The Tech Rehearsal

This week is production week for us at Coast Hills. And it's quite a production; Gunch! is an (almost) all-original musical-style stage play with an 80+ member cast, 13 person pit band and five performances over the weekend with an expected attendance of 4500+. It's quite an undertaking. Tonight is opening nigh and we have over 200 lighting cues, 80 audio snapshots (plus several dozen manual cues), aero technics and a Kabuki drop. How do we make it all work? A lot of planning, of course, and a tech rehearsal.

A tech rehearsal is an oft-ignored and underutilized night of rehearsal in most churches. In fact, this is one of the few that I've actually gotten to do; most churches I've been a part of haven't valued tech enough to do one, at our own peril. The tech rehearsal is vital to a successful production if said production involves more than about 6 cues. How does a tech rehearsal differ from a regular rehearsal? Read on...

Tech Rehearsal Defined

Most rehearsals are for the band and or actors to learn their parts, blocking, entrances, exits and generally work out the stage craft. Those are necessary and valuable. The tech team often sits in on those and even supports them with tech, and can sometimes make valuable progress in getting cueing and notes worked out.

A tech rehearsal, in contrast, is all about the tech. The tech team is in complete control and can stop the rehearsal at any time. As shows get more complex, requiring the writing of cues for lighting, audio, video and presentation, the rehearsal has to start and stop to give the tech team time to write those cues. Sometimes it takes a few seconds, sometimes it takes a few minutes. In a tech rehearsal, the tech director can call Stop and everyone on the stage is supposed to freeze. The team writes cues, updates lighting positions, works on audio levels or whatever they need to do.

Rather than rushing and scrambling to build a cuelist on the fly, the tech rehearsal gives the tech team the time they need to get a solid draft of the show. Sometimes major changes need to be made (lights may need to be re-hung, videos may need to be re-edited, additional mics or monitors added), and those changes can be noted and worked on at a later time.

Why Most Churches Don't Do Tech Rehearsals

They're not fun. Tech rehearsals are long, slow and tedious for everyone except for the half-dozen people in the tech booth. Sometimes, everyone has to hold their position for 5 minutes or more while the tech team works something out. However, the alternative is not getting that worked out and having a disaster come show night.

Tech is undervalued. Many churches will spend weeks or months rehearsing the actors and band, then give the tech team one rehearsal to learn/program/perfect the entire show, then expect it to all come off perfectly on show night (usually the next night). This doesn't work. As FOH engineer for Gunch!, I have more cues than any single actor on the stage. It takes time to get those written, dialed in and ready to hit perfectly. We need that time to get this right.

Making Tech Rehearsals Successful

For a tech rehearsal to be successful, the tech team must be prepared. The night of the rehearsal is not the time to start counting up how many wireless mics you should have available. Or figure out where the lights should be hung. Ideally, you've already gone through the show and roughed in a lot of the programming. Scenes should be written close to what they should be. Audio levels will need to be set, but the entire audio system should be patched and ready to go.

The tech team should have already read through the script (there is a script, right?) and made notes. There needs to be an easy way for the tech team to communicate to the actors and band, as well as the director. The director needs to be completely supportive of the tech rehearsal for it to work. Our director went so far as to say to the entire cast before we started, "Tonight is all about tech. We may have to stand around for 5 minutes to give them time to do their thing. Relax and deal with it. They get to drive the pace tonight, not us."

If you have the manpower, it's helpful to have a few extra people in the booth just to take notes. My ATD Isaiah is TD for this show and he frantically scribbled notes throughout the night. Next time, I will appoint someone else to take notes for audio, and I may even find another person or two to help with presentation and lighting. The workload is high for those few hours, having extra hands on deck is helpful.

Last night, our dress rehearsal was 95% of an actual performance; in large part to the long tech rehearsal two nights earlier. Tonight at opening night, I think we'll nail it as we only have a few things to tweak. I hope this will provide inspiration and encouragement for your church to consider doing a real tech rehearsal for you upcoming productions.