Rehearsing The Play
( Originally Published 1921 )
AFTER a play has been chosen for presentation, the next two important steps are to appoint a director or producer, and to select the cast. There are rumors of cooperative assemblies in which the ideal is that every one concerned shares equally in the responsibility, equally in the work, equally in the attainment, equally in the success. It is difficult to secure satisfying explanations of such endeavors. When an interested questioner asks for facts, he is answered with ideals. When he insists on results, he is offered prospectuses. When he attends performances, he is assured they are merely exercises. There is no doubt that co-operative effort can, be utilized in dramatic production, but so far as I have observed a great deal of this so-termed dramatic activity turns out to be playground recreation, neighborhood pageantry, laboriously revived folk-dancing, spectacular drills and processions, juvenile shows, and miscellaneous improvisation, which while showing some elements utilized also in dramatic entertainment, has as little connection with the real art of the theater as has Cleopatra's Night in a three ring circus with the Lysistrata of Aristophanes.
This is not, in any sense, to belittle the worthy endeavor of the wide-spreading community movement. To this every element which can contribute should offer its hearty support. But there should be a distinction drawn between mere recreational pursuits and performed drama. Ballets are provided in old-fashioned opera, but no one would seriously claim that they constitute opera. Nor should any one confuse with play production a series of national dances, or a historical procession, delightful as active participation in these may be.
There are some attempts in certain amateur groups to try to dispose of a director. Armed with some high-sounding Utopian pronunciamento about the " democracy of the arts " they pretend to believe that a play should be the result of a voluntary cooperative association democratically working out its own destiny. You can find plans and arrangements for such ideal societies in many of the books dealing with dramatic activity. Investigation of the actual conditions lauded by these books will generally disclose the truth that the most pleasing and successful of these real democratic efforts are not dramatic in the strict sense, or that the apparently independent workers are in all the rehearsing and the producing quite as subservient to some directing mind as are the actors of a professional theater, or that the results of the system, while doubtlessly great fun and education for the performers, do not expeditiously or assuredly move into the production of plays. Enthusiasts are likely to confuse the intention with the result, the desire with the ability, the means with the end, the struggle with the victory. These attempts may be excellent training schools for later achievements, but it is as mistaken to term them successful because of that as it would have been to insist The Lodger was a great play because it numbered in its cast two finished performers. There are reports of one acting society, at least, which actually tries to put such ideas into practice. These accounts declare that the performances of that group are the strangest and the funniest one can imagine, while the rehearsals are chaos. Good productions are the result of good directing. Efficient directing can make a success of probable failure. Misguided or ignorant directing can spoil an anticipated success.
A director's training begins long before he is given his first script to put upon the boards. He need not necessarily have graduated from either a school of acting or the professional stage. Many of the best directors in the country are indifferent or poor actors. The qualities of the two interests are entirely different. The actor is able to do certain things; the director is able to induce other people to do certain things. The latter must know first of all what is to be done; he must know secondly, just how it may be done; he must be able thirdly, to cause the actor under his charge to d0 that thing in exactly the proper manner and at the correct time.
Leaving aside the questions as to whether a director is better for knowing intimately the theater or for being verdantly free from any of its technical requirements, this much is as clear as day, that starting from beautiful ignorance, he will have to absorb and adopt through bitter experience a vast number of fundamentals if he ever hopes to produce with least effort for greatest success. This statement of least effort means least effort for the performers, not himself only.
The simplest kind of illustration will suffice for this. Suppose an enthusiastic—but inexperienced—director is given a modern English comedy to produce. It looks easy—it is merely regular life transferred to a stage. He may decide that the first act should cover thirty minutes; but with no appreciation of the simple fact that amateurs can never deliver lines as rapidly and tellingly as professionals, he starts to rehearse the act as it was written. Early repetitions will always consume from twice to three times as long a period as the finished performance should, so counting on the speedy spurt of dress rehearsal he plods his lengthy way. Then as the date of presentation approaches he suddenly realizes that his first act is running to forty minutes. His cast has been rehearsed at their utmost rapidity; they can work no faster if they are to live through the entire evening. He may in his heart despise an audience which will not sit through his four hour performance, but some inklings of common sense tell him he cannot hold them until midnight, so he desperately begins to cut right and left. His actors cannot unlearn in a day the speeches they have been studying for weeks. They are not sure of cuts. Their confidence in him vanishes; their confidence in themselves oozes. Passages are deleted at final rehearsals, business is changed, the pace is forced, with the inevitable result that at the performance the " reproduction upon the stage of actual life " has become a breathless series of schoolroom recitations. The first act may go well, but the latter scenes will suffer, for the untried amateurs will have exhausted most of their energy, and the play, instead of mounting in intensity will sink to a dull level, across which it will drag its weary length.
