You've finally made it. You've booked a big job, understudying the lead or maybe covering several tracks as a swing. You've been in rehearsals for weeks, and there's only one thing separating you from the thrilling applause of a live audience: the put-in rehearsal.
For those of you who don't know, a put-in is the final dress rehearsal for a replacement member of a company. Prior to this, that company member ("you") will have been rehearsing with the dance captain, musical director, the director or assistant director, the stage management team and possibly a few understudies. (If you're replacing a lead, you probably rehearsed with the other actual leads, depending on who those leads are.) But now it's the day before, or possibly the day of, your first scheduled performance, and everyone's called for your put-in rehearsal. What to expect? I've listed a few things for newbies to know, and a few things the established folk could stand to remember.
1. You will be in full costume and make up. No one else will.
Don't feel weird about it. This is as much a rehearsal for your costumes and quick changes as it is for your choreography and staging. For that reason, the stage management will run those changes in real time. (Otherwise, they will very likely skip the parts when you aren't on stage.) This also means that your dresser will be there, as well as the costume and makeup supervisors. Keep in mind that a lot of people on the tech side are called in for this rehearsal, not just the other members of the company. That being said...
2. The full company won't be there.
The most frustrating thing about an ensemble put-in is that the full company probably won't be there. Usually stage management uses this time to rehearse the understudies, and the principals don't have to come in. So while you may have learned your track expecting to see certain people to your left and right, either the swings will be there, or (gulp) no one will be there at all. (Stage management should try to avoid the latter, but there are no guarantees.) This makes it hard to find your spot. Review your track the night before. Be very sure of your place on the number or color line, check your spot relative to the wings, etc without going off of the faces beside you.
3. Don't be afraid to speak up.
This is YOUR rehearsal, and it is your LAST rehearsal. Take the opportunity to get every last bit of work out of it. Need to do it again? Just ask. Don't feel dumb about it. Everyone ought to be very understanding about this, and if they're not, they're out of line. In fact, stage management should ask if you're okay moving on before actually moving on. If they don't, speak up. Tell anyone who will listen: your dresser, an ensemble member, anyone on headset.
4. The people around you should not be marking. I repeat, they SHOULD NOT BE MARKING.
I had to put it twice because it's so common. At every single put-in I've attended, stage management has had to remind people not to mark. If someone is across the stage from you and their execution has no bearing on your performance, that's one thing. But the people around you absolutely need to be giving full-out choreography so you get a sense of what's going on.
5. Bring snacks for the company.
I brought this up on my Facebook feed, and it's a bit controversial. Likewise, my husband, who has done numerous Broadway shows, insists that this is a recent phenomenon. However, the tradition for production contract put-ins is that the person being put in will bring snacks or even lunch for the cast and crew. I know, I know. You're pulling your hair out trying to remember lines and blocking and choreo and makeup plots, you're nervous as hell, you don't know anybody, you may even be in a strange city with no means of transportation and no idea where the closest doughnut shop is.
Figure it out.
The idea is that everybody is coming in on their time off. So you want to make things as pleasant as possible for everybody else. It's also a thank you for the time and effort of everyone who has helped you on your journey to your opening. It's considered good manners.
A lot of people don't know about this tradition, and some have been (rudely) informed by the more jaded members of the cast. Rudeness is not okay. Some companies are the exception: when my husband did the Color Purple tour, he insisted that no one brought goodies to put-ins. However, he noted that there was so much to eat backstage that they didn't really miss it. It was one of those companies where people were always bringing in baked goods. So ask around. Likewise, I had a friend replace a Broadway lead, and he had so much to worry about during his put-in that he didn't bother with bagels, either. However, he buys them for the company every Sunday, a tradition he borrowed from Sutton Foster. So if you drop the ball at your put-in, bring something at the next opportunity. Nobody (should) hold it against you, and it's a nice thing to do.
6. You don't have to go on if you don't have a put-in.
It's an Equity rule that if you haven't had a put-in, you can inform stage management that you don't feel safe going on. Use this one sparingly. Real sparingly. Like, I've literally never known anyone to play this card, including friends of mine who were in Spiderman. Most of us are desperate to perform, right? And most professional stage managers are good at making sure put-ins happen, so it's not typically an issue.
However, you might be asked to go on if the company is a.) short staffed, or b.) going through a big changeover. Sometimes for various reasons, coverage on Broadway and tours can be thin. Maybe one person got sick, somebody else got hurt, and another person had a family tragedy, all in the same week. If they ask you to go on without a put-in, it's a vote of confidence from the creatives. They will not ask you to go on if they don't think you can handle it. They also could ask you to perform a part of your track. I did a show that involved stilts, and one of the replacements was put on for all the scenes that didn't involve stilts for a week or two until they could find time for a proper put-in. Which brings me to the second scenario: there's been a big cast changeover, and they haven't been able to schedule a put-in for you, but everything's gone wrong, and they really need you. This is your opportunity to be a hero! But if you aren't comfortable, that's okay too. If you find yourself in this position, be really honest and communicate with the management team. They are brilliant at coming up with split tracks and substitutes to make it easier on you-- but they also may really need your ass on stage.
7. Make it fun!
This is more for the established cast than the replacements. When I went into Billy Elliot, the cast had gone through three put-ins in one week. Since there are rules as to how much rehearsal time a performing cast can have, I want to say people were getting overtime. Even so, three put-ins and eight shows a week is exhausting. But the company did what they could to make it fun. For one rehearsal we all wore pink (it was Wednesday), for another they did an '80s theme, for the last, they did a cowboy/girl theme. Even the stage management got involved. At Aladdin, they used to rehearse in outfits inspired by the last show of the person being put in. Remember that even though put-ins can be a bitch (especially three in one week), the rehearsal really is for the good of the entire company. Somebody's worked their ass off to get to that point. What's more, we've all been there: scared shitless, but exhilarated at the same time. So everyone on stage can afford a little empathy. They don't have to be grinning, but they do need to check their feelings about being called in at the door. Additionally, the person being put in has earned their spot on the line. They don't have to prove anything to the other members of the cast, or earn their respect in some way. They should be treated with respect because they are a fellow member of the company, period.
But to the person being put in? In the immortal words of RuPaul: "Have fun, and don't fuck it up."