Sweden first semifinal rehearsal
Sweden's Robin Bengtsson on stage in 2017 Photo: Andres Putting

Eurovision 2020: Today would have been the first day of rehearsals

In a reality in which the coronavirus would not have made such a significant impact on our lives, today, Saturday 2 May, the first rehearsals in Rotterdam Ahoy would have begun. Instead of focusing on that sad reality, we would like to celebrate this special day on the annual Eurovision calendar by looking back at the kick-off of rehearsals from previous contests.

New to the Eurovision Song Contest, or not as familiar with its annual traditions? Let's first have a look at what happens the moment a participating artist sets foot in the Host City.

Almost as soon as artists arrive, their busy schedule begins: Rehearsals, press conferences, the Opening Ceremony, more rehearsals and finally the moment they've all been waiting for: The live shows. But hold on — not so fast!

Why so many rehearsals?

An extensive amount of rehearsal time is needed for the three live shows to run smoothly. There may be an audience of some 200 million viewers and with such big numbers, the producers of the show want to be sure every camera angle is carefully planned. From lights, sound, on-screen graphics, props, cameras and special effects — it all has to come together with precision.

To smoothen the process once the artists arrive for their first rehearsal, the production team normally holds three to four days of stand-in rehearsals, during which music students mimic each act in great detail. A recording is being shared digitally with each delegation, so that they can already share their first feedback before even leaving their country.

Each country's act has two dedicated rehearsal slots. The first slot will last 40 minutes, the second 30 minutes. Each artist will make the most out of that time by doing three or four run-throughs of their act, allowing them and the production team to finetune every detail.

Lights, camera, graphics, action!EBU/Thomas Hanses

Back in 2019 we interviewed Christer Björkman, Contest Producer of the Tel Aviv contest. About the process of the first rehearsals he said: "Once all the concepts are complete and the staging is built, we get into the rehearsal process and we do that twice with each country. After each take we go to the viewing room, we make corrections and we make changes."

Mads Enggaard, viewing Room Producer in 2017, explained that the second visit to the viewing room is more about fine-tuning, but it can be challenging to ensure that all participating countries are satisfied. "We have big discussion in here," he said with a laugh. "Usually in the first round there are lots of changes but by the time it comes to the second round it's about adding the final touches."

The artists take time to adjust to their surroundings and get to know the stage. It is also the first time that the delegations see the staging, lighting and choreography united with their performers, and hear how their own vocals sound in the in-ear monitors and through the actual sound channels that will be broadcast during the live shows.

Once the performance review is over, artists will talk to the hair and make-up team to ensure that they look their best for the live shows. They also meet with the contest's digital team and pay a visit to the Press Centre for a meet-and-greet with international press and fans.

How many countries rehearse per day?

The first round of rehearsals takes about five days to complete. The first two days are blocked for all countries who take part in the first Semi-Final, the next two are filled with the countries taking part in the second Semi-Final and, on the fifth day, the so-called Big 5 and host country rehearse for the first time. Around eight countries rehearse each day, depending on how many countries take part in that particular year and how many will perform in each Semi-Final.

During the first rehearsal, each delegation also meets with the key people on the production team, as well as the EBU Executive Supervisor, who ensures all acts are being treated equally and according to the Rules.

Has a delegation ever made a complete staging change after the first rehearsal?

Björkman: "For sure that has happened. It’s not easy to come up with a solution, but it would be possible if the delegation and the producers work together. We have been this year fiddling about with Malta. They started out with one prop. We had difficulties getting the lighting right, so we tried it without the prop. Now we’re back to the prop. Normally, what would happen is that we’d try to make it a proper number by adjusting other things. The biggest changes can actually be in camera work; you can abandon a complete idea because it just doesn’t work on camera."

Malta's first rehearsal in 2019EBU/Thomas Hanses

What can the public see from those first rehearsals?

First rehearsals are usually closed for the press, but Eurovision.tv covers them extensively with stories on each act, photo galleries and videos on the official YouTube channel. Check out the photo gallery below for a recap of first rehearsals from the past:

Before Salvador Sobral won for Portugal in 2018, his sister Luísa took the stage for the first rehearsals. She covered for her brother during many of the rehearsals, as Salvador himself could not be present in Kyiv for the full two weeks due to health issues he was facing:

Aside from showing you what happened on stage, we also show you what happened behind-the-scenes. For example, check out this Lisbon Today video from 2018:

We are as sad as you are not to be covering those exciting first rehearsals in the next coming days, but you can expect a lot of other great stories and videos instead! Eurovisioncalls with NikkieTutorials will begin on 4 May, leading up to the unique television broadcast, Eurovision: Europe Shine a Light, on 16 May.

What was your favourite rehearsal moment of the past years? Let us know in the comments!

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