Six Tips for Keeping Your Cool During Tech Rehearsal Week

Necessary though it is, tech rehearsal week has accrued a somewhat intimidating reputation. It’s an important part of the process - but how can you make it less gruelling? Tom Baker offers his top tips for keeping your cool during tech week.

By Tom Baker

Being part of a theatre production is a magical thing. A group collaborate to conjure an entire world, a compelling set of characters, and a story for audiences in what was previously an empty space. There is nothing like the exhilaration of a successful performance. But before that, there’s the exquisite pain of tech week.

It’s not for nothing that this period is 'affectionately' known as hell week. That final stretch of prep introduces so many different spinning plates, it’s almost a given one is going to topple off and crash to the floor. The blocking doesn’t work with the stage design, lights break, make-up melts, costumes don’t fit the way they were supposed to. But hey! That’s what tech week is for, right? To fix these problems before the audience has to see them.

Keeping your cool pre-show is one thing. Maintaining a sense of composure during hell week requires the sort of patience usually attributed to saints. Though through a combination of self-care, empathy, and routine, you ought to be able to keep it together without the need for martyrdom...

Try and maintain some semblance of routine

During this final stretch before showtime proper, your director may call some earlier-than-usual rehearsals. Experiments with the tech will cause your schedule to overrun, and the likelihood of solidarity pints after leaving the theatre space is strong. Flexibility is a necessity during this period. Losing yourself entirely in the tech week tornado isn’t a given, however.

Don’t exhaust yourself unnecessarily from what is always going to be a tiring period of work. Do your best to keep regular hours as best you can: sleep properly, at the same time every night. Do the same for your meals, gym time, yoga, or other self-care activities that can keep you from losing your head.

Taking care of your body is as important during tech week as it always is - possibly more so.
Tom Baker

Speaking of self-care…

Tempting though it is, the ease of a takeaway meal is severely offset by the negative effects when it’s all you’re eating for days on end. This goes doubly so for vending machine 'meals.' You may not feel up for cooking a full three-course meal every night after you schlep back from rehearsal but sating your knackered body’s desire for Mars bars and cans of Coke will only cause you to crash further.

Taking care of your body is as important during tech week as it always is - possibly more so. Maintaining a healthy body is linked to a healthy mind, after all. Everything will seem less catastrophic when you’re sleeping properly, eating well, and still managing to get some exercise in between laying down an excess of glow tape.

Don’t ignore sickly symptoms

About halfway through tech week, you will get sick. Even if you follow all the advice we’ve given you so far in this article (and you should!), the sheer hours of expended energy will be enough to knock you for six. You shouldn’t push these obvious signs of getting ill to the back of your mind or hope that one more run through of the closing musical number is somehow going to have the paradoxical effect of healing your swollen lymph nodes.

Honey and hot lemon is your friend, as any performer knows. This goes doubly so during tech week. Make sure you avoid the drowsy stuff if you’re going for your packaged pharmaceuticals and, again, a good diet is vital during this period. Your body is going to be burning a lot of calories. Keep it going with natural sugars, fruit and veg, and your immune system will thank you too.

Remember there’s a life outside the theatre

Tech week calls for an enormous amount of work to be executed within a very short amount of time. It can be an enriching experience, really getting into the nitty-gritty of what makes the show work, seeing all the work you’ve done come together with lighting changes, music, sets, and so on. It’s important you get some perspective on the woods from outside the trees, though. You can risk serious burnout from spending all your time totally fixated on the show at hand.

Read a book! Have dinner with a friend! In short, do anything that doesn’t involve the theatre or your production. You may feel a little guilty at the prospect, or even feel like you haven’t the time, but the long-term positive effects of just chilling out whenever you can are immeasurable.

Give yourself a moment, close your eyes, focus on your breath. The future doesn’t seem so scary when you’re rooted in the present.
Tom Baker

Practice mindfulness (if you don’t already)

When things are getting too much, nerves are piling upon nerves, and it seems like everything is on the verge of collapse: stop. Breathe. Centre yourself in the moment. Apps like Calm or Headspace are great for guided meditation, even in small doses, but that’s more or less how it works! Give yourself a moment, close your eyes, focus on your breath. The future doesn’t seem so scary when you’re rooted in the present.

It also helps you get a handle on a key skill during tech week: patience. You’re going to be working hard. You’re also going to be sitting around while the kinks are ironed out, scenes are reset, notes are taken, vocal warm-ups completed. If you can find an oasis of calm in these little breaks, rather than getting frustrated at the delays, you’ll be nice and balanced mentally and physically.

Give everyone else a break, too

Tensions are likely to be high during tech week. Even for the smoothest production, with the most genial cast and crew, the stress of pulling everything together can cause no small amount of button-pushing. Bear in mind as you get wound up by a picky director, neurotic costumer or nervous co-star that they’re just as nervous as you are to get everything right.

You’re all on the same team, and the fires of hell week should only serve to bond you together further, rather than creating division within the ranks. If everyone is on the same page, then potential sparks of conflict can be immediately snuffed with the mutual understanding that it’s a difficult time. This is when those post-rehearsal pub trips come in especially handy…

Tom Baker is a freelance writer and ex-theatre employee based in East London. His work has appeared everywhere from film magazines to product descriptions of shampoo to the course pages of major universities. He's heard most of the Doctor Who jokes about his name, but precious little riffing on Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased).