Whew. Just finished the second of four weekends performing in The Encore Musical Theatre Company’s production of Nunsense. Exhausted! As an amateur actor, I’ve had the privilege of performing on many local community theater stages including Ann Arbor Civic Theater, Dexter Community Players, Chelsea Area Players and my home base, Saline Area Players. Last summer was my first experience with The Encore, a relatively new company in Dexter that specializes in professional musical theatre. At that time, I played a character role in Music Man, and although the experience was certainly more intense than my other community theater experiences, it wasn’t until this show, in which I’m on stage most of the time, that the differences really hit home.
This is a quick reflection and behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like being involved in a professional theater experience versus a community theater experience. One big difference is that in community theater, when you do a musical, the rehearsal schedule is generally 8-10 weeks. In this most recent show, we rehearsed for 3 weeks and 2 days before opening night. Whew!
In community theater, you generally rehearse 4 nights a week if you have a major role, and often less, at least at the beginning, if you have a supporting or chorus role. In this show, I was called every night and was there pretty much the whole time. We rehearsed Tuesdays-Sundays (4 hours during the week and 5-6 hours on weekends) – that’s 27 hours a week. (That’s only slightly less hours than I work a week at my real job, which I was doing also). Mondays are traditionally “dark.”
So, that was definitely a tax on my aging brain - learning lines, music, and movement in a very short time span. And the two ironies are (can you have two?) that I teach memory improvement classes at work (which was actually good, as they came in handy) and the character I’m playing is Sister Mary AMNESIA. Yes, my character is pretty forgetful, and with the stress on my brain learning everything, I thought for a time I was as forgetful in real life. But, I got it…eventually!
Another huge difference is that the performance schedule is much longer. In community theater, you generally do a show for one weekend and, if you’re lucky, two, for a total of 3-4 or at most 7-8 shows. In this show, we’re performing 20 times. That’s a lot of times for me to be forgetful. I can tell you, though, that after multiple times of doing a show, it really begins to gel and you really have a chance to fine-tune your character. You can really enjoy it. The downside is that you have to keep it fresh every night for the audiences. But we’ve had great audiences!
Another perk from the professional experience is getting to meet equity actors or those earning points toward becoming an equity actor. Some of these people are paid. I can’t begin to explain the whole process, other than if you are working towards becoming an equity actor, you get points by performing in professional theaters. So, it is fun to meet people who are working towards becoming an equity actor and those who’ve been on regional or national stages already. And, the rehearsals are run as a professional theater, very efficiently with high expectations, and with standard break times that are strictly observed (which a good thing because I usually needed one). It is also a place where you have direction by professional directors, an extremely rich learning experience.
There are probably more comparisons to make, but that’s enough for now. One commonality is that in both experiences I’ve met incredibly nice people. And, as in any theater production I’ve been a part of, there is an amazing camaraderie that grows out of working together on a collaborative project.
Nunsense runs two more weekends at The Encore Musical Theatre Company. If you enjoy laughing and quality entertainment, check it out!