Local And Company Managers
( Originally Published 1916 )
THEORETICALLY, the local or resident manager of a theater booking touring attractions, is just a general manager on a lower plane; practically, he often has no greater status than that of a janitor, denied all initiative, and hence performing his duties in a sullen, perfunctory manner.
When, in smaller towns, he is virtually compelled to accept what the booking office is pleased to send, he is not disposed to welcome visiting companies with enthusiasm, or to minister to their comfort, although he sometimes has the right to reject undesirable attractions—leaving him the alternative of keeping his house dark and unprofitable.
From stories brought in from the road, one infers that the average janitor-manager is not even a good janitor. Like the independent personage with whom so many of us cliff-dwellers are familiar, one has to bang on the radiator pipes now and then to get him to send up the steam, or to point out the place where he has swept the dirt in a corner and hidden it behind the broom. The actor, from his point of view, doesn't care to make it an issue. He knows that in five or six days—perhaps less—he will be moving on to the next stand, probably never to see the offender again.
Bruce McRae, the actor, once told me of a company that did take this definite ground. At dead of night, just before train time and immediately after the last performance, they went to the home of the local health officer to register protest against conditions of their dressing rooms.
The officer rose from his bed, lit a light, and came downstairs to answer the knock; but no sooner did the indignant company see his face than they withdrew. The health officer was also the local manager.
Sometimes it is not so much that the manager is inconsiderate as that he is thoughtless. Not many seasons ago, a large company arrived at a theater where absolutely no provision had been made for ablutions. Then and there they refused to appear upon the stage until basins were brought, and this although the house had been sold out in advance. Through force of circumstances, no basins were to be procured in the immediate vicinity. So the resident manager, who was a good fellow after all (not to dilate upon his being forced into it), sent to his own home and confiscated all the basins, bowls, pitchers, and other receptacles he could find, and thus saved the day—or, more correctly, the night.
It does not seem unreasonable to ask a resident manager to provide adequate facilities for the members of his visiting attraction. Most of them are accommodations that once installed will remain serviceable indefinitely with little further attention; and the other little things are gratuities he is well able to afford.
ADVANCE WORK FOR THE INCOMING ATTRACTION
That which brings money to the box office is vital to the prosperity of the theater. In this case it is the attraction. It is here that the resident manager has greatest opportunity to display his genius.
'The agent ahead of the coming attraction—a week, or ten days, or less, as the case may be—sends to the house the specified amount of " paper "—snipers, heralds, one, three, sixteen, and twenty-four sheet posters—leaving it to the manager to distribute it over an area that, in his opinion, will be most productive of results. In some cases, all of this advertising matter is thrust into a cellar or a vacant lot after the agent has gone on; and when the attraction itself has arrived, there naturally is little or no advance sale for the simple reason that the public never knew it was coming. This is assuming, of course, that it is a real attraction. Poor advance sale for a poor attraction explains itself.
For the incoming play, the resident manager's service begins with the building of clientele, which implies maintenance of the physical theater, and general public service; but those probably exist before the attraction itself is dreamed of. Direct benefits begin with signing of the contract between house manager and producer, although that often enough is canceled soon after. Even the arrival of the advance agent to arrange details of prices, scenery and baggage transfer, and other matters to be described in due course, does not mean positively that the production is coming.
However, the manager is not actually obliged to do any-thing for the attraction until the agent puts in his appearance. Then he is expected to facilitate the work of that officer so he may proceed in due course to the next stand. Here and there one finds managers who will take the agent around and introduce him to the various local dramatic editors, describe their idiosyncrasies, and recommend certain action; in other places managers themselves undertake distribution of the press matter brought by the agent. F. P. Martin, of the Wieting Opera House, in Syracuse, N. Y., is one of the readiest I have ever known to extend co-operation. I am not likely to forget his great courtesy when, as an inexperienced agent, I came to his theater ahead of an attraction which, ironically enough, never played there, the contract having been canceled.
Another manager whose name I record with grateful feeling, is Edward M. Hart, 0f Harmanus Bleecker Hall at Albany. Still another is D. W. Eldridge—an uncle of the Shuberts—at the new Shubert Theater, New Haven. I am writing of these from brief personal associations; and if my average of courteous gentleman in the particular profession thus far, is so high, it is reasonable to assume that there must be many, many more.
To the incoming stage crew there are more courtesies to be extended. Certain mechanical resources of the theater are to be thrown open to them; recommendations of certain merchants whose goods are required, are to be given, and co-operation of house attaches is to be assured.
When the company manager arrives with his " troupe," the resident manager should assist him in placing the people in comfortable quarters and in making them familiar with their surroundings. Duties are not particularized at this point because details belong to forthcoming descriptions of those other persons, particularly the agent, who enter the manager's sphere of activity.
