I don’t remember where I first read about the idea of a completely open rehearsal room, but I do remember falling in love with it. It was this magical idea that I could be your everyday guy on the street, walk up to a theatre, and say, “Hey, I’d like to sit in on your rehearsal process,” and that this would be encouraged. It made me think that some theatres’ wanted the community to engage with their work, find the process just as interesting as the product and maybe even become as invested in it as the actual theatre itself (and by that I mean the institution and the individuals composing the room).
I also never heard about this idea again after. If memory serves (and it mostly doesn’t in this case) this idea found me around the end of my senior year of high school, maybe even in that summer, and I’ve yet to actually witness a theatre have this policy. Until now. Well sort of.
The program, open to anyone who can pay ($50 for anyone 30 and under, $75 for others, which includes a ticket to the show) is described by Arena as:
Theater 101 is an extended seminar for audiences interested in deepening their understanding of the process of new play development. Theater 101 participants will have unprecedented access to observe and learn about the new play development process. Join us this this season as we follow the creation of two distinct shows and their unique processes. Build community and understand more deeply what goes into making the magic you see on stage.
Participants are invited to attend first rehearsal, rehearsal, technical rehearsals, invited dress rehearsal, and the show itself. Each event will be followed by a discussion moderated by Arena artistic staff.
Well that sounds good to me! Upon further investigation and thought though, I’m left with a few questions.
The first in my mind is what if someone can’t pay? I get that most tickets to the show alone will cost that much (though Arena does have a pay your age ticket for those 35 and under), but it still sets a limit on who can and can not participate in this program. Could someone participate and simply wave the ticket to decrease or even eliminate the price? Do they have some sort of scholarship or extra funding to help those who can’t afford the program?
The next question in my mind is that the two “new plays” being developed are The Book Club Play, which will be going into its third production but the playwright is doing a residency so ok, great I’ll give them that… and then Music Man? Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a little shipoopi as much as the next guy, but let’s get real here, Music Man is not a new play in development.
Regardless of that fact though, I have to applaud Arena in their efforts to open up their process more. It’s a generous thing to do. Of course they run some risks by doing this, but the program also has specific dates in which people can attend rehearsals, meaning everyone involved will know when this is happening and anything that Arena wants hidden from public view probably can be.
Now I’ve got some mixed feelings about that fact. It’s not total transparency in the process for one. The community can come on very specific days, and that’s for a reason, but I think to really and truly show a generosity of spirit, I’d want a community member to be allowed in any day they so choose to show up, from first read to final dress. Let the risk of a messy rehearsal be there unconcealed, so that the community begins to really understand the value, hard work and emotional life that a rehearsal truly contains. We complain so often that theatre is undervalued or underappreciated by the larger community, so why not do something about it, take a risk, and really open it up.
It also creates a performance like atmosphere for the actors when the community turned audience is around on very specific dates. In my ideal world, if this “risk” of a community-audience is present everyday, it becomes commonplace and invited, not a terrifying mysticism. Gaining that knowledge of how the community takes in a production as its in process is like having the worlds best dramaturg around. A really and truly innocent point of view available for every moment of rehearsal.
I believe that theatre should be available to everyone and that a theatre should serve its community fully and openly. Do I think I’m saying anything new here? Not really no. But it is my commitment to have a completely open rehearsal room whenever possible. I think this is a great step. I think Arena Stage is a marble figure head. I think bigger risks could be taken with little for Arena to worry about. I think this is a great step.