The thousand and one other little matters of acting effectively—call them tricks or technique or universal experience, as you please—which must be recognized by the di-rector, such as turning, shifting the weight to start across stage in a graceful manner instead of suggesting a pair of scissors, the use of the hands, the much more difficult art of not using the feet, the knowledge of how to use one's height or how to counteract it, the principle of building suspense by quieting the voice and action, the powerful effect of pauses, the subdued reaction to emotions, rhythm, the unconsciousness of pure comedy, all these he may learn in time. But he is an infinitely better director if he begins with some appreciation of them and a humble desire to learn more, instead of sweeping them aside as beneath him or unessential.
A director must be sensitive to the changing psychology of the audiences. He must know of the decided change which has come over good acting during the past fifteen years. He will, if he really cares for his work, welcome the added difficulty of securing results with the modern moderate methods.
The producer's tangible work begins when the copy of the play is put into his hands. It should end when the curtain rises upon the first performance. This is the ideal term, though in long runs he may have to revise for weeks until the play is in perfect working order.
In certain things a director may be subject to the control of a committee, but in the actual development of the play from planning to performance he should be in absolute control. His word should be law. This does not mean that he will not be open to suggestion, that he will not. listen to reason, that he may not be consulted, but it does mean that if the play is intrusted to him, the responsibility for its conduct must be his. It is merely fair, therefore, that all the opportunity should be his. Executive boards of acting societies, once they have appointed a director, should insist upon compliance with all his plans. Amateurs are likely to grow restive under supervision from one of their own members; so do professionals. As I write this, the call-board of one New York theater bears a notice to the company that all directions issued by the stage manager are to be obeyed as coming from the office. They are to be carried out, though complaints will be heard by the officials of the producing company. If persons whose profession is acting have to be reminded of such a matter is it any wonder that an amateur producer is the marked victim of intended murder by nearly every cast he directs? One of the proverbs of amateur acting is that the producer has no friends. Every man's hand is against him. Even the amateur authors whose plays he directs can tell you why their offspring were not instantly adopted by the public.
Equipped with an intimate knowledge of how effects are secured upon the stage, the producer studies the play to determine what effects it demands, and what are the best methods of securing them. In addition to his knowledge of sound and legitimate methods of theatrical skill, he should have a freshness of attack and a novelty of treatment to infuse animation and enthusiasm into amateurs dealing with plays frequently novel and often even bizarre. The producer must serve as active interpreter between the page and the actors, and then between the actors and the audience. He must know the play better than any single performer. He must feel the play as any spectator may. He must bring the play from the dramatist to the audience by means of the cast upon the stage.
He must know the value of rhythm within the act as well as the progression of climactic interest throughout the entire development. He must be able to determine just what effects are to be secured and how to induce the individuals concerned to produce those effects. In all cases of several possible interpretations he must have history, tradition, common sense, superior impressiveness, consistency of character delineation, or quotable authority from the text of the play itself, to support his decisions.
The most frequently cited case of various possible de-liveries of a short speech—all good as well as defensible—is the pair of words in Macbeth., Lady Macbeth is urging her husband to murder his king.
Macbeth. If we should fail
How should " we fail " be delivered?
The Folio of 1623 prints a question mark after it. Modern editors are divided upon the punctuation, the inflection, the meaning. Mrs. Siddons is reported as having used successively three different intonations.
When Malvolio in Twelfth Night reads in the letter he has found, " If this fall into thy hand, revolve," does the last word mean " consider in thy mind," or " spin around upon your heels "? This latter is done by most actors in attempting to " fatten " an already rich rôle.
Modern dramatists are quite careful in indicating interpretations, but not always do they settle matters. In a rehearsal of Don by Rudolph Besier, a discussion arose as to just how the title character was to behave at a certain en-trance. The text was scrutinized and finally this detail was seized upon. As he entered the room, though the situation was a strained one, he saluted his fiancée with the off-hand exclamation, " Hullo, Ann." That seemed to indicate that he had no appreciation of the terrible mess in which he had involved himself, while it did give a clue of detached nonchalance to his acting at that point.
