Be careful not to break a leg

What’s the most difficult stumble-through you’ve ever survived? Tell us here!

Your first time is always nerve-racking. You’re nervous, you’re not exactly sure what you’re supposed to do or say, or how your partner will react. What if you make the wrong move? The whole thing could end up being a disaster of epic proportions. No this isn’t a first date, it’s a stumble-through.

A stumble-through occurs when the cast rehearses an entire play for the first time, without interruption, so the director can get a sense of how it will look before other technical elements are introduced. The actors know their lines, sort of, and they have a sense of the blocking, but since they’ve never gone from beginning to end before, the results can be pretty painful. Sometimes it’s a train wreck, with lines and props dropped all over the place. Even when it does go better than expected, it’s never a smooth ride and can really be a blow to one’s self-esteem. After the first stumble-through for Broadway’s 33 Variations in 2009, actress Jane Fonda blogged, “The stumble-through did not go well, in my opinion… not for me. I feel very low right now. Very much wondering why I am in this profession.” This from a two-time Oscar winner who’s survived half a century in Hollywood!

But the stumble-through is an invaluable part of the rehearsal process. It may spark a lot of intense emotions, from despair to elation, but it also gives all the players involved an indication of where they are in the creative process and what work remains to be done. It’s how you literally get a show on its feet. And, like a toddler taking wobbly first steps, you’re going to trip a bit–okay, maybe a lot. So wear comfortable shoes and check your ego at the stage door!

Raven Snook

This video was made in collaboration with our friends at New Jersey Repertory Company. It was written by Robert Caisley, shot and edited by Nicholas Guldner, and directed by Mark Blankenship (the Theatre Dictionary’s editor-in-chief).

Here’s the cast:

  • Commentator — Gabor Barabas
  • Director — Mark Light-Orr
  • Upset Actress — Susan Maris
  • Actor — Michael Irvin Pollard
  • Actress — Wendy Peace
  • Stage Manager — Jennifer Tardibuono
  • Assistant Stage Manager — Gina Scheraldi