Company Advance Agents
( Originally Published 1916 )
THE press agent who travels on the road ahead of a touring attraction, is not greatly different from the agent in town, although he is more closely allied with the actual business of the theater. Hence he commonly refers to him-self as the business manager.
Few road shows employ a highly specialized publicity representative, preferring to depend upon one general agent. He travels about ten days to two weeks ahead of his attraction, arranging transportation, transfer of scenery and baggage, printing, scaling the house, and attending to general publicity, including paid advertising. Large touring enterprises, like the circus, may have two or three agents in advance, the " thirty-day man," " two-weeks man," and " twenty-four-hour man," the last-named being an expert not hampered with transportation routine, and devoting his time to special publicity.
Actual routine of the touring agent's publicity work is designed for one city, and then duplicated for the others. That is why many advance men labor for perhaps the first two weeks of the season and the remainder of the time merely distribute mimeographed copies of what they have written. Much of this routine material—called a " set of press matter "—may be compiled during the original metropolitan run, if there is such a thing, being rewritten with blanks for city, " date "—which means name of theater, too—and duration of engagement at the local house.
Anna Marble, who in private life is Mrs. Channing Pollock, is one of the best compilers of a set of press matter of any agent of my acquaintance. Her set for Margaret Mayo's farce, " Twin Beds," was a model of perspicacity. Wells Hawks, Glenmore Davis, Percy Heath, Joe Drum, Al Strassman, Townsend Walsh, Chester Rice, Campbell Casad, Wallace Munroe, Jack McMahon, Ruth Hale, William Bartlett Reynolds, Will A. Page, and many more, are American agents known to the road, whose ability is recognized in constant employment.
I know of no more elaborate set of press matter than that prepared for the road tour of the Serge de Diaghileff Ballet Russe early in 1916, under supervision of Edward L. Bernays, the general press representative. The matter was classified according to newspaper departments; and not one was ignored. In its way it probably set a precedent.
In addition to this material, Bernays had made special arrangements, chiefly exhibits, for other than newspaper publicity. Important art stores in a city were given timely displays of original drawings and prints dealing with the Ballet; book stores were shipped a large number of volumes on consignment, to make up a bibliography of the Ballet; music stores were provided with the scores; jewelers showed Bakst ornaments; department stores exhibited Bakst wardrobes—and so the city was made to fairly ring with De Diaghileff and his Ballet Russe.
Actual publicity work of the man on the road has already been well indicated in description of the agent in town, so attention may be given to business details.
Before leaving the home office for the tour, the agent usually takes the signed contracts with managements of all theaters in which his attraction is scheduled to appear. He also finds out approximately how much the show costs to operate that he may arrange scales of prices to cover the amount. From the stage carpenter he learns how many
long" and "short," or twenty and forty-foot, loads will be necessary to transport the scenery, and whether one car will be sufficient in railroading, and how many extra stage hands will be needed at each stand. The electrician informs him what equipment he will require at each house, and how many men are wanted. So with the property man. And the orchestra leader provides like information. As noted in previous pages, stage instructions of these various offices are known as " plots "—light-plot, scene-plot, music-plot, and so on.
The exact number of persons to be transported, and quantity of their professional luggage must be computed. If the stage crew is to travel at a different time than the company, that fact must be noted. Children in the cast must provide data for securing licenses where necessary. A trunkful of cuts is usually carried, for many newspapers decline to run pictures of plays when called upon to pay engravers' bills themselves. Lobby frames are other important items.
Advance agents are supposed to work in conjunction with company managers. The company manager meets all company bills legitimately incurred by the agent, and pays his salary from week to week as long as the exchequer will stand it, and frequently longer. He picks up the cuts left by the agent after they have been used, and forwards them to the agent at the next stand. He also forwards advance lobby frames and pictures. A goodly quantity of photo-graphs is always taken along by the agent for distribution en route, for there are newspapers that make their own layouts, particularly for Saturday and Sunday editions. Posters are generally printed in fairly large quantities, as already remarked, before the attraction takes to the road, and the supply drawn upon as required by the agent. So with folders, although much small printing is done in the town where the agent intends to use it.
A consultation with the general passenger agent of the railroad is next in line, special rates being made for touring organizations. Contracts are signed by managers and rail-road agents detailing time the cars are to be ready for loading or unloading, liabilities, and so forth.
Formerly, twenty-five tickets at the special two-cent-permile rate, gave the company an extra baggage car; if a second baggage car was needed, it was available for fifteen cents per mile. By the increase of rates on lines east of Chicago, which went into effect April 30, 1915, forty tickets are required to move a baggage car, while a company of not less than ten persons, get the two-and-one-quarter-cent mileage rate, with the charge of twenty cents a mile for an extra baggage car beyond the customary baggage arrangement. The parties concerned must all travel on the same car at the same time, or else purchase individual tickets.
