Growing Interest In Dramatic Productions
( Originally Published 1921 )
THERE is no doubt that during the next few years there will be more participation throughout the United States in amateur dramatics than ever before. Even before the war had drawn its thousands of men and women from regular life there were indications of a wide spreading of dramatic interest. Every elementary and secondary school presented plays. Courses in dramatics and play production were being introduced into nearly every college and university. Even churches were engaging in dramatic activities; some timidly venturing no further than religious drama; others quite frankly providing entertainment by offering plays of many different kinds. It is reported that there are some ten thousand acting groups connected with churches. The community idea of entertainment and recreation was widening to include acting as an attractive pursuit.
The period of seeming inactivity during the war did not block the attempts of enthusiasts; in all likelihood it stimulated the determination to produce plays, for wherever bodies of men were in training or service, entertainments of all kinds were demanded and supplied, often in forms new and fascinating to dwellers of regions where similar performances were unknown. As thousands of these men and women were initiated by force of circumstances into the process of providing dramatic material, as many of them were even drafted as performers, they learned a few rudiments of the attractive art which they have been exercising since they have returned to their former pursuits. Many of them, living in sequestered villages or rural districts where no attempt has ever been made to provide dramatic fare, have enthusiastically set about supplying the lack by producing plays themselves.
In larger centers, likewise, this impulse to produce plays has not died because of absence of opportunity. From one phase of the War Camp Community Service has developed a Committee on Memorials, one of whose laudable efforts is to induce communities to build worthy, living reminders of their heroic dead; to erect attractive buildings in which all noble civic and social interests may be fostered. Nearly every building plan recommended by this committee contains an auditorium with a practicable stage. Every effort of this efficient service is being directed to helping architects and builders to make that stage and that audience space available for all possible uses—including, as not the least, the production of plays. The number of such community centers increases so rapidly that any figures quoted here would be insignificant when compared with actuality. No matter how high the estimate might be placed, while the statement was being read, the exaggeration would end, for the number of completed and projected memorials would have passed that total. Soon almost countless localities in this country will have houses in which good plays can be adequately rehearsed and performed. Then wiII drama, now restricted to so few cities and towns because of long runs, increased railroad charges, and the growing dislike of the best performers to undergo the discomforts of travel and the uncertainty of reception by inexperienced audiences, spread to nearly every part of the land to entertain, educate, and stimulate people in ways which no other human agencies can ever equal.
Cities with playgrounds, and open-air theaters, workshop and laboratory playhouses, public and private schools with usually badly constructed stages but surprisingly good performances, societies of all sorts, are inducing many-sided participation in dramatics.
From all parts of the United States come reports of serious undertakings. From all parts come requests for lists of plays, addresses of supply houses, methods of rehearsing, designs for settings. One publisher of plays reports that his mail business in the Southwest equals his entire demand of a few years ago. A professional scenery builder sends each year a representative through several states to design stage settings in schools and other buildings contemplated or being erected. Orders for stage equipment in a city of Florida are filled in a shop as far away as Saint Louis. Costumes for a historical drama have been shipped from Philadelphia to a town in Texas.
Linked with such material progress are appeals for methods to follow in organizing and managing amateur dramatic societies. This indicates a sane procedure, for many a society with every other factor operating for its success has hesitated or failed because of defects in preliminary organization or in regular control. Others begin under the most propitious auspices imaginable, only to meet wreck and ruin from incompetence or impracticableness which is entirely unforeseen at the time of the sanguine but badly managed organization.
The annals of amateur play production are crammed with weird stories of eruptions and disruptions.