What is a Dress Rehearsal?

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

A dress rehearsal is a full-scale rehearsal or practice of a theater or musical performance. This practice is intended to perfect the performance before the public sees it, making sure every detail of the show meets expectations. The cast members wear their costumes and accessories during the dress rehearsal. They may even have the practice in front of the backdrop and using the props designed for the upcoming theater performance. For musical performances, however, this is not the case, as a dress rehearsal is simply the final rehearsal for musicians and doesn't require donning the attire intended for the show.

A dress rehearsal is intended to perfect a certain performance before members of the public view it.
A dress rehearsal is intended to perfect a certain performance before members of the public view it.

In theater, a number of rehearsals happen long before the dress rehearsal. These practices are often called run-throughs. A play run-through isn't done in costume and may not cover every technical aspect of the upcoming performance. Instead, these practices are intended to help the cast learn the dialogue and understand how each person will be positioned during the public performance.

A dress rehearsal may refer to a full-scale rehearsal of a musical performance.
A dress rehearsal may refer to a full-scale rehearsal of a musical performance.

Sometimes, a theater dress rehearsal is just one final practice, but it may actually refer to a series of practices. In this type of rehearsal, the cast practices the entire performance, going through all the motions it will for the public performance. It will even stop for intermissions, just as it will for the actual performance. In an open dress rehearsal, certain people may be allowed to attend and watch the practice. This privilege is typically extended to family and friends of the cast as well as theater reviewers.

A dress rehearsal allows performers to finalize routines.
A dress rehearsal allows performers to finalize routines.

Another type of rehearsal, called the cue to cue, is used to perfect technical aspects of a play or show. In this type of rehearsal, the stage manager and technicians have the cast rehearse dialogue and movements that can be used as cues for technical changes, such as lighting, sound, and any special effects. This allows them to make sure everything works as it should and iron out any glitches. Costumes are generally not necessary for this type of rehearsal. However, they may be donned in some cases to see how they'll look against the stage lighting.

Sometimes, there is a preview performance after the dress rehearsal. Technically, this is not a practice, as it takes place in front of a full audience. However, it is not uncommon for the cast to stop and start over from a previous point in the performance if problems or glitches arrive. Typically, this doesn't take place during a full-scale performance.

Cast members wear their costumes during a dress rehearsal.
Cast members wear their costumes during a dress rehearsal.
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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Discussion Comments


I disagree a bit with julies. Believe it or not, many of us Christians believe that this life is a kind of dress rehearsal. Let me explain.

You may not be wealthy or famous or healthy or beautiful in this life, but you should not be discouraged. We Christians believe that you will be resurrected by God into a new life, where there will be no death or disease or tears.


I understand the importance of a dress rehearsal before a play or musical performance. It is nice to be able to have some control over the timing and outcome.

We don't get dress rehearsals in life though - no do-overs. I try to live by the motto to appreciate every day and enjoy life because this is not a dress rehearsal. It is the real thing!


My daughter is very involved in dance, and dress rehearsals are a crucial part of their practice routine before a performance. It takes a lot of time for them to put on their costumes and get their makeup applied, but the dress rehearsals are really important for the timing between performances.

In a dance recital there are many costume changes, and these must be done very quickly. A good dress rehearsal will be very helpful in making sure this process goes as smoothly as possible. It helps you feel much better about having a live audience there when you are able to have a real dress rehearsal.


A dress rehearsal is very important! My son and I were involved in our local community theater when he was growing up and I have been through many of them. I would never want have an opening night with no dress rehearsal!

Dress rehearsals really help the actors feel confident to perform in front of an audience, and it gives the directors and back stage crew a chance to perfect the timing of scene changes. With live theater, you can never fully predict the outcome, but having a dress rehearsal certainly helps!


Dress rehearsals are a very important part of the process of a play. In big productions there are usually several, including ones with only makeup, ones with only costumes, or even just with hair, then finally a combination of all of the elements. The gradual differences help tech crews determine how much time it takes to do the tasks needed to prepare the actors, and also to make sure everyone can dance or run in their shoes, the sets can handle the strain of everyone's costume pieces, et cetera.

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