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When should actors be "Off - Book"?

Printed From: Community Theater Green Room
Category: Producing Theater
Forum Name: Directing
Forum Discription: For questions about handling shows, actors, crew, board members, children ...or do we repeat ourselves?
Printed Date: 12/07/23 at 10:47pm
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Topic: When should actors be "Off - Book"?
Posted By: NDTENOR
Subject: When should actors be "Off - Book"?
Date Posted: 1/19/11 at 1:42am
I would like the input of both actors a directors on this one. Let's say for your average community theater Musical production with , say, a 10 week rehearsal schedule.... at what time frame should everybody be "off-Book" ( not using scripts for dialog and know their music ) .

A) at 4 weeks after ( 6 weeks before the show )

B) at 5 weeks after ( 5 weeks before the show )

C) at 6 weeks after ( 4 weeks before the show )

D) Other ---- please explain

Posted By: Tallsor
Date Posted: 1/19/11 at 9:51am

I've not done too many musicals, but with non-musical theatre, I rehearse around 5 weeks and have them off book 2 weeks prior to open/3 weeks into it.

My rule of thumb is about 1 week to 2 (depending on how often per week you're rehearsing) after you've finished blocking.

Posted By: edh915
Date Posted: 1/19/11 at 10:40pm
As an actor, I'll take whatever I can get.  As a director, I'm content with two weeks off script.

I worked with one director (one time only) who would meticulously block every scene - and I mean meticulous.  (Two hours for a five minute scene in a coffee shop.)  The trick was: once you had blocked a scene you were expected to be off script for that scene from then on.  But this is a director who was still giving notes to the actors during intermission of the final performance.

Posted By: MartyW
Date Posted: 1/20/11 at 8:07am
Originally posted by NDTENOR

I would like the input of both actors a directors on this one. Let's say for your average community theater Musical production with , say, a 10 week rehearsal schedule.... at what time frame should everybody be "off-Book" ( not using scripts for dialog and know their music ) .

A) at 4 weeks after ( 6 weeks before the show )

B) at 5 weeks after ( 5 weeks before the show )

C) at 6 weeks after ( 4 weeks before the show )

D) Other ---- please explain
First, for us, the show is over after 10 weeks... For a straight show we only get 6 weeks from audition to opening and 8 for a musical.  Everyone would love to be off by 2 weeks out, and for minor parts and quick studies, I push for that and more if I can get it..  Obviously, the soonest off, the easier to get blocking and buisness... In REALITY however it is more like, when the actor knows the lines..... Just saying..

Marty W

"Till next we trod the boards.."

Posted By: Spectrum
Date Posted: 1/20/11 at 11:24am

"In REALITY however it is more like, when the actor knows the lines."


I would think having a serious deadline two or three weeks into rehearsal (where the actor experiences 'being on his own' - even if only for that evening) would motivate some actors to get on the ball and study lines.  Without a deadline, SOME people will be putting their script down just as they walk onto the stage, still not confident with their lines on opening night.  How good is THAT for really developing the role?


My best acting endeavor was when I got off book ASAP (even before any deadline) because THEN I could really work on characterisation, and mannerisms,  and ‘living the part,’ etc.  The best show I ever experienced (memorizing script) was DARK OF THE MOON, where I had the male lead.  Once I got the lines 'second nature' the interaction with people and the blocking became meaningful and natural, and I was REacting to those around me more than merely waiting to say my line.  That was especially helpful whenever someone messed up a line or got stuck.  That, and playing the Fiddler in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (NO lines!) were the only times I remember acting as being FUN.  (I’m a techie more often than not.  Acting usually BORES me and over the years I would take a role only when certain directors asked me because of that ‘shortage of men’ thing.)  I'm really not an actor, and the deadline helps prod people like me.  Real actors are usually self motivated to learn lines quickly for the reasons previously stated.

Growing old is mandatory. Growing up is optional.

Posted By: Majicwrench
Date Posted: 1/20/11 at 1:49pm
 I have had directors give deadline for being off-book and then allow, without saying anything, actors to rehearse with their scripts past the deadline. Totally lose respect for said director.  
   Now, as a director, when I give a deadline for being off-book, that is the deadline, period, no scripts on stage. That doesn't mean we won't help with lines etc.
  I do give a deadline, but it depends a lot on the cast, the script, and any changes that may have been made. If I have everyone off-book two weeks before a show I am thrilled, even if they are stumbling thru their lines.( and they usually are) .

