By Ric Reid, Shaw Festival ensemble member
An actor in “rep” is a busy one. We rehearse two shows, often simultaneously, along with additional understudy responsibilities. The rehearsal period is, consequently, a longer duration of time but usually contains the same amount of rehearsal hours as would be allotted in the usual single show rehearsal period. However, there is a great advantage to this rep schedule. Although the hours of rehearsal are the same, the time to question, argue, invent, and have “pennies drop” is spread over a length of time which allows a much greater gestation period. This is a wonderful thing. The disadvantage is that we lose track of day and night, days of the week, and family. Only last week my six year old – sorry eight year old, Kevin – pardon Kalan – said that he wanted proof of paternity.
We show up, eyes bleary, lines partly in mind, but with great enthusiasm hoping our director will tell us our hard work has paid off, yet secretly fearful that in reality their response will be more along the lines of wondering what we have been doing with our spare time. It’s a wonderful life.
The understudy responsibility is essential as the length of the run in rep is usually up to six months and it ensures that if an actor becomes unable to perform for any reason there is a seamless transition as another actor steps into the role. Actors conspire to replace each other at every turn! The understudy role, not uncommonly, is the largest and most challenging of all the roles an actor gets contracted to perform, and wishing an actor “break a leg” takes on an entirely new meaning. If it is your role you do everything in your power to discredit all comers and be sure to check who is following you at all times.
At The Shaw, we may perform characters from opposite ends of the globe in the same season and so the company hires dialect coaches with whom we have scheduled classes. These lessons are with experts in the sounds and musicality of dialects from around the world. It is a very dedicated group of coaches and the hard work pays dividends for each and every performer. It is one of the many reasons that our audience enjoys the shows. Together with the brilliance of theatre designers, the audience is transported to the location and period of the play.
The question “Do you ever get confused?” is often asked. The answer is that we are always confused; that is an actor’s lot. We do not, however, confuse our characters. The clothes, set, accents and the changing cast members keep us clear as to our purpose.
To conclude, we at The Shaw love what we do. We are very fond of each other and push each other to be better and drive The Shaw Festival to raise its level of excellence each and every year, and have done so for over five decades now.
Tune in for “The Shaw Festival: Behind the Curtain” Friday, July 19 at 9 p.m. on WNED-TV.