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AND now the play--the sparkling comedy, the exciting drama the screaming farce--is written, and has been neatly "typed" or copied out. Always see to this most carefully. The play must be easily readable or it won't be read, or if it be read, read with growing irritation and perplexity, not conducive to its chances of acceptance. To have it "typed" is the most practicable. Type-writing is nearly as plain as printing, and very cheap--cheaper than "copying" indeed. Mr. Gilbert had his first play printed, I know (there are few people who don't know that fact by this time, I should think), and Mr. Gilbert showed himself, thereby, wise in his generation. But then that was the last but one generation, and before the days of Remingtons and Columbias, or he would not have paid seven or eight pounds for printing, when he could have had it typed for five to ten shillings an act. I am not going to advertise any particular type-writing firm. There are five or six of them in the neighbourhood of the Strand, and one is much about as good as another.
Let me see, where were we? Oh yes, I remember, the play is finished and typed and ready for acting, and the only thing remaining is to get it accepted.
Well, you will naturally think, in the case of such a piece as this, that can't be very difficult. Managers will jump at it. My dear boy, you don't know them. You've no idea how blind they are to their own interests. Why I, myself--an important, clever writer like I am--have, at this moment, in my desk, plays that brilliant, startling, dramatic, and amusing that they would create quite a furore in Europe if they were only produced, and managers read them, and then hum and hah over them, and hesitate about them, and throw cold water upon them as though they were quite ordinary, commonplace plays. One is too farcical, and they are going to give up farces. Another is too serious, and they are going to give up serious plays. That one has no part for Mr. Jones, and this one wouldn't suit Miss Brown. And one is too long, and the public won't sit out long pieces; and another is too short, and the public want a good deal for their money now-a-days. And a third the company doesn't suit, and a fourth doesn't suit the company. Besides, the manager has got too many plays on his hands already, and can't look at any more.
That is how they go on, throwing away fortunes like that.
I have sworn not to reveal professional secrets anywhere in these pages, or I could surprise you, my dear young reader, pretty considerably with the names--the very well-known names--of dramatists who must be well accustomed to the sensation of having their plays rejected. It is not exclusively beginners either in literature or stage work that are alone familiar with the dreary legends, "Returned with thanks," "Declined with compliments." By the way, did you ever hear of the young man who tried to become a contributor to one of our leading magazines? He kept on sending in articles, and the editor kept on sending them back; till at last he got so mad that he sent in a Latin noun; he said he knew there wasn't an editor in England that could decline that. But this is frivoling, and these pages are supposed to be serious.
The most successful men find difficulty in getting their work accepted. Sims's Lights of London went round to nearly every manager in London before Mr. Wilson Barrett was 'cute enough to produce it, and, indeed, Mr. Sims had so despaired of its ever seeing the footlights that he had turned it into novel form and published it as a tale. And at the time, remember, Mr. Sims was not an unknown dramatist, but the author of three extraordinarily successful plays. Jim the Penman had a similar and even longer fight, though the late Sir Chas. Young was a man of much influence and wide acquaintanceship in the theatrical world. Mrs. Kendal, among others, objected to the play on account of the character of the wife. It was produced at the Haymarket, not at the risk of the management, and with very little idea on their part that it would prove anything but a failure. Tom Robertson--well "in" the magic circle at the time--walked about for I hardly like to say how many years with the MS. of Caste under his arm. "Too talky-talky" they all said. "No plot--no story--no complication--no good!" With your play in your pocket, my young friend, you can reckon you have three years' hard work before you in getting it played; and your talent for writing is a useless ornament to you without the "character"--the "grit" necessary to transform your written fancy into an acted fact--without the force, as Tennyson has it, to make your merit known.
Therefore, do not despair at repulse; do not lose your temper at delay; do not snivel and snarl at disappointment. Go about the job (it is a big one) quietly, and in business-like manner. You will, if you deserve it, win in the end. Nature never wastes materials. "Mute Miltons" exist but in imagination--not in her solid halls of fact. If she means a man to be a poet, or a painter, or a dramatist she sees the matter through.
I cannot lay down any hard and fast rules for you to go upon in getting a play accepted. It would be like laying down hard and fast rules for getting your girl to accept you. I can only offer suggestions and hints. The actual details, of course, depend upon what sort of man you yourself are, what sort of man your manager is, and what the particular circumstances of the particular case may be. For instance, one may say, generally, that personal interviews have more effect upon managers and actors than have letters, which, as a rule, they never answer. But if you happen, as is not at all unlikely in a young literary man, to be of a painfully nervous temperament, then it will be far better for you to go about the work by correspondence. Again, the peculiar knack of fly throwing that would induce one manager to bite would frighten away another; and laying down instructions for the different handling of each man would be useless. The managers of to-day are not the managers of to-morrow. To know the best mode of approaching Mrs. Bernard Beere or Mr. H. Beerbohm-Tree might probably enough be but small good to you by the time your play was ready, and to reveal to you the soft side of Mr. Wilson Barrett or Mr. Hare would not only endanger my life at the hands of those gentlemen (" speshul 'dition! 'tack on dramatic horther by well-known London manager--'orrible scene--speshul!") but would promptly convert that soft side of theirs into their very roughest side, and I shouldn't know how to tackle them myself then when I wanted to. No, I can only show you the direction. You must find the path for yourself.
