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PLAYWRITING:
A HANDBOOK
FOR WOULD-BE
DRAMATIC AUTHORS.
BY
A DRAMATIST.

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CHAPTER VI.

MATINÉES.

  I LEFT you at the end of the last chapter in a very happy frame of mind indeed. You had read your play to a manager, and it had been accepted then and there, terms settled, and cast arranged. Three days afterwards an envelope arrives, bearing the name of the theatre and its lessee printed very prominently across it. This you naturally guess to be an appointment for the reading before the company, and, trembling with suppressed delight, you break the seal. The letter expresses shortly the manager's regret that circumstances have arisen rendering it impossible for him to produce your play as arranged, the MS. of which he returns by book post; and you sit down in the nearest chair, and stare round you vacantly, and wonder why your mouth is getting so dry.

  You pull yourself together, however, in a day or two, and, finding it impossible to get your first man to reconsider his decision, set to work to get another home for the piece. You see or write to pretty well every manager in London, and a few country ones besides. To some of them you read it, and they don't care for it, as it doesn't suit them--do not always attribute a manager's declining a piece to his not liking it. Of course "I like it very much indeed, my boy; but I couldn't use it just at present," is, as a rule, the polite formula for "Your play is utter rubbish, my dear fellow, and I wouldn't have it as a gift." But occasionally a man really likes a piece, and yet does not see his way to accepting it. It does not fit in with his company, or his theatre, or his stage, or his pocket, and he has regretfully to let it go. To other managers you have sent it for them to read themselves, and it has come back, in one or two instances, by the next post almost, which has greatly irritated you; and in more instances not for two or three months, which has caused you still greater irritation. And you have grown to almost hate the sight of the thing, and yet, by strange perversity, to firmer and firmer believe in it, and to love it. You rail at all the managers, and call them fools, and you have grand bursts of defiance of things in general, during which you pace your bedroom in heroic style, and shake your fist at the world, and run your fingers through your hair, and fling it back from your forehead in quite a leonine manner, and throw your arms up towards the ceiling, after Ajax defying the lightning method; and stupid, brainless, soulless mankind shall have your play. You will force their dull eyes to see its beauties, their doltish ears to hear its music. Their sluggish hearts shall beat quick at its magic touch, and their unwilling voices swell a chorus to its praise.

  You will produce it at a matinée!

  You are quite right, but do not, let me beg of you, think of a matinée until you have exhausted every other means. The scenery and properties provided at matinées are of themselves enough to make any piece ridiculous, and the audience--well, the audience is a "deadhead" audience, and a more depressing audience to play to than a deadhead audience you wouldn't get built for you anywhere in the world. I don't know why it is; they mean well, they applaud liberally, they look nice, but they are not, as an audience, a success, and, for my own part, I should consider a house of "first-night wreckers," who had previously been kept outside in the pouring rain for two hours, and afterwards made to sit out No. One Round the Corner or Turn Him Out, as far preferable. There is an air of unsubstantialness about a matinée audience. Playing to them is like playing before your own relatives; you feel they are not real.

  Then the critics, whether they know it or not themselves, come prejudiced against the whole show. It is impossible that they can help doing so. I have been a critic, and I know what it is like to go four times or so a week, to sit out, in a stuffy theatre on a sweltering afternoon, a play which, in nineteen cases out of twenty, is utter trash. The critic, as a rule, gets paid a fixed salary per annum. He gets no more pay for attending and writing about a dozen pieces than he would for attending and writing about one, and all that matinées bring him in therefore, is more boredness and more work. Some of them, the pressmen, look in only for an act or so, getting thereby a most hazy notion of the plot, and then going home and criticising the play as being ununderstandable. The great majority of them, however, do most conscientiously sit out matinée after matinée, from the beginning of the first act to the end of the last. How they bear it I never can comprehend; they must have iron constitutions and the patience of Job. But you can't expect that they should go to one with any feelings of love and gratitude to its promoter.

  The mere fact of its being a matinée is, by the law of averages, presumptive evidence that it will prove a failure. About a hundred new pieces are produced at matinées every year. Of that hundred some two are not utterly useless. The other ninety-eight never see the light again. The very word matinée at once conjures up visions of dreary horror; of wild, incomprehensible plots; of unconnected, meaningless scenes; of hackneyed, impossible characters; of dialogue bald as a two-year-old doll; of ancient humour! conventional sentiment, and ridiculous situations. The matinée is the theatrical Nazareth, and people ask one another, Can any good thing come out at a matinée?

