Choosing The Play
( Originally Published 1921 )
AFTER an organization for the presentation of plays has been perfected, the first question of importance which arises is, " What plays shall it produce? " The first limits to this question may be set forth by the provisions of your constitution or your public announcements. Let me' quote a few such passages taken at random. I shall omit the names of the organizations.
This group " has been organized to encourage and foster the dramatic instinct in young people, to become familiar with the best dramatic literature through study and presentation, also with all the details of the art of stagecraft, to the end that the members may develop an enhanced sense of life's values and the realization of that culture which is characterized by cultivated imagination and sympathy, as well as information and knowledge."
" The object shall be to encourage the presentation of plays by amateurs, to secure unity of purpose and procedure in the giving of plays, to provide a systematic and diversified program of plays, to conserve available talent and material through their largest possible use, and to establish a Community Theater."
" The aim is to add something to the joy of life by the presentation of good music and worth while plays."
" Our aims are not hard to understand; to give drama with a literary quality, acted and staged with sincerity and artistic simplicity-in short, to study the community that its theater may express its ideals; to make of the theater a place where good drama, wholesome amusements, and intelligent recreation may be enjoyed; a place where may be seen those plays seldom seen on the commercial stage-and finally to encourage the creative spirit of our own people."
" This is a permanent little theater organization whose policy is to produce new plays by unknown writers with the works of standard authors."
" The aim of the Club has been to present to University audiences plays of literary worth by contemporary European and American dramatists, especially such plays as could hardly hope for presentation on the commercial stage, and to provide for undergraduates interested in the direction, staging, acting, designing, and writing of plays, some opportunity to develop their abilities."
" This is a traveling group of actors organized to put on the best plays of the little theater and the new theater movements before clubs and other private audiences which otherwise might not have an opportunity to witness performances of these."
" The purpose of this club shall be to study and rehearse significant plays, and to develop the dramatic expression of its members."
" Our aim is not to present great plays by great writers, but sincere plays by beginners. We do not seek to uplift the drama, but to bring out the best there is in dramatic writing."
" The workshop is an experimental theater where ideas may be worked out in actual stage practice. It will give plays by writers of this city and nothing but first productions."
No matter how definitely some purpose has been stated in the constitution of the society, there arises continually the necessity of deciding which plays to select. The purpose may be so simple as " to provide entertainments of a dramatic character." It may assert that only " plays exemplifying the new movement in the theater are to be acted." It may intend to give plays by its own members only. Whatever its avowed purpose, decisions must be made among possible choices, so that the actual work of production may begin.
At just this point you had better—unless you are already acquainted with its terms and operation—investigate the copyright law of the United States. The item of royalty was mentioned in the previous chapter in the list of expenses. It seems strange that persons who would not think of taking and using a tack which does not belong to them will attempt to take and use what is infinitely more valuable, the product of an author's brain, and then feel badly used when they are made to pay for their pleasure. No acting group, I venture to say, would deliberately take electric bulbs from a dealer without arranging for payment, yet scores of them in this country have used plays for which they have never paid a dollar. In fact, some persons resent the demand of royalty, even when the published play states clearly the terms of production. Mr. Shaw told a certain American amateur director exactly what he thought of her insistence that he allow her to produce one of his works. Authors and publishers are more careful about this matter than they used to be. The fact may startle the uninitiated, but authors are not always anxious to have their plays performed by every one who thinks he can do justice to the material. You may be refused permission because some producer in your neighborhood has already arranged for the use of the same play. One author told me she had re-fused to allow one of her plays-a delicate, subtle handling —to be performed by a small agricultural college. She may have been mistaken, but her feeling induced her refusal. Many a dramatist who has sat through productions of his work has wished that he had refused.
Notices included in volumes of published plays should be quite clear in their intent. If you desire to make your-self entirely conversant with all the details of copyright you should apply for Copyright Bulletin, Number 14, issued by the Register of Copyrights, Library of Congress, Washington.
