Certain performers are a big draw: Ed Gero, currently in “Red” at Arena, last season attracted a large number of what Round House staffers call “Ed groupies” for their “Amadeus.” (“They were chewing the scenery,” Ramont says of that cast.) The Shakespeare had to add sessions when Elizabeth Ashley appeared in “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” in 2010, filling Harman Hall twice over.
“That took us by surprise,” says Darby Lunceford, the company’s director of marketing and communications.
On the other hand, football, weather, and intangibles can keep the numbers down. (Freezing rain on a January Friday may be why only two people witnessed Ramont’s brief actor spat.) Even with big crowds, Kahn insists that the rehearsals can be productive. He interacts with the guests, asking what they see and hear.
“It’s rather confidence-building,” Kahn says of the sessions. “I actually love them.”
The common Do’s for open rehearsals: allow the actors time to warm up. Forum Theatre Artistic Director Michael Dove, whose small troupe figures to increase the number of open rehearsals , likes to work for an hour to let the actors “get their heads in the game” before bringing in onlookers. Kahn typically schedules the open rehearsal day as the first day the actors begin to take the stage, but their first hour in the space is closed.
Don’ts include nudity, first stabs at violence, and big emotional scenes. “It’s still sacred space,” says Smith. “The rehearsal room has to be a safe environment.”
So why do it, if there are not hard numbers to quantify how many new patrons this access drives through the turnstiles? Forum Managing Director Julia Harman Cain points to industry conversations that theaters typically only sell about 30 percent of what goes on in their operation, suggesting a stock of “untapped inventory.” She also notes the popularity of process shows on TV and open kitchens in restaurants.
“It’s not something theater made up,” Cain says.
“I don’t feel like we’re caving in to any trends,” Dove adds. “I think we’re looking toward a more inclusive experience. ”
“Let’s pull the curtains down,” Round House Producing Artistic Director Blake Robison says. “Let’s see the wizard on the other side.”
Woolly is keeping all kinds of possibilities on the table as the troupe seeks resonance for its work beyond the stage, according to Weisfeld. “Tweet Up” was the product of an aggressive campaign that involves Woolly’s “claque,” — the French opera term for hired supporters — which Weisfeld describes as “young, diverse, highly engaged ambassadors” for the company. From that claque, Woolly culls a specialized focus group that helps staffers strategize about everything from what groups might have a natural interest in the next show to what ideas and trends might be helpful to the artists.
For Weisfeld, the Twitter matter simply indicates that the theater is still figuring out what connectivity and transparency mean. “It’s not throwing doors open all the time,” she says. “There is such a thing as TMI.” Maintaining privacy and protecting risk is still a big deal, and for any sneak peeks, “We have to make sure that everyone is clear about why we’re opening up this stage of the process, and who we’re opening it up to.”
Downstairs in the glass-walled room where “Civilization” is being rehearsed, the tall black curtains are pulled shut. Nonetheless, Tweet Up! was scheduled to continue through last Thursday’s technical rehearsal and will culminate in this week’s final dress. Upstairs in the offices, Weisfeld says that as Woolly continues to pursue the ideals of transparency and openness, “You can’t be formulaic about what’s right.”