A dress rehearsal marks the final opportunity for actors to rehearse a play before an audience arrives. It runs exactly like a performance: all the costumes (the “dress” part of the phrase), lights, props, sound, set and other production elements are present. No one stops or calls for a line. It starts when the curtain would go up on a show night, and everyone, including front of house, stage management, cast, and crew, treats the evening like they would a performance in front of an audience.
The function of this rehearsal is clear: do all the things just like you will when the audience is there, so you have a chance to work out any last kinks, prevent any surprises, and have the best possible opportunity to do a great job on opening night.
Understandably, the idea of a dress rehearsal has been adopted by other fields, as it’s a handy concept and practice. But I’ve noticed that some of what makes a dress rehearsal most useful can become diluted or garbled as it moves further away from its roots.
So here are a few things to ask yourself before you plan, or agree to participate in, a dress rehearsal:
- What’s the purpose? Will everyone feel ready for the real deal after this rehearsal is over?
- Is everyone who is participating in the actual event going to be there?
- Who is running the dress rehearsal?
- How can you prepare ahead of time so the dress rehearsal is as productive as possible?
- Is everyone involved treating this dress rehearsal with equal seriousness?
- Do you have plenty of time to address issues that come up during the rehearsal afterwards?
- And again, because this is the most important question: who is running the dress rehearsal?
It’s important not to short-cut the process. A well-planned and executed dress rehearsal rounds out the preparation process and ensures everyone knows exactly what to do and to expect when the big day arrives.