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What is a Sitzprobe?

Jessica Ellis
By
Updated Feb 29, 2024
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Theatrical productions, such as plays, musicals and operas, typically go through a considerably detailed rehearsal process before being presented to an audience. Rehearsals of many different kinds help prepare the performers and technicians for possible problems, as well as promote memorization through repetitious practices of the performance. One important type of rehearsal is the sitzprobe, which is often the first time that an entire company works in concert.

The term sitzprobe comes to common usage from German, and is believed to have originated in opera. Originally, the term referred to the first run-through of a performance in which both the singers and the orchestra performed together. Often, the sitzprobe is not performed on stage and does not use elements such as costumes, props or scenery. Instead, the singers simply sit or stand and run through the music and dialogue in order with the orchestra attending.

Since its original usage, the term has migrated into many different types of theatrical performance, including those with no musical component. Often, a sitzprobe rehearsal serves as the transition between regular rehearsals between the director and actors, and staged run-throughs of the entire performance. Oftentimes, costume, lighting, makeup, and technical directors attend the sitzprobe to gain an idea of where the actors are in their rehearsals process, and to collaborate on ideas and suggestions that will become part of the final design for the performance.

Although each theatrical performance will feature a somewhat unique rehearsal process, many are broken into two sections of preparation. In the first, actors and designers are hired and rehearsals begin. Early rehearsals usually include only the actors and director and focus on understanding the script and memorization of lines. These rehearsals also determine blocking, which is a term that describes where the actors stand in each scene, how they move about the stage, and when they exit or enter. Simultaneously with these early rehearsals, the director works out design elements of the performance with the sound, lighting, costume, makeup, and set designers.

After the initial rehearsal period, the company often begins a series of run-throughs, where the performance is done from beginning to end, adding design elements along the way. The sitzprobe rehearsal is sometimes considered the first run-through; actors may wear partial costumes, use stand-in or real props, and may have some set elements to interact with. However, the sitzprobe may also remain true to its original origins, and in musical theater or opera remains the preferred term for the first rehearsal that combines both the vocal performers and the orchestra or band.

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Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for WiseGeek. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
Discussion Comments
By indemnifyme — On Jul 16, 2012

The first time I heard about a sitzprobe, I kind of thought it was like a dress rehearsal. However, it actually sounds a lot different. From what I understand, a dress rehearsal is usually done right before a show opens. Everything is pretty much ready to go, and you run through the show exactly how it will appear.

However, as the article said, a sitzprobe helps transition all the people involved in the show from doing their parts separately to doing them apart. After all, there's a lot more to a theater show than just the actors, so I imagine merging all of those elements is kind of difficult.

By KaBoom — On Jul 15, 2012

@sunnySkys - That makes sense. I don't know a lot about theater, but I definitely didn't think they just winged it with the lighting on opening night. It makes sense that they rehearse the different parts separately, and then slowly bring them together before the show opens.

Anyway, I think it's interesting that the sitzprobe definition evolved somewhat from what it originally meant. However, to me, getting all the elements of the theater together to rehearse a play and getting vocalists and an orchestra together for the first time seems pretty similar. In both instances you're getting parts of a show that were rehearsing separately to rehearse together.

By sunnySkys — On Jul 14, 2012

A friend of mine works in theater doing lighting, and he's mentioned the sitzprobe rehearsal to me before (of course, he also had to tell me the sitzprobe definition, because I'd never heard the term before!) He said that the sitzprobe is a big help in figuring out the lighting and other elements like that.

Before the sitzprobe, the lighting people usually have some idea of how they're going to do the lighting. But it's hard to finalize it until you see the actual show all the way through. Also, doing rehearsals helps them get the lighting right before the show actually opens.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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