There seems to be a general rule of a thumb that a straight-forward, full-length play warrants an absolute minimum of 100 hours’ rehearsal time. This should be increased according to any additional demands such as dancing, singing, complex text and/or particular genres such as comedies. We asked NWTC directors, Chris Wilson, John Brigg and Julie Fraser together with LEATSS director, Graeme du Fresne, for their opinions:
Total hours for full-length play: Since my involvement with things theatrical I have aimed for a minimum 100 hour rehearsal period for a full-length play. This is something that has been continually reinforced to me through my training, directors I have worked with (including Summer School’s Mike McCormack) and literature.
Special considerations which lengthen the rehearsal schedule: The 100- hour rule includes the run-throughs but does not include the technical and dress rehearsal scheduling so these need to be added on top. With some plays, such as comedies, the timing is more crucial, with others the character development and text-analysis is more time consuming. Also, the larger the cast the more time on blocking etc. In my limited experience of musicals, I would suggest that you are often trying to move a larger number of people around, so the blocking/choreography becomes much more problematic. It's a bit like saying how long is a piece of string - the danger is losing sight of the fact that your cast do not need to 'just' sing and dance, they also need to act, so time for all those facets needs to be added in. A lot depends on whether singing and/or dancing rehearsals are being held separately, but I would say at least a third extra.
Considerations for timing of rehearsals: Trying to rehearse intensively in the evening for more than about two and a half hours is often not productive. However, at weekends or with a cast member not coming from a full day's work, this can be flexible.
Production meeting scheduling: This should be kept outside of the rehearsal time.
Total hours: One rough guide for straight plays is 1 hour's rehearsal for 1 minute of playing time. Therefore, a play which runs for a total of 100 minutes would need a minimum of 100 hours’ of rehearsal.
Special considerations which lengthen the rehearsal schedule: The calculation above includes run-throughs but not technical or dress rehearsals – these need to be added on. In addition, the genre of the play may increase the required hours. This can be estimated by reading a few representative pages and adding in a percentage for non-text playing, i.e. how much time will be spent not speaking. A play that is strongly text-driven (e.g. drawing room comedy) would only have a small percentage as there would not be many "silences" but a highly dramatic text would have a larger percentage. It is very difficult to give a guide as to what the percentage range should be as it really depends on the director and what (s)he intends to do with the play.
Considerations for timing of rehearsals: The rehearsal time should also make allowances for warmups and late starting due to late arrivals. And if it's in the evenings, start as early as possible and don't plan more than 2,5 - 3 hours effective rehearsal. More than that is not productive.
Production meeting scheduling: Do not have a production meeting during rehearsal - either meet before or another time. They always take longer than expected and end up eating into rehearsal time.
As Chris, John and Graeme are included in the people who guided me when planning all my schedules I agree with their comments! I would add that when planning try, whenever possible, to only call people when you need them. In addition, if there is large group work and other individual/small group work, it seemed to work well to get any group/chorus work done first to allow as many to leave as time goes on.
Total hours: It depends on the type of show and what's involved. If we are talking about a play without songs or excessive movement demands then a rule of thumb would be 3.5 to 4 full time weeks. In other words approx 120 - 160 hours with technical and dress rehearsals included, or without a minimum of 100-120 hours for a full-length play.