( Originally Published 1916 )
IN regarding the country at large with a view to estimating its theatergoing propensities, the manager goes hot and cold, now with hope and again with fear, that his attraction will meet with changed reception from place to place. The estimate is necessarily colored by traditions. For instance, the manager knows that the South is noted for its partiality to musical pieces. Two and three attractions of that type have commonly been known to follow one another in the same Dixie town for consecutive engagements, and all play to enormous business. But if cotton is poor in the South this year, he is aware from the lessons of everyone's experience, that theatrical business there will be bad. Even a minor flood in Galveston creates apprehension concerning a wide area. In the same manner the manager watches the green crops in the West, and states of industrial affairs in the North and East.
Modifications of business generally correspond to the season. The coming of lumbermen in late spring, after being snowbound in the woods, with their earnings in bulk, may mean a wave of prosperity through some strip of country in the great Northwest. Horse Show Week in New York, before the advent of the motor-car, used to be dreaded by local managers; and beginning of the opera season usually cut serious inroads in profits of " regular " theaters. In the spring of 1916, Mark Luescher, press representative at the New York Hippodrome, tried to offset the influence of the coming of the circus by holding an elaborate street parade a day before that of the tanbark show.
Suburban auto, horse, and aero meets are looked upon with apprehension, while baseball and football seasons undoubtedly give good cause to managerial worriment. These last-named events, however, are frequently diverted in their theatrical influence, by lowering weather, which frightens intended excursionists into seeking their recreation at home.
Yet the very rival attraction may prove a boon in drawing crowds from outlying towns. The Automobile Show brought so many strangers to New York for two weeks that " Hip Hip Hooray," at the Hippodrome, had an enormous increase in business during that time. Auspicious occasions are periods when low " excursion " rates offered by railroads, bring to town an influx of strangers who must be amused throughout their stay, and that time when the host of buyers arrives for advance styles. Smaller towns are hardest hit by these shifting conditions, because theirs almost necessarily are fewer. Yale students' desertion of their alma mater for the nonce at holiday seasons, usually causes an appalling slump in the theatrical business of the Connecticut city of New Haven. Or, graver still, nothing could be more dismal than the general theatrical condition in the ordinarily prosperous city of Pittsburgh when the miners or mill workers are on strike.
A long strip of territory down the Mississippi, below the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, has for years been studiously avoided as theatrically barren by many producers. Yet Margaret Illington in " Within the Law," had so many patrons there fighting for admittance that the police were called out to keep them in line. Thus, the principles of routing seem as full of contradictions as the rules of German grammar. No hard-and-fast scheme may be established..
"WEATHER-VANES" OF ROUTING
It here becomes pertinent to inquire the source of a manager's information concerning these various cities and towns. Obviously, he cannot depend on glowing circulars issued by civic pride associations, or on haphazard estimates of persons unacquainted with theatrical demands. However, he can learn something from the local manager of the theater he tentatively intends to play, and he can glean something from the daily or weekly newspapers of that place, particularly if there is more than one.
Information of more or less stable kind, such as local and drawing populations, number and character of competitive houses, facilities of stages, and so on, may be culled from publications like " Gus Hill's Directory " and " Julius Cahn's Guide," compiled for just this purpose. But important facts are gleaned only by a reporter's assiduity in finding them out. Some assistance comes from the fact that company managers, returned from their tours, are inclined to be boastful of business in territories they have covered, or vindictive in complaint, or yet gloomily silent—but always affording clues to accurate estimate.
SOME ROUTING ECONOMIES
Having fixed upon a territory in which he would like his attraction to play, the manager plans for engagements of sufficient physical nearness that the jumps may be made without losing any time. That is, consecutive dates would almost certainly be broken in a jump from New Orleans to San Francisco, or Seattle to Chicago; but it is surprising how much ground may be covered by an entire production between the close of the Saturday night engagement and the beginning of the Monday evening performance. Klaw and Erlanger closed " The Trail of the Lonesome Pine " at the New Amsterdam Theater, New York, on a Saturday night and opened it the following Monday in Milwaukee. But even when long jumps may be made in time, they are not accomplished if any shorter stages of progression may be arranged, because railroading costs much money. I recall abandonment of the tour of a minor play because the route began from New York to Toronto, to Brooklyn, to Newark, and to Chicago.
Taking precedence even over time is money, for routing is a commercial enterprise. So the decision is reached promptly as to nature of the circuit of houses played—whether it is to be " first-class " (dollar-fifty to two dollars), or " pop " (popular-priced). First-class theaters in the large cities, usually offer week engagements; but in smaller towns, they frequently play " split-weeks " or " time " of perhaps three different attractions in six days, regular matinees Wednesday and Saturday. Among the best theaters of second-class cities (the rating. is official, so casts no reflection here), like Syracuse, Buffalo, and Albany of New York, and New Haven of Connecticut, the split week policy prevails. The classification refers more particularly to scales of prices. Therefore, one may think of technically first-class theaters where the clientele is in-finitely inferior to that of certain others of second-class professional repute.
Effort is made to earn traveling expenses in the long jumps by playing the night stands; and, of course, this is trying not merely to the company, but frequently to the patrons. I have seen a company omit whole scenes and even destroy intelligibility of a play in order to conclude it in time to make the transfer and the train. To be sure, this must have been with authorization of the company manager.
Allowance must be made not merely to cover the actual playing engagement, but to get scenery and trunks and other items in and out of the theater. The preceding at-traction must be out at a certain time, and room must be made at a given hour for the incoming attraction. If scenery, properties, and trunks are not unloaded from the cars within a specified period, or if they occupy the transfer trucks beyond a set limit, storage charges will add to those of transportation. Under fire laws of larger cities, scenery cannot be stored in the theater unless it is to be used in the current attraction, so regulation must be accurate.