Bear in mind, also, that a play in manuscript or typo script, " not reproduced in copies for sale," as it is described by the Copyright Office, may have been copyrighted, and if it bears the notice, is as much the dramatist's private property—so far as performance is concerned-as though it were published in a solid looking book.
The two following notices, taken from two recent volumes of plays from different firms, seem to be clear enough, yet an officer of the first told me that hundreds of letters come to him asking for exactly the same information so clearly stated by the first notice.
These plays in their printed form are designed for the reading public only. All dramatic rights in them are fully protected by copyright, both in the United States and in Great Britain, and no public or private performance—professional or amateur—may be given without the written permission of the author and the payment of royalty. As the courts have also ruled that the public reading of a play, for pay or where tickets are sold, constitutes a " performance," no such reading may be given except under conditions as above stated. Any one disregarding the author's rights renders himself liable to prosecution. Communications should be sent to the author, care of the publishers.
In its present form this play is dedicated to the reading public only, and no performances of it may be given without the permission of the authors who may be addressed in care of the publisher. Any piracy or infringement will be prosecuted in accordance with the penalties provided by the United States Statutes:
Sec. 4966.—Any person publicly performing or rep-resenting any dramatic or musical composition, for which copyright has been obtained, without the con-sent of the proprietor of the said dramatic or musical composition, or his heirs or assigns, shall be liable for damages in all cases to be assessed at such sum, not less than one hundred dollars for the first and fifty dollars for every subsequent performance, as to the Court shall appear to be just. If the unlawful performance and representation be wilful, and for profit, such person or persons shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction be imprisoned for a period not exceeding one year.—U. S. Revised Statutes, Title 60. Chap. 3.
It is unfortunate that the threat of prosecution and fine have to be set forth so plainly, but the past—and I regret t0 add it, present—practices of acting groups make it necessary.
The remarkable increase of interest in amateur play-production has had some unfortunate results. Several amateurs, it appears, have shown their lack of experience by putting on copyrighted plays without first securing permission. Doubtless few members of schools or clubs would wilfully infringe upon the rights of the owners of plays, but ignorance of the law excuses no one and carelessness can hardly be urged as a defense against prosecution for piracy.
Such prosecution at least one playwright feels compelled to institute. Mr. Charles Douville Coburn, who owns the rights of production of The Yellow Jacket, by George C. Hazelton and Benrimo, has learned of several instances of illegal use of this play, and in at least three cases must prosecute the offenders in order to conserve his own interests. All possible publicity should be given his experience in order that amateurs throughout the country may be saved from committing like offense.
English Journal, 1915.
There are literally thousands of good plays. One list of recent American one-act plays alone contains some two hundred sixty titles. A selected list of titles of plays suit-able for schools and colleges includes over four hundred entries. How shall the best and most appropriate be chosen?
Four factors enter into all such considerations: I. The tone or quality of your aims. 2. The actors. 3. The stage. 4. The audience.
So far as the first of these is concerned, you can easily declare that you desire to choose only the best plays written. That is the worthiest aim you can have for the quality of your material. If you decide to offer only farce, you should choose the best. If you venture into melodrama, you should try to select the best. If you turn to the classics, you should unfailingly select those which are best as drama.
The actors to whom you entrust the rôles will determine the range of your examination. Plays with large casts may be debarred in advance. Yet they might be exactly suited to schools and colleges, singing societies, church organizations, etc. Others with children's rôles may fall outside your group. A drama may require a certain physical type which your personnel does not include. You had better not attempt it, then, at the risk of miscasting a part. Amateurs and professional directors do make glaring errors in casting dramas, but avoid doing it, if you can. A play may not interest the performers. This is fatal for amateurs. Professionals will work with material when they are not enthusiastic about it. But amateurs, to be successful, must be congenial in their rôles. In amateur organizations casts have unanimously decided to return a play to the director, asking to be excused from performing in it. In other cases, individuals relinquish rôles, so that some thirty persons may attend rehearsals before five rôles are cast. Even at-tempting to impose a fine upon a member who cannot pre-sent a valid excuse for avoiding or relinquishing assignment of a rôle cannot successfully counteract this.