  Occasionally there does. Jim the Penman and The Great Pink Pearl are two examples of exceedingly clever plays that the matinée has given to us, and Wood Barrow Farm and Captain Swift are still more recent samples, and yours, my youthful dramatic friend, may make another. At all events, you can but try. I put all the disadvantages and drawbacks of the system before you as a matter of duty, but these papers are not written to discourage you; the battle is quite hard enough without that. Besides, your friends will do all that is necessary in that direction for you. For my part, if you can't get your piece accepted, and you can manage the expense, I certainly advise to bring it out in this way, rather than burn it, which is the only other thing you can do with it. It does have its chance. The press is there, and a certain number of managers and actors; and, if there be any good in the play, and I don't see why there shouldn't be--I'm a believer in young men myself, they should be possessed of more freshness and originality, more fancy, sparkle, and fire than we old, worked-out mines--if, as I say, there be any good in the play, it will be noted.

  A matinée will cost you, in round figures, from £100 to £120. At least that will be the outgoing. What the house may bring you in, concerning which we will talk later on, will be a set off against it. Of course, to an "insider" the expense will be much less. If you can get your theatre lent to you for nothing, and about two-thirds of your company to play for love, the thing can be done for some £40 or £50 gross. But we are not talking about "insiders," but about rank outsiders.

  I should advise you to get a good cast together. It will be a question of only about £10 or £15 on the total between a first-class company and a duffing one, and, if you can get some good, well-known names on your bill, they will "draw" more than their fees. Of the value to the piece of having it well played I need surely not speak. To fetch down a "star" to play in your piece is, of course, a great acquisition, but unless the part is really an extraordinarily fine one, and, more germane to the point still, you can induce the actor to see it in that light, you will find this very difficult to accomplish. No mere monetary consideration will induce a man, earning a salary of £30 or £40 a week, to devote time and labour upon a part which can bring him no further reputation, but, on the contrary, perhaps damage that which he already possesses, added to which, an important actor does not naturally care to make himself too common. Occasionally, however, to try, or rather to show, their strength in a new line, a Geo. Giddens or a Fred Leslie, or even perhaps an Ellen Terry, will play a character they particularly fancy, and of the advantage to the author of such a stroke of luck the history of The Amber Heart speaks all that can be said.

  But, as a rule, it is from the ranks of the young, "the promising" "the rising," that your recruiting takes place. They, generally speaking, are eager to play for you. In these days of long runs young actors and actresses pine for practice and opportunity--as the formation among them of the Dramatic Students' Society amply proves--and matinées afford them the only means of obtaining these.

  You will get first-class artistes of this latter kind for a fee of about five guineas--always employ guineas in dealing with professional folk. There is a difference of a shilling between a guinea and a pound in actual value, but the difference from a sentimental point of view it would be difficult to estimate. A doctor who would be pleased at a guinea would be insulted at a pound. If a publisher sends me a cheque for ten pounds ten shillings for an article, I am happy; if he sends me a ten pound note I talk about the discourtesy with which genius is treated by vulgar upstart tradesmen. You would get very good people for five guineas. Your second grade characters you would get competently played for about three guineas; and your small parts for a guinea and a-half. Any big person, such as Lottie Venne--big, speaking artistically, I mean--Mackintosh, Pateman, &c., I expect you would have to pay ten or fifteen to. Of course, this is speaking roundly; the exact figures in each case would be a matter of arrangement at the time, and depend upon the actor's anxiety or disinclination to play, his or her degree of popularity at the time, and the nature of the part. For the very trying character of Count Freund, in Percy Lynwood and Mark Ambient's Christina, Mr. Herman Vezin was, I am told, paid £40.

  You will not find the casting all plain sailing, even if you are one of those lucky beings to whom the monetary question will be of no importance. Some of the people you may want will not care for their parts. One girl won't play second fiddle to "that empty-headed little idiot" the other girl. One will make it a sine quâ non that the part is one in which he can wear evening dress, and another will want to know "if the sympathies of the audience are with him in the part"; and Miss ---- doesn't choose to play with that selfish brute ----; and Mr. ---- can't be expected to act, and won't, if "Miss ---- doesn't play up" to him.

  Others will be under engagement to various managers who will not let them play for matinées. Mr. Irving never, as a rule, allows any member of his company to act outside the Lyceum; and Mr. Chas. Wyndham also has a strong objection to loaning an actor. That their manager will not let them play is, by-the-way, the excuse that artistes generally rely upon when they do not want to play. It is often the polite form of saying "I don't want to have anything to do with the piece at all," so do not, when met with this rejoinder, argue the matter, and offer to go and see the manager about it.

  When you have got your company together you can fix the date. Some of them will be playing for other matinées, and some will have important rehearsals at their own theatres. You must manage to select a day that will suit them all. Then also you must be careful not to clash with any other matinée, or, indeed, with any other theatrical event of any kind. Sapte's Uncle's Ghost, I remember, came out on the same day as the Mansion House lunch to the theatrical profession. The critics were called both by duty and pleasure rather to the substantial fare provided by the Lord Mayor than to the ghostly entertainment of Mr Sapte, and the next morning's notices were few and far between.

  As regards the period of year, try and arrange your production early--before critics, managers, and the public have become sick of the mere word matinée--before the theatre is as stifling as an oven, and everyone is longing to be outside in the glorious sunshine. ln June and July matinées literally swarm, and it is next to impossible to get a free date, and difficult to get a cast together. Get your play finished early. If it is not ready before the end of April far better practise patience, and leave it over till the next season.