First of all, however, following the true bucolic method, I will point out to you the way not to go. You know the sort of thing I mean. You meet a country bumpkin, and ask him the way to Podger-in-the-Hole, and he scratches his head, and turns round three times, and then points along the road and tells you to go straight on, and about a mile and a-half you'll come across a lane, leading off to the left by a haystack. "Leading off to the left by a haystack," you repeat, "Yes?" "Yees, weel, doan't 'ee gaw down theer," he replies, at the rate of three words a minute, "cause that don't lead naweer. But 'ee keep straint oan and ee'll come to a stoil." "A stile," you say, beginning to get rather impatient, "Yes, well." "Yees, an as I wor sayin' 'ee cooms to a stoile. But 'ee mustn't gaw oveer that, ee knaw, cause that be only the way ta Farmeer Wurzles's," and so on. In the same way, I say to you, don't make yourself a nuisance. Don't hang about the stage door or other spots, lying in wait for the manager, till he gets to dread the sound of your name. Don't write him long and excited letters three times a week. Don't make pitiful appeals to him on sentimental grounds. Mr. Wilson Barrett, when playing Chatterton, was attacked with great energy by a young gentleman to the tune of:--"Ah, you can rave about the sorrows and trials of a young author in imagination. You can enter into his feelings well enough upon the stage; but you will not put yourself out of the way to help one in real life." That was not business. Even if you do feel yourself slighted and ill-used, you should not show it. Put your lips tight together, and bear it.
Don't ever send in a play without first having obtained permission to do so. Don't, when it is in, worry the manager about it too soon or too often. Don't write to the papers about your ill-treatment. They will insert your letter, and, at the same time, write a leader pointing out what ill-regulated, foolish persons you and your class are, and you will get your name up as a quarrelsome party who should be avoided. Do not argue with managers, but accept their decisions, and appear to be impressed with, and grateful for, their views. If they think your play stupid, your opposition will never make them think it is not stupid, but your agreement will make them think you remarkably clever. Don't be satirical. I know you are. All we clever men are. But it is a dangerous gift, as the young lady said who was so beautiful that the monkey would kiss her and you should dissemble it. Be guided by common sense in your tactics. Do not send drawing-room comedy to the Adelphi, and sensational melodrama to Terry's. Do not try to talk Mr. Toole over into playing a heavy, emotional drama, because you will only be wasting your own valuable time, to say nothing of that versatile comedian's. Do not send a farcical comedy to Drury Lane, or submit a piece containing a wreck at sea, a dynamite explosion, view of Constantinople, and vivid representation of the Jubilee procession to the Strand or Royalty Theatres. Do not offer a one-act farce as curtain-raiser to a house that is playing a three-act one as its chief attraction, nor send a' pathetic little drama of The Step Sister type to the Gaiety.
Send one-part plays to the actors or actresses that they would best suit. Actors are more get-at-able than managers, and if they fancy the part they may push the piece for you, and of course they have naturally much influence (more of this anon). The Red Lamp, I am thinking, would have stood a very poor chance of production if sent to Messrs. Russell and Bashford instead of to Mr. Tree; and Mr. Irving would hardly have bought The Amber Heart if it had not been for Miss Terry. Every actor and actress, especially young rising actors and actresses, are ever on the look-out for plays in which they themselves particularly shine, and if you can write a piece containing a part just adapted to their style, and calculated to afford them a good "display," that piece stands a very good chance of being very carefully considered. Such plays--one part plays--are, in consequence, the best line for a beginner to work. Mind, however, that the play is a one-part play; actors do not relish rivalry. And take care that the parts suit your man all through. It is popularly supposed that an actor can represent any character--that Toole could easily play Hamlet, and that for Mr. Penley to impersonate Henry VIII. would be merely a question of making-up. Actors themselves, though, know that this is not so, and that their range extends only to the bounds of their own personality. The part in which an actor shows himself at his best is that part in which his own private individual characteristics are displayed to their most dramatic advantage. The poorest actor, given the necessary technical training, can act one character to perfection, that character being himself, while the greatest performer is stagey and artificial when once outside his own nature.
See, however, that the part fits your actor thoroughly, and that it is nowhere beyond his powers; if it is, he will tell you that it is an impossible character, and contrary to the laws of human nature.