Likewise, the stage you use will eliminate certain plays. This consideration is not so important as it used to be, for modern stagecraft has shown almost unbelievable effects upon small and simple stages.
Last of all, the audience must be considered. There is a tendency among some little theater enthusiasts to pretend that audiences can be totally disregarded. In some cases they may be, but the general practice is to present plays before audiences. Even the most intellectual or novel good plays should attract people who respond to their dramatic effects. A comedy which interests may be more stimulating than a Greek tragedy which bores both performers and audience. It is true that not the entire public of the community need be appealed to or considered, but a theater, to be even artistically successful, must find, attract, and hold its audience. This is generally accomplished by a gradual process of elimination and accretion, based on the inducing of a rapport between the stage and the house.
An amateur group which starts to build up a producing company should attempt at the sanie time to develop an appreciative audience, unless it exists already. Experimental societies will do well to follow the methods of their successful predecessors. Perhaps the best known organization of this kind was the Washington Square Players of New York. Novelties they gave by dozens. Yet the man-aging directors appear to have been careful never to repel their audiences. The bold, the bizarre, the startling, the advanced, was always " carried " by surrounding material, the effect of which could be predicted with certainty. B7 careful study and adjustment, this company was able to move its audience from the Washington Square district to a remote East Side theater on Fifty-Seventh Street, then to the professional Comedy Theater. While the two organizations are not the same, it may be said that the successor to the Washington Square Players is the Theater Guild. This well-conceived body makes no pretense to catering to the large, indiscriminate, transient, theater-patronizing hordes of people in New York. Its hope was not to attract the publie, but a public—a public its sponsors were convinced must exist in a city drawing its theater patrons from some ten million persons. It fortunately did not have to wait long before this interested patronage was consolidated. Not all its plays have followed the same standard, but it has not alienated its regular audiences, nor will it. The future will strengthen its influence for good drama in America.
On the other hand, many failures may be explained by an adherence to a principle the opposite of this. A signal failure and retirement from one city of what had promised to become a permanent and flourishing center of good unusual drama are attributed to a determined effort on the part of the director to force upon the public what it manifestly did not want. He was over-enthusiastic about Greek tragedy. The people he needed in his audience unmistakably indicated that they were satisfied with a small dose of such fare. The audience dwindled. The company disbanded. The director departed.
As a summary of the preceding, it may be stated as a general rule that, taking into consideration the physical limitations of your stage, the dramatic ability of your ac-tors, and the compositions of authors, you should choose only the best plays.
The second question which will arise is, " Shall we produce full-length plays, or one-act plays? "
Full-length plays have certain advantages. They tell fully-developed and rounded-off stories. They have a significance because of their length. They give chances for real character delineation by the performers. They offer opportunities for more different kinds of characters. The actors have more changes of moods, more reactions to portray. As many full-length plays are set in one place, or in two different places, they may be easily and adequately mounted. Makeshift stage decoration—only too evident to the experienced audience—can be avoided by careful planning and arranging. If you have to provide your own scenery you might find the three or four sets for a bill of one-act plays beyond your resources, yet you might be able to pay for the one or two sets of a long play. It would be perfectly possible to give almost an entire season of long plays of which each would require only an easily secured interior.
The greatest advantage of the full-length plays is that this is the form most familiar to audiences. People have become accustomed to follow drama of this length and pat-tern. In offering full-length plays you are not attempting any education of the public. You are not required to over-come active prejudice or dull inertia. Children prefer long plots in connected acts, just as they always like continued or long yarns in the nursery. A most successful producer of plays for children writes me this fact about the capacity audiences of the young who attend his plays. During several seasons he has introduced a few matinées of short plays, always with the confirmation of his experience that they are not as successful in appeal as are the longer versions, The grown-up theatrical audience is not very different from the child audience. It may consider the bill of one-act plays too disconnected. It may prefer one long impression to a series of short, though strong reactions. It describes its feeling as " getting out of the mood of the play." In proof of this one need merely recall the introduction of the short play into America—its difficulty of securing respectful attention as a dignified art form even now.
