Freelance singing necessitates a continuous cycle of first impressions. For some, meeting new people and tossing one’s self headlong into the process can be an exhilarating or even comforting feeling. Others are all too familiar with that nervous stomach sensation and the awkwardness of the initial moments in a rehearsal. “How do I know where to go? Am I supposed to sit there?” might flit through your mind. Then, “will I get along with my castmates?” There wasn’t a course on bettering your soft skills in university. But now you’re desperately wishing you could be that person who swoops in and lights up the room; ready to rock at the very first downbeat.
Let’s identify some ways to feel like a million bucks in the first rehearsal even if you’re getting paid “in exposure.” (That was a joke. I know all you long-time readers are aware of my thoughts on “exchange of value.”)
Know Where You’re Going
Do some research. Do even more research if you’re going to the rehearsal space or venue for the first time. When you sign the contract, schedule time in your calendar to look at the map in advance. How long will it take you to get there and not walk in late? Do you need to make sure you take a specific train? Or, will it take an hour longer because you’re driving during rush hour? Please do not make the myriad mistakes I have made; look up your travel plans before you go and do not guess. Ask your contact or coordinator about where to park and which door to enter. Will you need a code to get in the building? Is it a safe neighborhood? If you’re leaving the rehearsal space at 11pm, you might not want to find out then why “nobody parks on that street.” Make a little list on your phone or in your journal of things that you’ve needed to know before and succinctly ask them well before 24-48 hours ahead of when you’re supposed to be walking in the door.
Know Your Shizz
Be performance ready. I know that we do not always get that luxury. When you’re budgeting your practice time, assume that whatever you don’t learn will be the thing that holds the rehearsal process back. What kind of magic can you create in this performance if you are properly prepared? Notes, rhythms, and texts are the bare minimum.
Make sure you know if you’re supposed to be “off-book” for the first rehearsal and be certain that you are no matter what happens in that first rehearsal. It is so much better to be the person who can “roll with the punches” when others are unsure than to let the process collapse further because you needed their line for your cue.
Be prepared with questions. Wait, let’s back-track. In your preparation time, ask yourself as many questions as you possibly can. “Should I be prepared to sing this phrase at a different dynamic level? About how long will this fermata be? Will the cue after the fermata be an eighth or a quarter? Is it more preferable for the final consonant to be on the beat or on the “and”? Does it give more depth to my character if I sing this line with a different color? With whom do I make eye contact during this scene?” Then, attempt to answer as many of your own questions as possible without asking them directly before or in the first rehearsal. Then, we’ll get to what to do with the rest of your questions during the intentions part later in the post.
I’m not gonna sit here and advocate, “smile, baby girl…” That’s not my jam. However, your energy introduces you before you even speak or sing. If you know you suffer from RBF, make an effort to portray open and positive non-verbal communication in whichever ways feel the easiest to adopt. Perhaps you can practice making better, non-creepy eye contact. Or, uncross your arms if the generous smiling thing isn’t in your wheelhouse. Instead of chipper, you can always shoot for genuine and positive. If this really isn’t your strong suit, find the “cruise director” in the group/ensemble/cast and mentally choose to be their aide-de-camp. You’ll be “more open” by association.
Listen & Learn
Part of looking pleasant is just being pleasant. It is very tempting to turn to our cellular comfort blankets at any break in the rehearsal process. Challenge yourself to resist its siren song as much as possible. Put it on airplane mode and leave it in your bag (or, if you’re using any of its functionality in rehearsal, leave it at that.) Actively listen to the rest of the rehearsal going on around you. Pay attention to your colleagues when they are singing. If you prepared well, then you already know their musical phrases. During the rehearsal process you can pick up on what makes what they’re doing special. Quietly learn while you’re not being active in the scene. That might mean that you’re going to try to pick up on the conductor’s non-verbal cues or you’re going to listen for chordal structure in a part of the piece in which you do not sing. During breaks, learn your colleague’s names. Learn their hometowns. Learn their favorite way to say goodnight to their children. Be creative. The learning part may not be as obvious as “how long will it take to become completely enraged by social media during this rehearsal break?” but it will be more worth your while.
You’re All In This Together
Remember that everyone in the room is ostensibly working toward the same goal. You do not need to prove yourself to be fancier, better trained, more elite, more devoted, more intellectual, or [fill in the blank] to be worthy of participating in this creative endeavor. Be a source of encouragement to your colleagues. They will thank you for it openly or indirectly.
Make Your Own Intentions
Picking up the point from the “know your shizz” section, you are responsible for the experience you have during rehearsal. Set your own intentions for what you want to accomplish during the rehearsal and steadily work toward your own, as well as collective, goals. I encouraged you to ask questions in the earlier paragraph. I am not, however, advocating for passive aggressive questions. Pay attention in rehearsal. Patiently see if your questions are answered. Do not ask questions on other people’s behalf. It is the conductor or director’s job to address that situation if they see fit.
Make your own intentions before rehearsal. You can jot them down wherever makes sense to you. Follow-up with yourself after rehearsal, “Did I meet my own expectations today? What intentions would I like to set for the next rehearsal? What intentions should I set for my practice time between now and then?”
Be Playful and Explorative
Art is a form of exploration and play as well as your job. Without being silly or distracting from the rehearsal, bring an inquisitiveness to your work. Hopefully your colleagues will pick up on your vibes and you’ll have a group of people who are working together joyfully.
Be Mindful of Timing & Cues
Nonverbal cues and unwritten expectations can be very tricky in a freelance musical career. Every ensemble works differently together. If you are joining a group that has worked together extensively, dial up the awareness and listening. There are hundreds of clues from how they address each other when providing feedback to what tuning they prefer to their preferred style of humor and it’s your job to absorb those styles.
In a more obvious point, for the love of all things holy, pay attention to the conductor/director for literal visible/spoken timing and cues and do them. If you’d like to do it differently you can find a way to have that conversation without taking up everyone else’s time. Also when it comes to timing, don’t be the last person to walk in to the beginning of rehearsal or after the break and don’t be the person huffing and puffing and checking your watch ten minutes before rehearsal ends. If you have timing concerns, discuss them with the appropriate person before the rehearsal period.
Setting The Tone
The first rehearsal can set the tone for how the whole production will flow. You want to bring your best self to the process. Following some of these prompts will help you finesse meeting your colleagues and getting to the music-making you really want to be doing.
Have a great rehearsal!
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