In musical theater, a sitzprobe rehearsal represents the start of collaboration between onstage performers and orchestra musicians. Here’s what you need to know about this important step in the rehearsal process.
Philip Arno Photography/Shutterstock
During a sitzprobe (or “sitz”), the production cast and orchestra musicians run through the performance together as a single unit for the first time. The focus of a sitzprobe is solely on the musical elements of the production—staging, blocking, lighting, special effects, and other technical elements are usually entirely absent. The sitzprobe is about making sure the orchestra and cast are operating in unison before moving on to the next stage of the production’s journey. If you want opening night to go off without a hitch, a sitzprobe rehearsal is an absolute necessity.
In this video, the cast of the Tony-nominated musical “& Juliet” participates in their sitzprobe.
“The sitzprobe rehearsal is the rehearsal where the band or orchestra gets integrated into the production during the tech process of an opera or musical theater production,” says professor Elsbeth Collins, the chair of production and stage management at USC’s School of Dramatic Arts. “Usually, it precedes the first dress rehearsal and follows an orchestra or pit rehearsal, which is a read-through of the score with the full orchestra and conductor.”
Prior to the sitzprobe, the onstage performers rehearse their musical numbers with a pianist, who performs a stripped-back version of the actual score, as can be seen in this video, which features the Broadway cast of “Waitress” taking part in a pre-sitzprobe rehearsal.
Origins of the term “sitzprobe”
Sitzprobe is a peculiar word that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. In fact, the spell-check software used to write this piece doesn’t even recognize it as a real word! This is because “sitzprobe” is a combination of the German words “sitz,” or “sit,” and “probe,” which means “rehearsal.” In short, “sitzprobe” means “seated rehearsal” or “sitdown practice” (although sitting is actually quite rare in modern-day sitzprobes). In German, sitzprobe is a three-syllable word—pronounced “zitz-proe-buh”—but many English-speaking musical theater insiders pronounce the word phonetically (“zitz-probe”).
Pavel L Photo and Video/Shutterstock
A sitzprobe rehearsal begins with the orchestra and cast coming together in the same space. Both groups perform the production’s music without any choreographed movement or blocking. “If there is sound reinforcement, actors will get into their mics prior to gathering,” Collins says. “[The sitzprobe] is useful primarily for the musical director or conductor and the sound department, and [it] is one of my favorite rehearsals.”
In this 2019 video from Canadian theater company Mirvish Productions, the cast of “Dear Evan Hansen” participates in a sitzprobe rehearsal ahead of a performance in Toronto.
The musicians and actors are tightly packed in a small space and the energy is off the charts. Although not a specific goal, the sitzprobe can also help the cast and orchestra develop a sense of camaraderie and excitement before their show opens. “It becomes a celebratory rehearsal that generally energizes the cast prior to dress rehearsals,” Collins adds.
The goal of the sitzprobe is to rehearse the musical elements of the production and ensure that the actors and musicians are familiar with all of the songs, melodies, and harmonies before the next rehearsal phase begins. Sitzprobes give both the director and the conductor an opportunity to hear how the show’s music sounds when the cast and orchestra are combined, fixing and improving elements as needed. Additionally, the production engineer, choreographer, set designer, and other members of the show’s creative team can attend the sitzprobe and take notice of developments.
“Hearing the songs fully fleshed out with a complete orchestra, or hearing it live can really impact the performance,” says professor Lindsey R. Barr of the University of Maryland’s School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies. “Maybe there are musical moments that are clearer hearing it all together. We might use that new knowledge to think about pacing, dynamics, acting, or directing choices.”
The sitzprobe rehearsal helps alleviate some of the pressure of the dress rehearsal. Actors can use the subsequent rehearsals to work on staging and blocking.
Be prepared: If you’re a stage performer preparing for your very first sitzprobe rehearsal, make sure your voice is warmed up and ready to go. You’ve already rehearsed the numbers, but this time you will have the full might of the orchestra behind you, so be ready to adjust your vocal performance accordingly.
“Practically speaking, sitzprobe rehearsals require incredible logistics,” Barr adds. “You’re adding two groups of people together (sometimes two big groups!) who are now really in a partnership. The singers rely on the musicians and conductor and vice versa. It can be a lot of coordination and planning.”
Be patient: Sitzprobes are an exciting part of the rehearsal process, but they can be both physically and mentally demanding. Not every rehearsal will run completely smoothly, but by the end of the process, you should be feeling confident about moving on to the “wandelprobes” (strolling or walking rehearsals) and dress rehearsals.
Be in the moment: Be sure to savor the moments you spend with your colleagues, whether it’s during rehearsals or in recreational time.
“Hearing a score for the first time or watching an actor discover something in the moment with the addition of music can be very moving,” Barr says. “Just remain open. Let yourself respond to what you’re feeling in the room because your response can be just as informative in terms of what’s happening with the work as anything else in the process.”
Theater is ephemeral. Once the production’s run has concluded, the chances of that precise combination of actors, musicians, and creative minds working together again on another project are quite slim. Enjoy the moment and, most importantly, break a leg.