On the other hand, long plays are sometimes difficult for amateurs to interpret satisfactorily because the acting re-quires more ability than a fifteen-minute incident does. The plot is more complicated. There are more interwoven threads of story. The interrelation of characters is more subtly evolved. More different kinds of situations are built around the central theme. More delicate reactions are demanded. As the large effects are cumulative, the de-tails contributory to them must be more gradually intensified. Events must not move so directly from start to finish. There must be more variety in actions. Characters have to develop, to change, and this variety of delineation becomes an exaction which must be carefully adjusted. In addition to this, inexperienced actors may find it difficult to "stand up " to the requirements of a rôle running through three or four acts. Acting consumes both nervous and physical energy. Amateurs are prone to forget this, yet they feel it later when the excitement vanishes and only the effects of the strain remain. If the cast enters the concluding act of a long play with no vigor, their efforts will likely fall flat just when they should be most stirring. The leading rôles must be particularly well cast to balance these exacting demands made by a long play.
While many amateurs cling to the long play, most progressive groups have turned to the one-act form. The two chief deterrents to its even wider popularity are the expense and labor of setting it properly. Most long plays require the usual surroundings of everyday life. Theaters and halls have such scenery, or can provide it. One-act plays make the most startling demands—a lighthouse interior in The Keepers of the Light, a Paris Grand Guignol success by Autier and Cloquemin, the operating room of a hospital in Laughing Gas by Dreiser, a man's heart in The Theater of the Soul by Evreinov, the outside of an envelope in Mrs. Calhoun by Ben Hecht and Maxwell Bodenheim, a design in black and white in Grotesques by Cloyd Head, a portion of limitless space in eternity in Beyond by Alice Gersten-berg, a mantel-shelf in Manikin and Minikin by Alfred Kreymborg, the Gate of Heaven in The Glittering Gate by Lord Dunsany, the forecastle of a tramp steamer in In the Zone by Eugene O'Neill. As a bill of one-act plays includes three or four, the expense of many different settings may run high. Yet in making such stage decorations lies one of the keenest delights of play producing.
The lighthouse interior was simply made. A small octagonal room showed stone walls. An iron ladder rose from the darkness below through a trap towards the rear and mounted to the ceiling where it disappeared through another opening. A brilliant white glow which flashed at regular intervals through this ceiling opening gave a convincing effect of the revolving light above while wind, rain, and waves yelled outside.
In Laughing Gas a bare room was supplied with real equipment for the reproduction of a hospital operation. Manipulation of lights reinforced the changing waves of emotion during the action.
In The Theater of the Soul faces appeared from deep darkness into light of varying intensities at different levels. The heart was a glowing red space which seemed to pulsate owing to the effect of fluctuating light. Real persons appeared in the full light of the foreground.
White designs cut and applied to black curtains and costumes and figures of only black and white appearing in white light produced the decorative impression of Grotesques.
In Beyond the author states that " the scene suggests limitless space and mist and is played behind a curtain of gauze." Around the entire stage should be hung a curtain of blue, a cyclorama or horizont, stretching high above. The uneven effect below, stipulated by the dramatist, can easily be made by placing boxes, boards, inclined planes, tables, etc., upon the stage, and covering the entire collection with canvas falling in folds. By concentrating light upon the face of the single character, the effect of limitless space could be conveyed to spectators.
The mantel-shelf may sound difficult, because how can the wall between it and the floor be indicated? In one production the mantel was built just above stage level. Be-hind it a flat yellow wall was placed. Just behind the proscenium opening was hung a darker yellow curtain in which a large elliptical opening had been cut. All the light was behind this framing curtain.
The Gate of Heaven should tower high above a few rocks upon the stage itself. Behind this gate a blue drop or horizont should be hung. Stars may be made by piercing small holes in this curtain and throwing a white or yellow light upon it from the rear. The base of the gate should be above the stage level to suggest limitless space below.