The director must know the value of rhythm within the act as well as the progression of climactic interest through-out the entire development. In practically no scene does the mood, the feeling, the emotion remain unchanged for many consecutive minutes.
It will be easy to illustrate this from a single scene taken from Twelfth Night—the fifth act. Three different sets of characters give exhibitions of different kinds of foolery with the Clown. Then follows the Duke's indignant charge against Antonio for having been a pirate. This accusation the latter as sturdily repudiates, but before the matter can be carried very far Olivia enters and to the absolute confusion of both Duke and Viola complains against the boy for breach of trust until the Duke, perceiving that his cruel fair dotes on his servant orders Cesario out to be slain. And then with the word " husband " Olivia throws the already complicated situation into confusion, for now Viola is amazed. Rage at the boy's duplicity sways the Duke when he hears the Priest's corroboration of Olivia's claim. Yet Shakespeare does not allow this strained and serious tenseness to continue long, for in the midst of it, in stumbles Sir Andrew Aguecheek with a broken head, accusing the puzzled young Cesario of having beaten him. This effect is emphasized immediately by the appearance of Sir Toby, also roundly charging the youngster. But before any of the characters on the stage or any spectator in the audience can recover from such a breathless procession of events, on hastens Sebastian with an apology directed at the loving but hesitating Olivia. Before these two lovers can adjust their interrupted relations, Viola must be satisfied concerning Sebastian. In the twinkling of an eye the interest has swung back to Viola's love for the Duke, yet only three speeches are allowed to it, when mention is made of Malvolio, who is produced. In the modern versions there is always aroused for the misused steward some sentiment because the male star plays that rôle, but that sympathy passes as he leaves, and the taunts of the Clown make us smile again. The closing speech of the Duke brings back a little magnanimity, and the Clown's song ends the comedy.
All these moods occur within the short time of a short act. The audience is never allowed or required to exercise any one feeling or emotion for more than a very few minutes.
To be impressed with this same principle in compressed form analyze for emotion alone Suppressed Desires by Susan Glaspell, or In the Zone by Eugene O'Neill, or A Night at an Inn by Lord Dunsany. For effective movement from one mood to another Ibsen's plays provide excellent examples of graduated change. Used in connection with surprise and contrast, this device is one of the most powerful of all dramatic elements.
Rhythmic shading from one mood to another is an essential in good producing.
When the cast becomes proficient in lines and action a director may direct them much as a conductor leads his orchestra. While the scene is being enacted he may give—without interrupting—such directions as " faster," " slower," " louder," " pause," " step nearer," " fall back," stronger," " build," " hold it." Such directing comes later in rehearsing, when polishing the play, or adding the shaded finishing touches, but every one of these orders should be anticipated by the director, and held in his mind as necessary in the final performance. As many amateurs ignorantly believe they are ready for the audience as soon as they can romp through the lines without prompting, a good director should be able to prove to them how much more they need to add to mere memorization and crude interpretation before they can consider themselves acting at all.
In anticipating these perfecting details directors may attain their end in two different ways. Some decide upon every minutest point and never swerve from a first pronouncement. These rest on firm adherence to first choices and decisions. Others decide the broader lines only, adding to the main threads the smaller points. Perhaps the best results—for amateurs, at least—depend upon a compromise between the two, or a combination of them. A wise director may go so far as to tell his cast, " If I ask you to do something a certain way, please don't tell me I asked you to do it differently at previous rehearsals. I may be trying various things at nearly all the repetitions, for I want to find the best." The cast must not believe that this proves lack of comprehension or ability on his part, provided any change seems to improve the effect. If he merely wastes time and effort in needless vacillation, he had better not be entrusted with a script to direct.
As far as is. possible the scenery designs should follow the author's descriptions and stipulations. Changes may be made, depending upon economy, space, equipment, provided no essential requirement of the acting has to be modified or deleted.
So much of the producer's work is preparatory. He has been considering merely the text of the play and its material surroundings. Next he must turn his attention to its human characters.
