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The Green Room: What is the value of previews?

The Abbey Theatre in Dublin, which has a free first preview for every show. Photo: Bjaglin/Wiki Comms The Abbey Theatre in Dublin, which has a free first preview for every show. Photo: Bjaglin/Wiki Comms

Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…​​​​​​​

Gary Abblett is a 38-year-old jobbing actor with experience at the National, Royal Shakespeare Company, in the West End and on tour

Vivian Lee is 38 and has played leading roles at the National, the RSC and the Royal Court, alongside regular TV appearances.

Charlotte Osmand is in her 30s and has worked as a stage manager on and off the book in venues across the UK, as well as in event management

Peter Quince, 72, works in theatre and television

Ros Clifford, 30, is currently a deputy stage manager, she has worked extensively in London and regional theatre for nine years

Beryl Phoenix is in her 40s. She has played leading roles at the RSC, worked on new plays, and toured both nationally and internationally

 

Gary I’ve always thought they sort of don’t exist. It’s just an early show in the run.

Peter They’re useful. More for ironing out technical problems than acting.

Vivian Immense. I’d have been properly fucked in the last few years if it hadn’t been for them. I find them an utterly essential part of the process. They are the latter part of the rehearsal period. Hurrah for previews.

Charlotte Previews are important to work out the kinks, but I don’t understand it when shows are in previews for weeks on end.

Beryl Being allowed to shift and change things once you have your ‘missing cast member’ – the audience – can change the rhythm.

Ros Previews are incredibly important to the process but – as Charlotte said – sometimes they don’t need to go on as long as they do.

Gary If plays are massively tinkered with in previews it’s usually a sign you’re in an irredeemable stinker.

JonI’ve never done one of those shows where the press night is show 45. I can see pros and cons.

Peter I don’t like them being called rehearsals when people have to pay. They should pay less.

JonIdeally significantly less. I get a bit prickly when previews are only £2, or so, cheaper than full price.

Ros I agree that tickets for previews should be significantly less.

Vivian Of course they should.

Peter Lower prices encourage people to be brave and see a show before it has been reviewed.

Vivian Also, I find directors use them more than they used to. In my experience, we ‘shoot’ everything in the rehearsal room, and then the previews become the edit, where the blocks are moved about and reassembled to create the final structure.

JonI’ve definitely seen a change in how directors use previews. I’m old enough to remember getting a 5pm call for notes. Now everyone expects to be in at 11am and to work on bits until dinner time.

Ros I’ve also seen a change in the way directors use previews. Sessions seem to be getting longer and longer. By preview five or six everyone seems to get a bit frazzled…

Charlotte They are definitely still seen as part of the rehearsal process. Especially as the rehearsal time on a lot of shows seems to be reducing – that may just be the ones I’m working on though.

Beryl That’s why the whole company is knackered by opening night.

JonThat’s something, actually. It’s counter-productive rehearsing people too much on press night itself. Minds are elsewhere and it stresses everyone out. Far better to have a big old note session in the stalls with coffee.

Ros Agreed.

Beryl Also agreed.

Peter After all, you’ve got your cards to write.

Ros There are a few shows I’ve done lately where we’ve still been working (and changing things) up until 5pm on press night.

Beryl Press nights already have enough nonsense.

Peter And new plays sometimes get rewritten during previews.

Beryl They give us time to consider how the audience changes and affects the show, as well as ironing out tech stuff. In my experience, they have been essential on new writing. I agree with lower prices, though.

Vivian The Abbey in Dublin has a free first preview for every show. It’s a wonderful idea. Positive for all aspects of the production.

JonOh wow, I would love that. You get proper football cheers when people haven’t paid. A big boost for your first ever show.

Peter The Crucible has very cheap seats for the final dress rehearsal, or used to.

Ros They still do, Peter. It’s £1 a ticket…

Beryl Great idea.

‘You get proper football cheers when people haven’t paid. A big boost for your first ever show’

JonRos and Charlotte – a lot of readers won’t know what previews look like from the stage management side. Obviously lighting and sound cues change but what else happens?

Ros Settings of things change. On new writes text gets cut and rewritten. The rhythm of the show changes, which is always interesting as a deputy stage manager.

Charlotte I’m up for working notes and things like that, but often stage management and the technical team are forgotten and we end up with a frantic reset before a press night. I get nervous too and I find that I’m often calling an opening-night show having just got everything ready in time.

Ros Yes Charlotte, and you have to be listening to everything all the time.

Beryl Ros and Charlotte have it the hardest and are the quietest – stage management’s lot.

Ros It can be very stressful and unfortunately not a lot of people seem to get why…

Charlotte Also, a lot of the time a section of blocking gets changed, or cuts are made, without understanding the impact that it has on the technical team.

Ros By press night my brain is often goop.

Beryl That’s why we need more than one preview though….

JonI’ve certainly seen stage managers’ faces drop when someone comes up with the idea that “solves everything”, which clearly involves huge changes to cueing etc.

Ros Or it gets changed without anyone telling you and in the notes after the show you get “was the cue late? That person was in darkness”. No, we just didn’t know they were going to be there.

Peter That’s why email notes are bad. Someone who needs to know a change is often left out.

Charlotte Because everything is programmed, there is a lack of understanding of how complicated it can be.

Ros If you change something and allow time to re-tech it… that’s cool. If not, that’s not cool.

Beryl It all sounds familiar. Communication falls down when folk get stressed.

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