ, and I try to encourage actors by making them feel as much like a Broadway cast as possible. On average, how long is the rehearsal process for musicals before their opening night, and how often does a cast rehearse after a show opens, if at all? — Jason Kooistra
A Broadway show, like Rome, isn't built in a day. The writing and developing of a play or musical can take years. Once it gets the green light to open in a Broadway house, things speed up considerably. Between the first day of rehearsal and the first preview, usually no more than a month or two pass.
"Actors' Equity Association has extensive rules negotiated into its Broadway contract with regard to rehearsals," said Somma. " For example, during the rehearsal period and before the first paid public performance ('ppp'), rehearsals do not exceed seven out of eight and one-half consecutive hours per day. In the final seven days leading up to the first ppp, rehearsals can't exceed 10 out of 12 hours per day."
Of course, there are exceptions. Some shows (usually musicals) are so complex and ambitious that a mere six-to-eight weeks won't do. A major example is currently in rehearsal. The Julie Taymor show Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark, which has music by The Edge and Bono, recently began rehearsals, but it won't begin previews on Broadway until Nov. 14. Due to "the requirements of the show," said spokesman Rick Miramontez, the show will rehearse for a full 16 weeks.
What does that mean as far as Equity is concerned? "A production can rehearse longer than the usual 6 to 8 weeks without seeking permission," said Somma. "There is a formula for salaries — if a dramatic production enters its ninth week of rehearsals, then the salary goes from the minimum to the contractual. For musicals principals go from minimum to contractual salary in the tenth week and chorus salaries go to contractual in the eleventh week. Prior to those triggers, everyone makes the minimum salary."
Frequently, a show will continue rehearsals even after beginning previews, and, sometimes, a show will rehearse even after it has officially opened. The former is a common practice; particularly for shows that open cold on Broadway, with no out-of-town tryout, a piece will be honed as much as possible right up to the moment the critics take their seats. The latter process, of rehearsing after opening, is more unusual. It is typically the decision of the director or producer, who may feel that the production still needs some tweaking, or are reacting to reviews that indicate the show could use improvement. Again, there are Equity dicta are such occasions. "There are rules describing the rehearsal hours after a show has begun performances but before opening night, as well as rules governing costume calls, publicity, rest periods and breaks. After a show has opened, rehearsals can't exceed eight hours weekly."(Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.)