Posted By: NDTENOR
Date Posted: 1/21/11 at 1:32am
I appreciate the comments. Sometimes I post questions for which I have my own fairly firm ideas and am looking for alternate viewpoints.

   My own view is this : I believe that to "internalize and be comfortable with" a character means that one should memorize lines as soon as possible. And rehearsals, when one is "off book", becomes substantially more meaningful, constructive, and fun. For this reason I have always striven to be the first person in the production who is "off book" and I can't recall in over 10 years of doing shows when I wasn't "off book" in any more than two weeks. Usually I am essentially off book by the first rehearsal. I simply consider it the "professional" thing to do. By the way, many of the roles I've done have been "leads" where I have had the largest number of lines and music in the show. Although I have a good memory, I don't really consider it to be that much better than average. I simply put in the "homework" that I need to do.

   My philosophy is obviously not the same as some of the others that I work with in productions. I am amazed sometime at the number of people that seem to put off learning their lines and music to the last few days of rehearsal. ( or never REALLY learning all their lines and music )And , pardon me, but there is no question that the production itself suffers because of it. And many times makes what I'm trying to accomplish that much more difficult and makes the whole rehearsal process more difficult.

But I guess I can't really change peoples behavior... but I can only do what I personally feel is right.



Posted By: Amos Hart
Date Posted: 1/27/11 at 8:50am

When I direct, it goes like this:

1st Week: Block the show (¼ of the show per night over four nights).
2nd Week: Work the sections.
3rd Week: Work the sections - off-book, no exceptions.
4th Week: Work the sections.
5th Week: Put the show together.
6th Week: Production week.
If I direct a musical, I add two weeks at the beginning of the schedule, which is all music & dance.

Posted By: Rorgg
Date Posted: 1/27/11 at 1:31pm
I'm used to about 8-10 weeks for a straight show, but just out of scheduling necessity (I took two paid acting gigs on either side of it), with my producer's blessing, I recently crammed prep for "The Skin of Our Teeth" into 6 weeks.  For a straight show, it has a lot of elements -- a good-sized cast (15 or so), some effects work, major set changes, some prop work, lighting elements, elaborate costuming, a pre-produced video segment...

But that 6-week list above is precisely what I went with, as there really wasn't any way around it.  My cast was pretty shocked they were expected to be off-book in two weeks in a CT production (especially in a very talky play) but, when forced to do it, they DID, and it worked out so, so well.

I still wish I'd had 8-10 weeks to prep the show.  It's very deep and layered, and we were just getting into the meat of it, and some of the ensemble and minor character bits didn't quite get where I'd hoped, just out of time constraint, but knowing what I know now, week 3 off-book is something I think I'll keep.

Posted By: KEB54
Date Posted: 1/28/11 at 5:46pm
Actors have their book while blocking a scene. They may still use it the next time/session the scene is run. After that, they are off script for that scene. We may run the scene 4 times during the blocking session, and twice for the next session, so the scene is actually run through maybe 6 times before being off book.
Then they may call "Line" as needed, though it is expected that it will be less and less as we progress.
The for at least 5 days before tech week we don't allow "Line" to be called either.  They must be on their own.
I let the music director determine when they are off score. Certainly when we begin to integrate book, song and dance, they CANNOT be burdened with a book in their hands. I'd rather have "la, la, la, la, la," than see a book.


Posted By: B-M-D
Date Posted: 1/30/11 at 10:14pm
2-3 weeks before opening or whatever I arbitrarily come up with.  After all I am the director.   But seriously 2-3 weeks prior to opening is norm in my neck of the woods.


"Dying is easy, comedy is hard."

Posted By: avcastner
Date Posted: 11/12/12 at 8:29pm
My preference is right after blocking rehearsals are completed--usually 2 weeks in.  By that time they are usually familiar enough with each scene to walk through it once with the script in hand and then drop the script with a stage manager prompting.  Usually some of the scenes later in the play need another week for them to get comfortable with, but generally we're able to work each scene without a script in hand before we can do Act Runs.  If we're lucky, we'll even get a few polishing rehearsals in before runs.


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