A wall sloping down towards one corner of the stage with rude bunks built against it, a low ceiling, making a shallow stage space, would suggest the narrow, cramped forecastle of a tramp steamer required by In the Zone. A translucent white oblong curtain bordered by opaque black formed the envelope in Mrs. Calhoun. The stamp, postmark, and written address were painted upon it. Characters stepped from the end of the envelope into the forepart of the stage and there carried on the action.
Ingenious designing, slow and careful planning, a knowledge of how to produce results with simple means will bridge many a seeming abyss in amateur producing.
The second difficulty in offering one-act plays is the usual attitude of audiences towards them. In spite of the years during which good, bad, and impossible short plays have been offered in vaudeville, and the great vogue of this short form on the European continent, American audiences have to be trained to respond heartily to them. The Princess Theater in New York, which advertised a few years ago that no one under twenty-one would be admitted, could not remain open with one-act bills, even with that spur to curiosity. Other instances of the same kind could be adduced. Although the Theater Guild of New York fell heir to the audiences of the Washington Square Players and several of their performers, it did not pursue the previous policy of bills of one-acts, but has from the very first staged full-length dramas. Yet there are noticeable al-ready some results of the activities of little theater groups. People are being educated to appreciate one-act plays as a worthy form of drama.
Reasons for choosing one-act plays greatly outweigh the reasons against them. In the first place, most of the greatest dramatists have produced remarkable material in this form. Most consistent creators of drama in Europe have at some time conceived and written short plays. Without any effort a general reader can jot down a long list of names:—Andreev, Barrie, Benavente, D'Annunzio, De Musset, Dunsany, Evreinov, France, Giacosa, Gregory, Rankin, Houghton, Jones, Maeterlinck, Masefield, Schnitzler, Shaw, Strindberg, Sudermann, Sutro, Symons, Synge, Tchekoff, Wilde, Yeats. The list of Americans would contain quite as many names, although because of the different status of the short form with us, there would occur not so large a representation of our best known dramatic writers. Such authors as just listed alone would lead to production of their one-act dramas. There are additional inducements. One-act plays are usually easy for the per-formers. They do not require any great changes or developments of character delineation. They make keen appeals, all the more poignant because short. They usually require only small casts, making easy the choice of actors, and the progress of rehearsals. They are amateur material par excellence.
The most alluring feature of short plays is the characteristic already cited as a probable difficulty—the demands of their stage settings. They offer the widest scope for originality, for novelty, for ingenuity, for beauty. They provide the experimental material, in which a falling short is not a heinous crime, but in which a signal success may reform or revolutionize stage production to such a degree that it may reach even the professional stage. Naturally, a beginning organization, acting before a tolerant audience, will have to be careful not to introduce too many startling effects. But every performance can step more and more decidedly along the newer paths to entire originality of theme and treatment. Thus, if the audience is not at the beginning prepared for novel methods, the productions, always keeping in advance but never losing sympathetic contact, can lead on to pantomime, to spoken lines without action, to so-called static drama in which the idea alone progresses, to characters playing in zones of different colored lights, to draped stages, to stylization, to conventionalized sets, to silhouetting the actors, and all the other attractive experimental newer methods.
Of the choice of plays themselves, the guiding principle should be variety. The list of kinds of plays is as long today as it was when Polonius tried to tell to Hamlet the sorts offered by the traveling players. Drama, tragedy, comedy, melodrama, farce, fantasy, classic, poem-mime, legitimate, satire, burlesque, allegory, spectacle, parody, problem, farce-comedy, vaudeville, comedietta, interlude, extravaganza, burletta, harlequinade, tragi-comedy, curtain-raiser, pantomime, proverbe, mumming, masque, mono-drama, juvenile; the enumeration may be extended even further.
Learn to know quickly when you have chosen the wrong kind. Learn—and this is more important—exactly why it is inappropriate. Of the countless factors which enter into the impression made by a performance you should be able to seize at once the operative detractive cause, so that in all future attempts that one may be eliminated. Judge all later possibilities from past experiences.