A particular difficulty comes in routing an attraction so that it does not conflict with another of the same type, or follow a production that has temporarily exhausted the drawing population. Here the manager is working much in the dark. Even if he could provide himself in advance with a route sheet of each contemporary attraction, he would still be more or less uncertain, for the best arrangement is subject to change. Therefore, the company manager is vested with authority to apply for an altered route if he finds that expedient.
CENTRAL BOOKING OFFICES
A panacea for most of these ills is declared found in an institution known as a central booking office. But, before sketching its nature, recourse must be had to a bit of history. Indeed, its nature will be largely explained by that history.
For many years prior and up to the mid-nineties of the century past, New York virtually was the producing center of the entire United States ; and the out-of-town manager desirous of booking a series of worth-while attractions at his house, hied himself there to contract for the coming of those he could get.
In the seventies of the nineteenth century, Hal Sleeper Taylor started in New York, an agency for systematization of miscellaneous bookings—that is, a meeting ground of house, company, and producing managers, where engagements of touring attractions might be arranged. This agency was acquired, early in 1896, by Marc Klaw, once dramatic editor of the Louisville Commercial, and Abraham Erlanger, previously treasurer of a Cleveland theater. They were speedily joined in combination by Nixon and Zimmerman, managers in Philadelphia; Rich and Harris, of Boston, and Al Hayman and Charles Frohman, of New York. The last-named had just started a booking agency of his own; but he relinquished control in favor of his more influential rivals.
In a short time, the powerful organization announced that some thirty-seven first-class theaters were under their direction, and that they could give each thirty consecutive weeks of attractions. The booking fee was five per cent. of the house share of the gross receipts. Close record was to be kept of theatrical conditions in each town; there were to be no very long jumps, and there were to be no conflicts with other attractions booking through the agency.
RISE OF THE SHUBERTS
About 1900, the name of Sam S. Shubert, who began to control a string of up York State theaters, became familiar in professional circles; and presently he came to New York and leased the Herald Square. Almost from the beginning, Sam Shubert and his brothers, Lee and Jacob J., were in opposition to the syndicate ; and now, having secured financial backing—today vested largely in the hands of Joseph L. Rhinock, of Cincinnati—they allied themselves with the independent forces of Harrison Grey Fiske and Mrs. Fiske and David Belasco.
Losing the Fiskes and Belasco meant a severe blow to the syndicate, for all three had established reputations for highly artistic work; so, after patient endeavor, a compromoise was effected, where at will through either syndicate whereby Fiske and Belasco might book syndicate or opposition houses.
With their secession b other managers from syndicate foremost was George C. Then came William A. circuit in the Northwest, in New England. And s continued until the two f considered, of nearly equal serious indeed, as, by t manager booking through during that time, and pro another. In practise, how in the field booking indiscriminately one faction and then in those began the shifting of a number of syndicate to opposition. First and Tyler, who lately has returned.Brady and John Cort, with his and Julius Cahn and his chain on the accretion and alternation factors in the field were, all things 1 magnitude. The situation was e letter of their agreements, a one agency was to be excluded probably longer, from the theaters of however, there were many newcomers indiscriminately in first the theaters of set of the other.
The central booking office, in the form known today Erlanger or the Shuberts, with Osrespective executives in charge, consecutive bookings for his attractions desires, as open dates permit conflict with like attractions, and makes stands of sufficient physical nearness to prevent eating up profits in railroading.
When the producer has agreed to the route laid down upon a large " route sheet," upon which the several theaters to be played are named together with their stipulated percentages of receipts, the producer signs contracts with the various house managers, subscribing to certain conditions named therein.
Such a document is known as a " sharing contract," because it establishes the percentage 0f receipts producer and manager of the house which plays his attraction, are to receive. The manager agrees to play the given production at his house for a term of so many nights and so many matinees, making in all a total of so many performances. He agrees to furnish light and heat, and his house is to be cleaned and licensed and maintain necessary attaches, including stage hands under a house carpenter. He is to take in scenery and baggage immediately upon their arrival, and place them respectively on the stage and in the dressing rooms; and at conclusion of the last performance, these are to be immediately placed outside. A doorkeeper is to be maintained, vested with due authority to keep unconcerned persons out of the stage part of the theater. Customary billposting is to be done. Further, the manager is to share pro rata on cost of musicians carried at the union scale. Also, he is to place at disposal of the traveling stage crew, the " property " resources of the theater. Free list and prices of admittance are to be mutually arranged.
On the other hand, the producer agrees faithfully to perform the play in first-class manner, to give royalties and author's fees, provide display printing properly dated, and to conform generally to local and house regulations. Re-turns of the house are to be made from collection boxes regulated by the box office sales. Only regular tickets are to be sold or received at the doors. Settlement and payments are to be made at the theater's usual time.
In event of fire, national or local calamity, or any unforeseen occurrence, legal obligation and responsibility is canceled. This clause permits sudden cancellation of engagements, so familiar to local managers the country over.
In event of closing the theater for further rehearsals of the visiting company, the producer must pay rent for the time closed, and incidental expenses. Members of the company shall abide by the rules and pay for any damage caused by them. The producer, party of the first part, is to receive fifty to seventy per cent. of the gross as his share, this percentage, of course, being definitely fixed.
To this are added requirements peculiar to the house, such as that " Box A is to be reserved by the theater for the theater owners at all performances." For many years the Goulds retained a box through such contract clause, at the Grand Opera House, New York, as proprietors of the structure.
Signatures and usual statements that the contract is to become void automatically if erased or interlineated with-out mutual consent, round out the agreement.