“Rent,” the theater department’s winter 2022 MainStage production, ran at the Moore Theater from Feb. 18-20 and Feb. 24-27. Though I don’t have experience performing at Dartmouth, in high school, I participated in the musical each winter and as I watched the cast of “Rent” perform, I couldn’t help but wonder how they balanced rehearsals with academics; it was hard enough for me to strike a balance in high school, and as we all know, Dartmouth is much more difficult than high school.
Jack Sinatra ’25, a member of the ensemble, noted that while rehearsals typically lasted about three and a half hours, their length drastically increased during the week leading up to opening night, called Tech Week.
“Normally, [we’d rehearse] from about 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. … but during tech, we were basically there the whole day,” he said. “We had to show up at noon and we left at 9 p.m.”
On each of the seven show days, the cast was also required to spend several hours at the theater. According to Sinatra, each cast member would be at the theater “for a good five hours” every show day. Sylvie Benson ’25, who played Roger Davis, said that due to Roger’s role as the male lead of the show, she was called to almost every rehearsal.
“Four hours, five days a week, every week for six weeks … it’s tiring,” Benson said. “Obviously, when you’re [at rehearsal] you’re super energized and it’s awesome, but getting out of rehearsal at 10 p.m. and then having to do my Japanese homework was not an experience that I loved.”
Katherine Taylor ’22, who played Maureen Johnson, another one of the lead roles, pointed out that the amount of time required is to be expected from the nature of the show. While it was “busy and stressful at points,” Taylor said she anticipated the challenge.
In addition to the scheduled rehearsal times, members of the cast — especially those with larger roles — often had to dedicate time outside of rehearsal to learning their roles. For example, Benson said that she often rehearsed by herself on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
“I would go down to the practice room, and I would just sing to myself,” she said. “I put maybe three hours a week outside of rehearsals into learning music.”
Additionally, Benson spent around an hour a week listening to the musical’s soundtrack to ensure her songs were ingrained in her brain.
“In my drawing class I would listen to the soundtrack over and over again,” Benson said. “I would be constantly listening to the soundtrack to try to get it in my brain, and I think that was really helpful.”
Taylor also noted that many cast members met with Kevin Smith, the music director, outside of rehearsals to work on their songs.
“I probably met with him once or twice to learn solo songs that I had,” Taylor said. “But, I know other cast members met with him more regularly, maybe a few times a week, especially once we got close to the show.”
In addition to independently rehearsing her music, Benson also had an unconventional method of preparing for the show.
“Before the opening of the show, I set up a mini set in my room and I would pace around muttering to myself for two hours, doing the whole show.”
The 20 plus hours of rehearsal per week seems a nearly impossible feat on top of Dartmouth’s fast-paced terms. Yet, Sinatra pointed out that his role in the ensemble made managing classes and rehearsal significantly easier compared to those playing leading characters.
“I wasn’t doing everything for every minute of rehearsals,” he said. “I was able to get some homework done on the side while I was waiting for my scenes.”
Taylor echoed the importance of taking advantage of every free moment of time.
“It’s important to find those pockets of time during the day when you can get stuff done and do some work,” she said.
However, as the lead, Benson often didn’t have time to do homework during rehearsal; instead, she attempted to “cram in” all her homework before rehearsal started each day, recalling that she once wrote an essay “in one hour before rehearsal.”
Despite their best efforts at time management, some of these actors’ other extracurriculars ultimately fell by the wayside. Benson noted that she had to scale back her involvement in two of her other clubs.
“I’m in the Dartmouth Dance Ensemble, which meets every Saturday for up to four hours, and I had to miss a few rehearsals,” Benson said. “I had to let go of my club, Friday Night Rock, because meetings were on Tuesdays at 9 p.m., and I always had rehearsal at that time. I also didn’t take on any more clubs because I figured that would be a bit too ambitious at this time.”
Taylor noted the difficulties of balancing “Rent” rehearsals with the commitments of her a cappella and improv groups.
“I could barely go to any a cappella rehearsals this term,” she said. “But I’m the president of my improv group, so I was able to move those rehearsals to a time that didn’t conflict with ‘Rent.’”
Despite the stress that surely comes with living this type of overscheduled lifestyle, Sinatra still looks back at the experience with fond memories and called it “enjoyable.” Benson echoed Sinatra, and stressed that although balancing academics and the show was difficult, she would not have wanted it any other way.
“Even if [the time spent at rehearsals] bumped a few points off of some of my tests or quizzes, it was 100% worth it, because this show was really what carried me through this term,” she said. “It was my passion project.”