The cast, then, is next to be determined. There are many methods of securing good casts. One of the quickest and most simple is to appoint the members. A committee may do this, and hand the list to the director, or the director himself may choose the actors. Such a scheme saves an incalculable amount of time. Another advantage is that it places the responsibility upon certain definite individuals. This will make the members of the casting committee and the director careful of the selections, in order to assure a good production. When a committee makes the selections the personal judgment of one person is modified by comment from others. It also results in dividing the responsibility. Undoubtedly the best method of selecting casts is by " try-outs."
In trying out candidates a producer or a committee passes upon the fitness of each one by seeing him act. The candidate may offer a portion of the play to be cast, or something else acceptable. He may deliver lines from the play to be acted. He may take part in a " cast reading " in which persons stand about the stage or room and read the lines of characters in the play. If there are three or four applicants for one part, each is given a chance to act some scene. In judging such an exhibition less attention should be paid to what he does than what he indicates he can do. Performers must always be chosen because of the possible development of their latent abilities rather than for assured attainments. Iden Payne chose a cast of twenty men and women from hearing a large number read the prologue to The Drawing of the Sword by Thomas W. Stevens. Some were selected because of their bearing, looks, manner, voice, size. What they demonstrated they could do was more significant than what they did. Every professional is being tried out every time he appears upon the stage.
It is reported that when an impersonator of Lincoln was needed for John Drinkwater's play, some one suggested a Mr. McGlynn. He was summoned back to New York from a road company. The author and he went through the scene in Grant's headquarters in which the President pardons the boy sentenced to be shot for sleeping on sentry duty. At the end of that try-out, Mr. McGlynn was engaged for the title rôle.
There are only two drawbacks to this scheme which is the fairest which can be devised for amateurs. It consumes a great deal of time. The other drawback is this. Some member of the organization best fitted to play a rôle may not feel disposed to try for it. Manifestly he should be the one selected. But it appears unfair to disregard the three or four who have made the effort while he has done nothing. Yet every rôle should be acted in the very best manner. For the play's sake, the best actor should be assigned the part. A candidate may try for a part for which he is not at all suited while he could fill another rôle better than any one who strives to get it. It frequently occurs, therefore, that the showing of candidates in a series of try-outs must be supplemented and corrected by personal choices.
This point of selecting the cast is emphasized here be-cause in amateur plays there are likely to be so many instances of miscasting. More emphasis is offered by the indisputable fact that if a play is well cast its success is assured, always presupposing, naturally, that the method of directing will not ruin it. The ever-present dangers of casting amateur plays must be anticipated from the inception of the process. Friendship, social prestige, prejudice, previous appearances, willingness to act, desire to shine, all these must be reckoned with at this point. In his consideration the director must reduce them to the minimum, and seek for mobility, dependableness, patience, intelligence, stage presence, common sense, obedience, fitness, loyalty, and endurance. If he is wise he will banish temperament unless it is over-shadowed by matchless ability.
Every member of the cast should read the entire play in the form it is decided to use. Any cuts should be made before certain lines and scenes enter into the performers' consciousness. This is essential for amateurs. Some apparently chance remark in an early conversation may determine the delineation of a character, or indicate the interpretation of an entire later scene. Producers, of course, should be able to collect all these points and transmit them to the actors through directions; but the actors should be given the opportunity to accumulate them for themselves. At the first meeting the play should be read by the cast. General directions should be noted upon the copies. The main points to strive for in the scenes, situations, lines might be briefly indicated, more as guides in study than as acting hints. Matters of age, peculiar characteristics, lines of comedy, pauses, high lights, should be informally discussed.
The rule just given regarding the complete play is by all means the best for amateurs. Even to study a rôle the complete version seems the best, yet individuals have their peculiar preferences. Many study best by copying their parts, using personal contractions and abbreviations. Others prefer to recite the lines aloud exactly as they will speak them. Nearly every amateur tests himself by having some one hear him recite lines, the second person giving the regular speeches of other characters. This device is the best of all, as it accustoms the ear to the length and sound of the delivered dialogue, and makes the actor feel sure in his responses. It unquestionably, in the long run, saves time and energy.
There are some amateurs, perhaps with a slight professional experience, and many semi-professionals, who prefer to study from a professionally typed " part." This contains only the lines of the single rôle, with the last few words of other characters' speeches—just enough to give the cue. The advantage of this for studying is merely that it contains no more than the part to study. The actor does not have to skip about the complete play picking out his own speeches. In the second place it gives the learner an exact idea of how long his rôle is, for from the number of small sheets he knows how many " sides " (as they are termed professionally) he has to master.