All this, too, will be excellent practice in
preparing you for the time when you will have to "write
to order," to fit a company, as the term goes. What a
hideous necessity having to do that is, by the way. It is
like making a man to fit some old coat and trousers that the
sailor happens to have on hand, and doesn't know what to do
with. How can the critics expect art and drama when a
manager's instructions to a struggling author are--if not in
words, in very plain meaning--"Oh, play be damned! See
that the girl and I get plenty of fat; that's all that's
Adopting this course--this course of writing plays that you will send to actors in the first instance rather than to managers--will gain you acquaintanceship with players, and such an acquaintanceship is, remember, your chiefest aim, object, and goal. It is by actors' help principally that you will get a footing in the theatrical world. You must, somehow, by hook or by crook, by fair means or by foul, secure the friendship of one or more actors--the more the better. Without them your case is hopeless. Few managers will be found to pay any serious attention to the work of men unknown to them. I should say no manager ever does so, but that I have heard from the lips of some most positive assurances that they do I should not otherwise have believed it.
But anyhow, and even if any of them do pay attention to unknown men, men known to them by some means or other stand a much better chance of their favour, and the introduction will come with more weight from an actor than from any other person. Added to this, your actor friend knows how, when, and where, and with what bait your manager should be fished. He knows the general habits of the creature, its shy season, its hungry times, its particular taste. It is but little use getting a manager to read a play when he is not actually wanting a play; he will have forgotten all about it by the time he is. While a play is drawing, it never seems to occur to them that it will ever cease to draw, and they rarely trouble themselves about its successor until they are dropping £100 or so a week over it.
You do not know the ground. You waste your time on the wrong trail, and chances go by while you are following up false scents. What you want is a little note one morning:--
"Have you anything that would do for us? Pinero's piece has fallen through, and Thorne's off his head for a play. Wouldn't that last thing of yours do--that four act one? Write the old man up d bit for r. T. Run down to the theatre and see him this morning you'll catch him between 11 and 12. I'll speak to him about it meanwhile.
"In haste, yours, ----."
Then, when you go down, instead of the stage-door keeper coming back with a message that Mr. Thorne is very busy, and will yon see Mr. Alport, you will at once be asked to "Step this way, please, and mind the stair." An actor can be of immense service to you at the beginning of your career (as you can be to him when you are once an established author). He has the ear of the manager, and can speak the right word for you at the right moment. He is standing at the wings, and the piece, which has had a long and successful run, is going a little dull. The house is not so full as it hitherto has been, and the applause is sounding weaker. The manager strolls thoughtfully forward, and stands watching the stage.
"Not going so well to-night," says your friend the actor.
"No," says the manager, dreamily.
"We shall want a change soon."
"'Fraid so." (A pause.)
"Heard a lovely play read the other day."
"Yes; just the thing for you--some splendid scenes in it."
"Who's it by?"
"There's one situation in the third act, the finest thing I've ever come across. Splendidly worked up, too."
"Who's the author?"
"Full of interest, beautifully written, not a----"
"Is it your own?"
"No; a friend of mine, a very clever
"Ah! I never care much about venturing upon an untried man--too risky."
"Oh, he won't be untried long. This piece is coming on soon I think the Macklins have got it. They were wanting it I know." (This is a lie.)
"Got good parts for Brown and Robinson?"
"Oh, there's a part in for Brown that would simply make the success of the piece without anything else; and there's a delightful part for Robinson, too. Oh, it really is--I don't say it because he's a friend of mine--but it really is a damned fine play."
"Well, tell him to send it down. I'd like to have a look at it."
"Well, I can't say; I think, as I said, he's parted with it already; I'm not sure."
"Can you find out, and let me know?"
"Well, look here, I'll tell you what I'll do, if he hasn't settled--I don't expect he has finally yet--I'll send him down to you to-morrow."
"Very well, I shall be here about eleven, and if he comes we can talk it over."
So you go down at eleven, and talk it over, and try to persuade him that it is the grandest play that was ever written, and to convey to him some slight conception of its brilliancy, its power, its novelty, and its exceptional suitability in every direction.
In his interests, and merely as a friend, you
advise him, strongly, not to let the chance slip by him of
securing the piece. You hint, vaguely, concerning the
anxiety of other managers to get hold of it--only you want
him to hear it first. You expatiate --if he is an
actor--upon the splendid part there is in it for himself, a
part, too, which he alone can do full justice to; and you
talk to him of the ease with which it can be produced, and
the ridiculously small expense required for "putting it
on." Then you prove to him, conclusively, that it is
bound to be a success; and exemplify to him that it is just
the sort of piece the public want. If, for instance, it is a
farcical comedy, you dwell upon the fact that farcical
comedy is the only thing that "draws" now-a-days.
If it is not a farcical comedy, you explain that farcical
comedy is played out, that playgoers are sick of
All of which, although not rousing him to any visible enthusiasm, impresses him, and he says:--"All right, my boy, I'll hear it on Thursday morning at twelve, here in the theatre." And you answer: "Twelve o'clock on Thursday--right, I'll be down."
Then you shake hands and part, and till twelve o'clock on Thursday your life moves slowly on its wheels.
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