So much information is required of the manager by these visitors, that in many theaters it is ready prepared in printed form. Hart, at Albany, provides an elaborate book-let, compiled and published by a local printer. It gives names and addresses of those on the theater staff; two sets of possible scales of matinee and evening prices; papers and critics; local representatives of out-of-town papers; reminder of special licenses necessary for child actors who may be in the company; stage dimensions and description of equipment; constitution of the orchestra; transfer companies; printing required, with extra advertising to be undertaken; railroads and their agents; express offices, telegraph companies; physicians, lawyers, imperative free-list names, and a list of hotels. It really is what it purports to be, a manager's, agent's, and company's guide.
As this information is forwarded by the advance agent to the company manager, who redistributes it to the various departments as required, D. W. Eldridge, when at the Majestic Theater in 'Utica, classified it by departments on a single sheet, with perforations between, that any part might be detached from the rest. In more compact form, it provided much the same matter as the Hart booklet.
Duties of the resident manager of a house playing road attractions are generally less than those of the man in charge of a house playing permanent stock, for instance. At the latter house they still more closely approximate obligations of a general manager. The stock manager's weekly statement includes not merely tabulated costs of light, heat, and expenditures shared with the visiting company, but actors' salaries, royalties, and so on.
For convenience, this weekly statement is presented with-out details, minor items being kept on separate vouchers. On the left side, listed by performances beginning Monday afternoon or evening, as the case may be, are noted the gross receipts, totaled at bottom for the week. On the right are listed the expenses of the week, with a number at the side of each item, corresponding to that of the separate voucher.
Thus, the " company salary list " will be marked No. I. By referring to Voucher No. 1, the manager finds the receipt sheet for salaries paid. Upon this voucher begins the date, of course, and then comes " Received of the Blank Theater Company one dollar and other sums in full payment of services to date," followed by individual signatures. Amounts are not specified because one actor signing might note, for example, that some fellow-player is receiving more, and become dissatisfied. A private slip accompanying, however, gives full salary list, with names, and corresponding amounts.
The weekly account goes on in this manner, ranging the various expenses in toto : salary list of house attaches, printing, regular advertising, extra advertising, and so forth, concluding with the grand expense total, compared at once with total receipts carried across to show gain or loss on the week. A notation, still further down, computes the gain or loss on the season.
The company manager, an officer who has entire charge of a company on tour, keeps a similar account, save that it covers no expenses of the theater played. One of the best systematized accounts for company managers I have seen is that especially prepared by Selwyn and Company for its men on the road.
It covers the same general points already indicated, but on the expense side has some items peculiar to a traveling organization : railroad transportation; individual fares; department bills for property men, carpenters, and electricians; scenery and baggage transfers; expense accounts of managers, agents and others concerned, and sundries, such as wardrobe expenses, telegrams, telephone calls, and postage.
A company manager, like his cousin, the local manager, generally stands in need of greater authority. His initiative is required frequently in unforeseen situations that arise miles from home. As has already been remarked, he is vested with the right to apply for an altered route if his present schedule seems unprofitable for pertinent reasons; 'and he may alter transportation arrangements without changing " dates " to be played.
In any event, while he is the personal representative of the producer, who is usually too far away to guard his own interests, with almost as much authority over his company as a sea captain over a ship outside the three-mile limit, there remain a few points, always depending on the particular case, wherein his discretion counts for little.
As to his broad obligations, he counts up at each performance with the treasurer and the house manager, pays the company's salaries and other bills due, puts in extra performances beside those " holiday " performances already named in the contract, provided they seem advantageous; engages understudies and extra people, calls rehearsals, and maintains company standards in general.
Of the two kinds of manager—company and local—the former is infinitely more picturesque. The local, or resident manager fulfils obligations in the everyday manner of the regular business man; and it seems to the casual be-holder that he would be quite as much at home in an executive position at the head of a large department store. Vital as he is to the success of any considerable theatrical enterprise, he does not seem to fit in, some way, with the atmosphere of the theater.
The company manager, on the other hand, is in the thick of the mysteries, so to speak, and carries some of the illusion about with him. He is able to bring to acquaintances of the prosaic world outside, anecdotes of famous stars, tales of temperament and other small-talk of the wings, all stamped with a certain authority.
By and large, the company manager is a better-informed man than his cousin, the local manager. He is with the same company from beginning to end of an engagement, and has had time to make friends or enemies of the members. The other, in the very small theaters, is frequently a man who is on the outskirts of the profession, deceived, he thinks, into putting his money in an investment of which he is gradually learning the sordid details. Companies come and go at his theater. He rarely meets the actors or members of the stage crew. His pertinent business is done mainly with the agent and the company manager in " the front of the house" He sees the first local performance from over the last row of orchestra chairs, with a critical eye that carries a box office implication. His psychology, one may say, is that of the audience which demands results and does not inquire into whys and wherefores. He is, like his humblest patron, merely an onlooker at things great and glorious.