As amateurs are forced to study their rôles at odd times, they should soon know the easiest and surest method to use. People's minds memorize by quite different processes, so each performer must learn for himself the workings of his own faculty for memorization.
One stock actress explained her system to me. With a knowledge of the entire play, she divided her scenes into so many situations or moments. Each one of these had some kernel, some essence, some point, some crisis, some truth to drive home. Around such central themes which themselves would suggest what she termed " key words" or " key lines," she would group other important words, phrases, and speeches. Thus by a method of memorized association she had a succession of important facts and connected speeches to remember. As she concentrated upon these and went over and over them they became indelibly fixed in her mind. If she missed a word at times she still knew the effect she was working up, and this by association would direct the words into the channels associated by repetition with that effect.
By such a method another result was secured—a result of prime importance for amateurs to notice. So frequently an audience is cognizant that as the play progresses the characters are less and less certain of their lines. This is naturally the product of our old-fashioned, usual system of memorizing. Recall how you yourself memorize a poem of six stanzas, and admit that you are always likely to go to pieces in the last stanza if you try to repeat it aloud. What is the reason? This is it in a single sentence. In memorizing you repeated the first stanza six times as often as you did the last, the second five times, and so down, until a single repetition of the concluding stanza deluded you into believing that you knew it.
The system of memorizing outlined here has this decided advantage;—that all portions of the play are memorized equally well, and at the same rate. When, after several repetitions, the speeches approach perfection, they all advance to the same degree. If perfection is reached for any one section it marks accurate memorization of the entire rôle.
At the first real rehearsal it might be a good thing if every performer could be letter-perfect. - This is an ideal condition never realized by any actors. It is not really so necessary, for at this first rehearsal the cast should merely walk through their parts, getting ideas of how and when to enter and exit; how and when to move about; what changes of feeling to indicate; all of which they should carefully write down upon their copies. Then when they memorize they can pick up all this stage business in connection with the lines they speak. Thus the action and the delivered word are suited to each other as they should be. This, you recall, was one of Shakespeare's cardinal points of good acting.
During first rehearsals the director should interrupt frequently. It is less difficult to correct an unfit action before it becomes spontaneously reflex than after. It is easier, then, though difficult at any time, to change a wrong or misplaced emphasis. In early rehearsals the most insistent care should be given to pronunciation, enunciation, and tone. Every person engaged in the delivery of speech should help to cast off the harshness and the rasping utterance which mark the so-called American voice. Our speech can be made beautiful upon the stage. In the hurry of most amateur productions these elements of beauty and effectiveness receive scant attention. This does not mean that all the members of a cast should fall into the other fault of talking exactly alike. A careful director will prevent this, though many play directors seem to induce casts to imitate them. In early rehearsals it is easier to get clear ideas of situations. At such times when differences of opinion arise between director and actor, the latter may be allowed to express his conception, but in the end he must follow the director's decision. The latter may be able to explain very clearly why he asks for action done his way rather than another. If he is a thinking producer he will be able to show why his interpretation is correct. If he merely " feels " that it should be so, he should examine and analyze to assure himself.
The producer should know how to emphasize effects-notice, emphasize, not exaggerate. Moderation, not exaggeration, is the acme of present-day acting, in large professional companies as well as in intimate little theaters. Here are concrete illustrations of the principle underlying this theme. In The Angel Intrudes by Floyd Dell a young woman about to elope with a young poet really goes off with his guardian angel who has intruded to save him from this rash exploit. This scene could be played to show that the Angel makes every effort he can to win the girl. But it is more humorous—as well as carrying out the announced disposition of the girl—to have her rapidly trans-fer her affection from her earthly lover, and leave his apartment to go willingly with this fascinating visitor from Heaven. Their departure can point this or neutralize it. The Angel opens the door while she is on the opposite side of the room. Should he then go across to her, and lead her out as an ordinary lover would? Or should he wait at the door and let her cross to join him before they go out together? The second is so much more in the spirit of the play that some would call it almost self-evident.
At the end of the second act of Don by Rudolph Besier news is brought into the drawing-room of an English canon's home that the husband of the woman taken away the night before by the son of the clergyman has just reached the house and is being ushered into the study. Don, the son, declares he will go face the husband. As there are reasons for fearing that the man has come for revenge, and may shoot, the household tries to restrain the boy. Suddenly the maid and the boy's father appear. To indicate the general confusion they should leave the room door open. When the father has ordered his son not to leave that room, the canon goes out. By so simple an action as closing that open door, as if to shut his son in, the entire point of the situation should be emphasized.
