drama / reflections

How to Deal with Irritation in Rehearsal

How to Deal with Irritation in Rehearsal - Ways to Cope & Resolve the stress of directing a high school production.

When You Get Irritated in Rehearsal

We are in the last few days of rehearsal for our Spring Musical, and I’ve been thinking about irritation a lot. I’ve been getting and trying to reflect on what makes me so (INFJs for the win!). I got home today from our big Saturday practice (9-3, phew!), and saw that Lisa and Jonathan from Created for Learning had just posted a video on the subject. I figured there was no better time to slow down and share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past couple months, and you can use this information to help your rehearsals run more smoothly. In the end, irritation is our problem, not theirs, and we can take steps to resolve how we feel and help strengthen our relationships.

How to Deal with Irritation in Rehearsal - Ways to Cope with & Resolve the stress of directing a high school production.

Irritation: Students talk or goof off during rehearsal. (Or, “Students who used to be so focused now talk and goof off during rehearsal!”)

So, I teach 9th grade, and this year, there’s been a huge upswing in 9th grade participation in Drama and the musical. I cast every upperclassman who tried out, and I still have 75% of my cast members who are 9th graders.

This whole “goofing off” thing hit me hard the other day, during a run-through. How was it that these calm, focused students that I see every day were now running around like monkeys when we had work to do? I mean – there were spontaneous karaoke sessions happening every time the tech crew had a question. I was so frustrated and tired from a looong school day, and we’d already been rehearsing for an hour, and couldn’t they just focus already?


You asked them to come out for the musical and expand their horizons, and look – they did! For many of these students, this is their first show. They are discovering this new creative and sometimes goofy side to themselves! This is what I wanted, right? This is the goal of drama, right?

Also, are you tired? They’re tired too! I also realized that my students, like me, need a break. I actually solved this one the next day by asking a parent to bring in snacks for a scheduled break time. I even threw on some music for an impromptu dance party. It only lasted 10 minutes, but it was enough for them to relax for a bit and get back on track. The rest of the rehearsal went off without a hitch.


Irritation: Students don’t know their lines or their lyrics.

This is a common frustration for directors, and it seems so obvious that this is the first step an actor needs to take in successfully executing his or her part. However, as I considered my students who fell into this category, I began to realize something.

Some students didn’t know how to memorize. When I asked them, they shared that they would read the text over and over, but that they still weren’t learning. I showed them how to go line by line, then paragraph by paragraph, until they got their parts down.


Irritation: Students don’t exit correctly / aren’t quiet backstage / don’t cheat out to the audience / don’t look expressive when they don’t have lines.

So you have a few talented students, those who naturally find the light and engage the audience. How about the rest? What aren’t they getting?

They probably have no idea what “correct” looks like. Just as we do in the classroom, we need to model for our students. What does a successful exit look like? What does “cheating out” mean? I have a young cast, as I mentioned, so these questions are even more important!

I have solved many problems over the course of the last few days by photographing or taping the scene, and showing students what’s happening. They are still developing the empathy and awareness necessary for actors to imagine what the audience is seeing. Another great trick is to pull students out one-by-one to hear what the audience can hear from backstage (and, as all directors know, the answer is everything!).


In closing…

It’s easy to forget that your musical cast is composed of students, but rehearsal is really just another classroom. I’ve discovered over the last couple of months (and intensely in the last few days) that my problems can usually be solved by employing a few techniques from the classroom:

  1. Empathy – Make it social. Kids will be kids. High schoolers are not professionals, they’re not getting paid, and they’re just as tired as we are. Give them breaks and let them have fun.
  1. Scaffolding – Break major tasks (learning lines, learning blocking) into smaller chunks and show them how to accomplish a chunk.
  1. Modeling – Set your expectations (for speedy exits, backstage noise level, transitions between numbers) and model them. Show your students what you mean when you name the parts of the stage or a blocking term. Help your students build these foundational skills that they need to be successful.

What are your biggest irritations in rehearsal? How are you overcoming them?


-Danielle @ Nouvelle

Photo Credit: Martina K via Flickr (Creative Commons Attribution License)

How to Deal with Irritation in Rehearsal: Ways to cope with and resolve irritation while directing a high school drama production. Whether it's the musical, a play, or one-acts, these are ideas to help every director.


  • Jonathan Stephens
    April 3, 2016 at 2:18 am

    Fantastic breakdown of so many different irritations. And major kudos to you for having this depth of self awareness… In a little jealous over here. ?

    • Danielle Hall
      April 3, 2016 at 9:07 am

      Thanks, Jonathan, for coming over for the read. Your video was pretty much perfect timing to help me crystallize my thoughts. 🙂


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