As we head into the third and final week of rehearsals for The Nerd at Wayside Theatre, I have to mention the unusual space in which we conducted our initial rehearsals. Our first two weeks were largely spent in the ballroom of a private home in Winchester, VA.. Apparently there is a generous patron of Wayside who has offered the use of his ballroom as rehearsal space. The building is an old and stately home, with a huge front porch greeting us every day, plus wood floors everywhere and banistered stairways leading to the third floor ballroom.
The building has a pleasant aroma of aged wood, and reminds me of the grand house I visited twice during my early childhood, where a great-grandmother lived.
This rehearsal space is located in a real showplace, but since people actually live there, we were not offered a guided tour. But as a former waiter, I felt sorry for the hired help who must serve whatever functions happen in the ballroom, as it's three flights away from the kitchen. The house is big enough to accommodate a back staircase (I inadvertently took it one day, and landed in the kitchen), so guests were not required to bump into the servants on their way to the Big Event upstairs.
My previous shows at Wayside have been rehearsed in the council room of Middletown, VA's town hall. That room was conveniently located across the street and across a parking lot from the theatre itself, and I have no idea why that space is no longer used for rehearsals. Anyhoo, nowadays, the first few weeks of rehearsal for Wayside's shows are conducted about 10 miles down the road from the theatre, in that swanky ballroom sitting atop the stately home.
There was nothing whatsoever unpleasant about this arrangement, but I started thinking about the various rehearsal spaces in which I have worked over the years. Rehearsal space always seems a challenge to theater companies, no matter what their size. The lucky theatre companies which are attached to universities fare pretty well with their rehearsal spaces; Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre, for example, is located on the campus of Shenandoah University, so they have access to some of the rehearsal/practice halls which students use during the school year. The Kennedy Center has lots of rehearsal space, and Olney Theatre, where I just finished working, now has a rehearsal hall located in their new theatre building.
But throughout most of my career, it has been rare to rehearse a show on the same campus in which it is performed. Wayside occasionally enlists their own bar/cafe for such uses, but has no actual rehearsal space on their property, and that is in no way unusual. Even huge theaters such as The Shakespeare Theatre in DC rehearse their shows largely off-site. This fact has always perplexed me, particularly when companies build their own theaters. The Shakes, for example, recently spent more than 80 million dollars constructing a state-of-the-art theatre, but failed to include appropriate rehearsal space. Ford's Theatre, the oldest theatre in DC (and one of the oldest in the country) recently underwent a multi-million dollar makeover, and did not include rehearsal space in their redesign (their shows are rehearsed on the top floor of a church building several blocks away). Until their recent revamp, Arena Stage, considered one of the grandfathers of all regional theaters, rehearsed their shows in a mini-mall down the street. The fact that rehearsal space is not considered a vital and necessary part of a theatrical facility baffles me.
But back to the current gig. The ballroom in which The Nerd has been rehearsing has beautiful wood floors. The gang at Wayside spent a lot of energy hauling rehearsal furniture up those 3 flights, and to insure the integrity of those floors, we spent some time during the first rehearsal tying makeshift protection on all the furniture. (Moments like these make me love working with small theater companies, who are always confronted with problems which must be solved in creative ways.) We have since moved into the theatre proper, so I don't expect to see that ballroom again anytime soon, but I won't soon forget the sight of our various chairs and tables spread out across the ballroom floor, wearing booties.