Amateurs are likely to be over-anxious to act in telling scenes. It is difficult to make them realize that emphasis may come from absolute quiescence. Pauses are more eloquent than speech. Good directing must take note of chances for such underlining. A young actress was to faint in a play. She did this and the subsequent recovery very convincingly, but she continually bothered the director by asking for directions about what she should do. It took patient reiteration of detailed explanations to make her realize that she must not do anything. She could not seem to comprehend the point which could and should be made by her relaxed passivity. This instance illustrates another prime difficulty of amateur plays. Untrained, unskilled performers find it almost impossible to act when they are not saying something, or when they are not in the stage center. They allow themselves to pass out of the situation.
As rehearsals progress there should be fewer and fewer interruptions. Changes should be announced before the action begins, or at the end of a scene. If possible, these alterations should be incorporated immediately by repetitions. Many amateurs need time to absorb changes. In this instance the modifications should become effective at the next rehearsal.
One-act plays should be rehearsed entire. Performers should feel the rise of interest and know how to secure it. The danger of repeating until the acting becomes a bore should be anticipated and avoided. Actors are as likely to " grow stale " as athletes are. Continually drumming at an effect may be the very worst method in the world for securing it. Many people under such treatment are like teased animals. Like spirited horses they may be goaded too far. I have seen an entire cast in a serious play go off on a tangent, become almost hysterical, and rehearse as howling farce with peals of laughter the most affecting scenes, then reappear at a next rehearsal and go through the scene with remarkable improvement. Severity is out of place in such ebullitions of group temperament. A wise director will doff his dignity and enter into the fun for this one occasion.
Ability to work with human natures in the artificial relationships of play casts is usually of more practical value to a director than mastery of stagecraft. Stagecraft with-out it will carry him nowhere. Much skill in handling people coupled with fair stage knowledge will work wonders. Frequent, rather than long, rehearsals should be the rule. Familiarity and ability should reach the point where no effect is the result of a lucky chance or fortunate circumstance. Anything which merely " happens" is not good acting. Any effect should be an assured certainty from habitual effort.
Full-length plays require different treatment by amateurs. Acts should be rehearsed separately. The first act will require the longest time, because in addition to memorizing lines and working up business, the actors are endeavoring to take on the characters of other persons. The school boy acting Monsieur Jourdain is learning how to be the silly worshiper of rank. The girl studying Maurya in Riders to the Sea is visualizing an Irish mother such as she never saw. Girls in a Greek play are trying to walk gracefully without heels. The two Dromios in A Comedy of Errors are practising grimaces. When the first act is ready, the actors will have mastered the characterization, so that task diminishes as the rehearsals proceed.
Every act has its peculiar problems and important requirements. The first act must arouse the interest of the audience. It must impress them as soon as possible. The first lines to be spoken are extremely important and correspondingly difficult. Modern play-writing has almost entirely eliminated the first speech by providing that the curtain shall rise upon an empty stage, upon action with-out lines, or upon a stage picture which will carry over some impression before any character need speak a word. If the play does not offer such a quiet start, the director may contrive it. The director should make plain to speakers just where the first laugh may be expected, just where the first telling impression should be made. In these days of moderate, realistic acting, amateurs are finding it more and more difficult to secure their effects. This entails all the more careful preparation in acting.
Middle acts must be rehearsed to rise above the first. The supreme importance of the middle of a play is exemplified by the title of Mr. Hopkins's book, How's Your Second Act? Intensity and complication must be reflected in rehearsals. There must be a series of " step-ups." Intervals of contrast must not allow the audience to slip away.
As a play is a series of crises it must be rehearsed as a succession of wave motions—if the figure of speech be permitted. Tempo, motion, emotion, stress, strain, rise, height, culmination, subsidence, relief, contrast, cadence, all these must be recognized and secured. A play is of course, a unified entity, but when analyzed it will present a series of diversified links in a chain of related circumstances. A director must strive during rehearsals to attain these effects, which the audience may not be able to explain in detail, but which an audience reacts to as surely as piano strings respond to the touch upon the keys. In printing our plays in English we do not indicate such progressions beyond inserting more or less adequate stage directions. The Latin nations have until recently, when the practice seems to be less consistently followed, indicated as a separate " scene " each division within which no entrances or exits are made. To a reader this system of printing the acts upon the page is needlessly confusing. It is much plainer to clearly provide entrance and exit directions. But it does visualize the unity of a situation, the completeness of a scene. And it does help directors and performers to raise the level, or build a climax, or emphasize a contrast, or sink to ordinary conversation, or relieve pathos by comedy; or make prominent some of the other reactions necessary to keep a play going. For without these rises and subsidences, the drama stands still.