Never offend the sensibilities of your audience. A professional producer might decide to risk a performance which will stir up antagonism, although I never heard of one who did, but he is offering a thing for public patronage. People need no more attend his theater than they need smoke a certain brand of poor cigarette. If he is an acute commercial manager he will soon change his plan of approaching the public or his theater will cease to be a paying investment, and some one else will be using his stage. But in amateur dramatics there should be—there always is —a different relation between performers and audience. When you have seen your audience display respectful boredom because you are enthusiastically offering a second Greek drama, do not doggedly set your teeth and utter, " Greek tragedy is good for them;—they've got to like it! " Try to appreciate the fact that all kinds of people compose theatrical audiences. Indifference to acted classic drama is not in itself a sign of ignorance. The variety simply does not elicit the wide response of other forms. Of course antique plays can be made beautiful. Some of them present stories of universal significance, yet these are rather few. The most scholarly persons, who know the conditions of original presentation in the great open air under the brilliant sunlight and azure skies of Greece, are just as likely as the non-classicist to resent the restriction of a great old tragedy to a cramped interior stage tinted with electric light. Don't force a long series of Irish one-act plays upon them. While many plays written under the impetus of the Irish Renaissance are worth producing, there are others with no appeal outside the Abbey Theater, and if we may believe some of the interested members of that group itself, with not much appeal to audiences in that building. Intention does not mean achievement in dramatics. A few of the Irish farces and comedies are laugh-able. Some of the dramas are ingenuous rather than ingenious, while not a few of the attempted poetic dramas are misty rather than mysterious. Don't make audiences sit through too many costumed romances. Don't give a long series of situations depicting the down-trodden laboring man. Spare the triangle, whether right-angled or any other kind. Learn to build up a bill or a season as the careful leader of a symphony orchestra arranges either a single program or a series of successive concerts. Intellectual relief does not mean a sinking below the level of your audience and your own ideals. Many a laugh-provoking comedy is as stimulating intellectually as a preaching problem play.
Study the programs of successful organizations, the plans of their seasons. Specimen illustrations of several of these are reproduced and discussed in the next chapter. At times directors attempt plebiscites of their audiences, requesting them at the end of a season to indicate on a blank form their first choices of the best bill, the best single play, the best produced, the best acted. While such schemes are excellent in principle, the returns are disappointingly few in proportion to the size of audiences. The most famous one-act theater in the world, the Grand Guignol of Paris, makes up its bills of six short plays of three très leste, as the Parisians say, that is, three " shockers," and three horrors. Reference has already been made to a bill of sure effects to " carry" the bizarre novelty or the startling experiment. As performers and audience grow in accord, the productions should show decided advances in quality of material and originality of treatment. If your audiences become theater trained—for people can be educated in dramatic exactly as they can be in musical appreciation—you may try anything. But never lose sight of the principle of variety and relief. Even when the bill is announced as Plays from the Italian there should be no two closely similar. An evening might include the passionate drama of the Middle Ages, The Dream of an Autumn Sunset by D'Annunzio, the poetic Game of Chess by Giacosa, and the scandalous but laughable Honorable Lover by Bracco. An Irish bill could secure variety by including a symbolic poem by Yeats, a farce-comedy by Synge, a genre study by Lady Gregory, and a satire by G. Bernard Shaw. Even a bill of " lover " plays could be varied, for it could range from the delicate exaggeration of The Constant Lover by St. John Hankin to the realistic bitingness of The Magnanimous Lover by St. John Ervine. A program of plays with " unspoken lines " might be announced. This phrase, perhaps, does not clearly indicate the kind of thing it attempts to describe, but illustration will make this clear. There are some—though not many—interesting novelties in which the lines are not actual speeches delivered by the characters, but their thoughts, their feelings, their hardly conscious sentiments. Tragedy could be found for this in Evreinov's Theater of the Soul which displays the confused feelings and thoughts of a man in the few seconds before he shoots himself. For contrast the next might be the satirical series of impressions by H. L. Mencken entitled The Artist. This shows the thoughts of the usual group at an afternoon, piano recital, including the janitor and the artist himself. More piquancy is added by the necessity of making the audience part of the mise-en-scène. This is screamingly funny. Other varieties are not so easy to find, but a good balance can be secured by inserting Alice Gerstenberg's Overtones which includes both spoken words by the two women characters—the overtones—and their real natures who deliver their' actual thoughts covered by the speeches of ordinary conversation.