These general points and many more are considered by the agents ahead. Of course, they make new contracts for each railroad line as the necessity arises, and not all at once.
The first thing upon the agent's arrival at the theater to be played, is to seek out the resident manager or his representative, and fix the scale of prices to be charged. Here the agent must bear in mind how much the company must make in order at least to cover its expenses, and, at the same time, not frighten away potential patronage. While the local manager is usually anxious to get his attraction at as low prices of admittance as possible that patronage may be stimulated, his advice in this connection is generally well worth listening to. On the other hand, if there is time, the agent does well to inquire about local conditions himself before setting the scale.
With some attractions that are in particular demand, the local manager occasionally guarantees a certain amount in receipts; but ordinarily he agrees only to give the attraction a certain percentage of the gross receipts.
THE AGENT'S " ADVICE "
When the scale is agreed upon, duplicate contracts are signed by manager and agent. Three contracts are commonly printed in blank upon what is known as the agent's " advice-sheet "—a document, one copy of which, when filled out, is sent by the agent to the company manager.
In addition to scale of prices, the advice sheet specifies the regular house free list—so many seats for newspapers, so many for rental of billboards, and so many in return for lithograph displays. The manager acknowledges receipt of line, light, scene, and property plots, newspaper notices, copy for advertisments and program, lobby frames, and cuts and posters and small printing duly described. In rare instances, the manager agrees to post and distribute this matter as per contract, or forfeit five per cent. of the gross receipts. Also, rarely, he agrees to pay forty cents apiece for cuts lost or not returned. He understands that the company is to arrive from a given city at a certain time, and will depart also at a certain time for the next designated stand. He will have the orchestra called for rehearsal at such-and-such a time, and agrees to share on certain extra expenses scheduled elsewhere on the sheetbill-posting, extra newspaper advertising, and, perhaps, the electric sign.
The agreement next in importance, printed on the advice, is the transfer contract. This is signed by the representative of the transfer company. He agrees to move the scenery and baggage of the company to the theater and hotels as required, directly upon their arrival, which is expected at what time, at so much per twenty and forty-foot loads, and to return same at depot or boat, upon departure, for the flat sum of so much, or usually from four to six dollars per scene-truck load, and twenty-five to fifty cents per trunk, all depending on the distance. All articles not designated as trunks are to be hauled as scenery or properties unless otherwise specified. Other details, such as guarantee of safe delivery, tarpaulins to be provided in case of snow or rain, are enumerated then; and, very important indeed, the name, address, and telephone number of the transfer company are recorded.
A, third contract upon the advice-sheet may be an agreement with a hotel landlord to board and lodge the company of so many persons for a given number of days, at the rate of so much per person. The agent himself is lodged and fed at the " party rates," which for him frequently means for nothing at all, for Mine Host is anxious to have the agent recommend his place to the organization. But the agent's life is not enviable for all of that.
The remainder of the advice is for the company manager and his staff. What is to be the next stand? When do they arrive and leave, and by what means of transportation? Do they change cars? If so, where? When? What is the distance? Rate to be paid? Any excess? Names of theater manager or representative, treasurer, resident property man, carpenter, electrician, and orchestra leader are given together with their respective addresses in case they should be required suddenly. Stage dimensions are provided in detail, and number of stage hands is given. Whether the electric current is alternating or direct, and voltage, are important items for the company electrician.
What pieces are in the orchestra is the concern of the man who arranges the incidental music.
Hotels, boarding and lodging houses in the place, European and American plan, with their convenience to the theater and their respective rates, single and double, are of vital interest to the entire organization.
Lists of opposition or counter attractions, with titles of preceding and succeeding attractions at the theater to be played, are read with care by the company manager, for they have decided influence upon probable business. In a space headed " Remarks," the agent notes things likely to aid the company manager—for instance, that permits will or will not be necessary for children in the cast. Local news-papers and their dramatic editors are named. And there is a final space headed " Bills to Pay," in which the agent approves special expenditures, such as the making of a scrap-book, with all his ads. and notices, telegrams, taxi, and so forth, money for which he has borrowed from the box office on his I. O. U., which is to be canceled by the company manager out of receipts at the first local performance.
Usually the manager's assistant attends to distribution of routine press matter, such as daily bulletins, midweeks, advance notices, and ads. delivered in bulk by the agent—so the agent is reasonably free to pound away at general business acceleration.