During rehearsals when actors are not likely to be disturbed by it, the director should direct as the conductor of an orchestra leads the rendition of a composition. As the characters go through their parts he should give directions continually as needed, warning a speaker to slow down, urging another to warm up to passion; urging one to intensity; leading another into evenness and deliberation. He can thus accelerate or retard the tempo. He can whip up to a fury of sudden explosion. He can quickly reduce to ordinary realism. He can make a pause pregnant with mystery. He can coax adoration into the pose and tone of an awkward lover. He can stir a quiet winsomeness into stinging rebuke. He can make tangible to his group those seemingly delicate and unreal elements of rhythm and reaction.
When he can make all these things inherent and consistent parts of his repetitions he has brought his rehearsals to the point for the shading. Then—as he himself is sensitively attuned to the author's purposes—he can add or reduce until there becomes apparent that exquisite cor-respondence of interpretation to intention which is the end of all true art.
Often not enough cuts are made to bring the play within the ability of amateurs. For all other dicta to the contrary notwithstanding, plays must be cut for amateurs, even as they are for professionals. The changes and adaptations made in producing plays are beyond enumeration. Sir James M. Barrie, interrogated about the excellent last line spoken in What Every Woman Knows, which does not appear in the printed play, frankly admitted that he had forgotten the " funny " line delivered on the stage. " I probably put it in at rehearsal and it has gone legging away on its own." Eugene O'Neill's Beyond the Horizon had-entire scenes cut when it was put upon the stage.
School and college instructors hold up a warning hand, declaring that the text of Shakespeare is sacred, that not a single line must be excised. Yet we seem to have his own practice for the cuts necessary for modern conditions. The Quartos of King Lear are about 175 lines longer than the Folio of 1623. Some 220 lines not in the Folio are in the Quartos. The Folio contains 50 lines not in the Quartos. The Folio omits one entire scene found in the Quartos. In this connection an interested student will find the remarks on the various Quartos of The Merchant of Venice printed in the Variorium Edition by Furness especially interesting and illuminating.
It is in concluding acts that amateurs usually fail. They have not the endurance to carry a long play easily. They may not be conscious of it, but they have used up most of their energy. Try as they will, the last act lacks freshness and vigor. So they must be rehearsed for en-durance. Before the last act is reached they have also used up their supply of acting devices, so that there is the suggestion of monotony in their presentations. This accounts in part for the general " let-down." To counteract this some justifiable devices or stage tricks are in many instances resorted to. Changes of costume or setting may help interest the audience and so relieve the strain upon the cast. Attention may be diverted to extraneous features until the actors can assume the burden of responsibility and successfully bear it to a satisfying conclusion. Mod-ern stagecraft with its interest in lighting, color, decoration, here finds opportunity for its support to the acting. I am not attempting to justify every resort to such measures. I am merely pointing out a fact which must be reckoned with in attempts to improve the level of amateur productions. Such devices are reprehensible only when they submerge the effect of the play as drama. If they enforce the dramatic value they are within the director's province.
To correct further the usual commonplaceness of the latter part of a play, the last act should be rehearsed longer and more carefully than is usually done. Many directors start rehearsing it too close to the performance. It there-fore does not move as certainly as it should. Yet, as it is the most significant part of the play, it should be the best acted.
A good director should have numerous devices for helping rehearsals. Groups and combinations should be planned so that minor characters are not kept waiting about with nothing to do except to disturb by chattering and giggling. Self-conscious performers should be rehearsed privately in love passages, comic scenes, and tense situations, until they are good enough to impress the other members of the cast.
The play should be ready in every acting detail at least a week before the scheduled performance. This is an all-important matter. During those last days the producer should be free to give time and attention to costumes, make-up, scenery, lighting, properties, and the thousand and one details which make play-producing the most vexatious as well as the most fascinating undertaking in the world.