Student performers reflect on the terrors of rehearsal ‘hell weeks’

Everyone has experienced hell week in one way or another. For anybody that has been involved with a theatrical production – whether on stage or off – hell week means long hours, a nucleated schedule and a shrinkage of one’s social bubble to encompass (for a couple of days) a distilled few: one’s fellow cast and crew members. On the flip side of that coin, “hell week” has implications even for those who won’t have their names on the program: Friends of performers,  directors and technicians must surrender to a complete (albeit temporary) absence of these companions. Considering how many students of the College are involved with the performing arts (way too many to count), hell week symptoms seem to be a serious pandemic sweeping the College. But is it all worth it? According to multiple representatives of the College stage scene, the answer is: most definitely.

Gabrielle DiBenedetto ’16, a cast member of the recent student-written musical, East O’ West O’ explained that the weekend before the first curtain entailed the entire crew basically camping out in the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance – spending 13 hours there on Saturday and 12 on Sunday. “There were a lot of hours in a row, which was pretty tiring,” she said. When asked what in the world they needed all those hours for, she replied that they “must have had around a million dress rehearsals,” and added that, “it can get boring when you have to stand onstage for an hour, waiting for something to happen.” And it isn’t only the actors that are affected. For a production as big as East O’ West O’, the backstage crew, the technical crew, the lights and sound directors and the musicians have hours just as taxing as the performers’. Reflecting on the end of hell week, Chris Janson ’16, an East O’ West O’ musician, simply remarked, “Well, you’re definitely going to be seeing more of me now [that it’s over].”

Hell week also means getting a little bit too acquainted with the rehearsal spaces. Because so much time is spent backstage and onstage, cast and crew members are forced to become extremely comfortable with these surroundings. Theaters turn into living rooms, green rooms become bedrooms and dance studios are converted into communal nap areas. Some performers, though, find this to be their natural habitat. “I really like it because I just like being in the theater,” DiBenedetto said. “And that’s really all you do during hell week.”

But are the polishing, the blocking, the repeating of lines and the standing around really all worth it? Oh, yes, argued the performers I spoke to. Despite its difficulties, a lot of people find that it’s a great bonding experience for the cast, since they are forced to spend so much time together.

It seems that the intensity of hell week is highly dependent on the nature and size of the performance at hand. For the a cappella groups, who had their midsemester performances this weekend, hell week was slightly different. “We really only had an hour and a half more practice than we normally would,” Ephoria’s Raquel Rodriguez ’16 said. “It was really hard, though, because we would have really late-night practices to accommodate everyone’s schedules.” Because of these late hours, some nights “wouldn’t be as productive,” Rodriguez explained, but in general the hours were “pretty light.” Tanzim Milkey ’15 of the Springstreeters commented, “It wasn’t as much as we normally rehearse for final concerts, but it was more intense. We didn’t have as much time to practice so everyone had to get their game faces on.”

Contrary to the all-encompassing hell week of theatre productions, Brian Levine ’16 says that the week before his Jazz Ensemble Recital “wasn’t really that bad; we didn’t really have a hell week.” For Brian and the rest of the jazz ensemble that performed last Friday night, it was just “practice as usual.”

In general, there are several things about hell week that cannot be denied. It’s a lot of work. It forces casts and crews to spend hours and hours together in the same rehearsal space. And while the stress may pull some people apart, it generally serves to bond castmates and performers together. For some, it means merely couple of extra hours and for others full days at the studio. It can be tiring, numbing, frustrating and exhausting. But, in Rodriguez’s words, “In the end, it all paid off.”