Three plays on the same theme, with entirely different treatments, would constitute a novel arrangement. I am in-formed of one single set made to illustrate the principle here suggested. The author chose the frequently exploited theme of " the woman unjustly suspected," then worked it out in farce, comedy, and tragedy. Up to a certain point all three plays are exactly alike; with the appearance of the motivating force the divergences begin. You could even secure variety by repeating one act from a Shakespeare drama in several different manners—Elizabethan, the usual way, in the modern style, etc. The best method for such an experiment would be for the various directors to agree upon the schemes they would follow. If possible the performers should be kept in ignorance of everything except their own interpretations. Even the scenery should not be displayed until the dress rehearsal, and if practicable, each cast should be rehearsed at a different time to prevent any one from absorbing another's delivery or stage business. One producer could merely ask the local costumer to supply costumes for the scene, accepting anything he sent. A second might reproduce some famous artist's designs, as those of Boutet de Monvel or Byam Shaw. The third might take a hint from the Russian school of art directors, or from such strange models as Granville Barker's colorful and animated Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night's Dream. In Petrograd, Evreinov gave the first act of The Inspector-General several times in one evening in the different styles of modern stage methods. He imitated the systems of the Moscow Art Theater, of Gordon Craig, etc., parodying the efforts of fanatics who want to make of the theater some-thing new and strange. Such a performance might not at-tract a large general audience, but it should be an instructive and stimulating kind of work for a little theater or amateur acting group.
As you learn more and more about material for amateur acting you will feel the temptation growing stronger and stronger to devote more care and energy to production. This side of amateur production has been developed more than any other. Of course acting has changed and amateurs are reflecting the better methods of the realistic manner. Yet acting is not so easy to transmit by the printed page. No difference in equipment is needed to change acting. A new stage setting is a picture which can be perpetuated in photograph and illustration. It can be seen by the entire world. To judge acting every person must sit through a performance. And to see some of the best acting one some-times has to sit through the worst plays. A case to illustrate this is the American tour of The Lodger, an uninteresting play by Vachell which contained two such finished performers as Beryl Mercer and Lionel Atwell, now fully established among the notables of our professional drama.
Books and magazines have emphasized the artistic, scenic, lighting, costume, phases of plays. During the last ten years, floods of material relating to such topics have nearly swamped the student. Professional dressmakers, reputed artists, famous architects, have been lured into participation, and in many instances, advertisement. Skilful publicity has achieved its usual result with the American populace—it is well acquainted with all the names and descriptions, although it may never have seen the actual thing. So we glibly discuss horizonts, cycloramas, indirect lighting, Fortuny banners, Reinhardt's circus methods, plat-form and revolving stages, without realizing at all the in-superable impracticability of most of them for limited stages and incomes. Some of the mistakes perpetrated under unintelligent enthusiasm have been more costly in effort than in mere money. One well-known book on modern aspects of the theater contains discussions of everything except the acting! It is only just to add that many of the attempts have resulted in significant results and advance. Up to a certain point this striving for decorative or stylistic effect is laudable, for as acting is the most difficult of all the arts, it is in methods of production that amateurs can do most. But remember always as a corrective to this that " the play's the thing." Never kill a good play by over-production. Never slight the first requisite of dramatics—good acting.
In order to choose wisely you must know many plays. The best way to become thoroughly acquainted with a play is to see it acted. For amateur plays this is, in most cases, manifestly impossible. You must read plays. Your fellow actors and even non-acting associates must read plays. Fortunately the best plays—full-length and one-act—are now fairly accessible in print. Read announcements and notices of all things dramatic. Attend as many performances as you can. Above all, keep lists and notes of all plays you consider in the slightest degree possible for production by your organization.
The foregoing may appear a great deal to consider in a matter which may seem to be merely a preliminary, but any director will tell you that when a play has been rightly selected and properly cast, the longest step has been taken towards its successful performance.