Landing The Role

I will always remember one of the best rehearsals I ever attended. It was a rehearsal for a summer production of Much Ado About Nothing. We had the privilege of performing this classic play in a beautiful outdoor Shakespearean theater in Solvang, California.

During the first week of rehearsal, the lead cast members stood up and faithfully read their lines directly from their scripts, highlighting, taking notes, and asking questions as they moved along.

That is, everyone except for Todd Breaugh, the actor cast as Antonio.

Todd quietly brought an extreme level of preparation. When his first scene came up, he stood with the rest of the cast — without his script — and fully in character. When he spoke he came to life as Antonio. He hit every inflection perfectly and made sudden, bold moves that had us all in stitches. We were blown away.

And he did all this on day one.

He didn’t wait for instructions, he made it happen on his own time. Granted, he was not playing a lead role with hundreds of lines to memorize, however, he made sure he took care of his business. His performance called us all to a higher level.

That rehearsal made an indelible impression on me. Todd changed my perception of what was possible on day one.

Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos is now famous for his focus on the “day one” mentality.

“The company should always be in “Day 1” mode,” he stated in a recent shareholder letter posted in Forbes.

So how can you prepare for day one of rehearsals?

How’s your work ethic? Will you set up your cast members for success? Will you be a diva? Or will you make this the best production you have ever been a part of?


I want to highlight two areas to consider when starting a new role: Organization and serving.

Organization

You won’t be able to focus on the task at hand if your attention is divided. So get organized. Especially your personal life and your work.

Organize your personal life

First, it is critical you get your personal life under control. So act quickly. Tie up loose ends. Make agreements with friends and family in advance. Schedule days when you are not available and days when you are.

I am not saying give up on important relationships, rather negotiate those relationships ahead of time. You will soon need very long stretches of focused time without distractions.

Hugh MacLeod, a former advertising copywriter, wrote a book with a memorable title: Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity (Portfolio, 2009). Painful, but true advice. At some point, you will have to shut everyone else out in order to concentrate.

Plan ahead

It’s also important to make plans for the future. What will you do when this is over? Look for more work? Take a break? You may not know exactly what you’ll do, but even if you only have a vague idea of your next goal, you may be in better shape than those without one.

People with plans also tend to relax more:

“In a series of well-designed studies, E.J. Masicampo…and Roy Baumeister…demonstrated that committing to a specific plan for a goal frees up cognitive resources for our other pursuits.(psychologytoday.com, 2011)

Making plans means freeing up cognitive “RAM” on your internal hard drive.

Of course, not everything will tie up perfectly, but you need to know you’ve done everything you can to send the signal to those around you that you will need focused time.


Organize your work

Your second task is to organize your approach to this new play.

Start with setting a personal schedule for memorizing your lines. But don’t stop there, as the infomercial man says.

Welcome to the work burst.

For years now, we’ve heard tales of young Silicon Valley entrepreneurs doing a “deep dive” for their new startup company. They submerge into a notorious vortex known as a work burst. They shut everyone else out and work on it 24/7, for weeks on end. Until they reach their goal.

You are about to do the same.

In fact, because theater pre-dates the internet, theater people can claim they invented the work burst. Take that, hoodie guy.

Eat the Play Whole

Sane directors ask you to memorize your role. Insane directors expect you to memorize the entire script. From beginning to end. All roles. Gulp.

Why? Because there is great benefit to knowing and understanding the complete story. Your level of ownership will reflect your level of commitment.

If a fellow actor forgets a line on stage, the other actors will have her back and the audience will be none the wiser. You become and elite force for the stage. You will become the Navy SEALs of the theater.

In recent years, the hit musical Hamilton has rocked Broadway in more ways than one. And there is a good reason for it’s unprecedented success. Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda not only “ate” the whole play, he “ate” all of Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton and repositioned it as a modern musical. As Miranda tells it, it took him six years to fully convert the story into musical form. And it is working brilliantly. He immersed himself in one project — for six years.

You must know your project from A-Z.


Here to serve

Finally, once you have a plan of attack, look outward. Ask yourself how can I help and add value to my new team?

One of the best ways is to simply serve others. How can you serve the other actors in rehearsal? On stage? How can you serve the crew behind the scenes?

Finally, how can you and your fellow artists serve the audience? This should actually be your first priority. Everything you do, all your preparation, should lead to a very satisfied customer.

You want audiences riveted. You want them to forget where they were. Whisked away to another time and place. You want them to tell their friends this is a must-see show.

Landing a role in a play is cause for celebration. Enjoy the achievement. Then get organized, lay out a plan, and prepare to serve those around you.

Get ready for day one.


Joel Kneedler