  Now, for a theatre. This will cost you from £20 to £35. Don't, if you can possibly help it, ever have anything to do with "unlucky" houses. I never was the slightest superstitious until I came to have to do with theatres. But, from some houses, it really does seem impossible to exorcise the demon of misfortune. The price asked should include the services of the whole of the theatre staff, both back and front--but not, of course, the use of the courteous and magnificent-looking acting manager, to whom you will have to pay a fee of from five to ten guineas. The carpenters, scene-shifters, gas men, and others behind will expect a tip, say a pound or thirty shillings given to the head carpenter to divide among the lot. The price also includes gas, programmes, band (in most cases), and the use of all scenery and properties that the house may have in stock.

  You will have some rare fun over the scenery and mounting. At some of the theatres they seem to possess only one interior and one exterior. Juliet's bed-chamber on Monday becomes the Widow Melnotte's cottage on Tuesday, a pawn-shop on Wednesday, a palace on Thursday, and a boat-house on Friday. Othello and Sir Charles Surface stretch their legs under the same table, and both sit in Austrian bent-wood chairs, while "Street in Venice by Night," "Outside the Pot and Whistle, Drury-lane," and "Market Cross, St. Peter's, Yorkshire," are all represented by a "Mediæval Street." I remember "Lal" Brough getting a very hearty laugh at the expense of the ---- management once (about the only thing that ever was got at the expense of that house for a matinée, I expect). A "comfortably-furnished apartment" in some palace or mansion was "mounted" with the usual rickety table and one chair "Lal" apologised for this to another character in the piece, by explaining that they had "just had the brokers in."

  The hire of the theatre also gives you the right to at least one full rehearsal there, with scenery, props., and music; and as a matter of courtesy, you are generally permitted the use of the stage for your rehearsals whenever it is not otherwise employed. When it is otherwise employed you will have the enjoyment of heading your company about from one theatre to another till you find rest for the sole of your foot. Nearly any theatre is willing to lend you their stage when vacant, and you will find the acting managers most good-natured and obliging gentlemen In the busy season, however, most of the stages are nearly constantly occupied, and then with your company trailing behind you like a school treat, you will cross from the Cri. to the Pav., or the Troc. Neither the Pav. nor the Troc are available, upon which Buggins, your leading man, who is playing at the Haymarket thinks that that house is free, and you and Buggins, leaving the others behind you, run down there to see. The Haymarket people are very sorry--pity you weren't five minutes earlier--have just lent the stage to Juggins and his company--think you might get in at the Adelphi. Off in a cab to the Adelphi--no good--"Tooles's, cabby." "Yessir." "Oh, Mr. Donald, are you using your stage this morning?" "Just this instant lent it to Muggins, or you should have it in a moment." "Dammit. Just my luck. Come on Buggins. Princess's." " Yessir." "Can you lend us your stage this morning?" "No; we're using the stage. Can have the saloon if you like, though." "Oh, can we. Thanks, awfully. God bless you. We'll go and fetch the gang at once." "Trocadero, Cabby." "Now, then, where are you all. We've got the Princess's saloon. Where's Fuggins? where's Huggins? Got tired of waiting, and gone over to the Criterion? Met a friend from Australia, and gone into Scott's, has he? Ah, we'll soon have 'em out. Miss Puggins gone home. Oh, its too bad of her, really. Never mind, we must do without her. Come on."

  Your artistes will give you about eight or ten rehearsals, but two or three of the cast will be absent at each, and their parts will have to be read. Altogether, you will have a fearful time over the rehearsals, and will probably look ten years older when they are over than you did before. I intend to deal with rehearsals at length in my next chapter, so I will not go far into the subject here, only advising you to see that you have a good stage-manager. If you have not sufficient experience and authority yourself, it would be better to engage one, even if it does cost you seven, eight, or ten guineas extra. As a rule, in matinee rehearsals, everybody is stage-manager. This is useful, as giving liveliness to the proceedings, but the play suffers badly Jones wants to arrange the thing from the point of view that the most important character in the piece is the character played by Jones. He is most indefatigable in instructing all the others how to act up to Jones, how to place themselves so that Jones is always the central figure of the picture, how to speak so that Jones's anwers may be effective, how to behave so as never to take the attention of the audience away from Jones. Brown disagrees with Jones's views on stage management, thinks Jones too anxious to show his (Jones's) part up at the expense of the others, considers, on the contrary, that it is Brown's part that is the important one to be played up to, instructs the rest of the company accordingly. Rest of company disagree from both Jones and Brown, also from each other, also from author, whom they all think an ass. Result, everybody stage-manages everybody else, and complains that nobody else listens to them.

  As regards the business part of your arrangements, leave these to the acting manager.

  He will see to all the advertising for you, an item that will cost you about £30 or £35. Four days' advertisements in the newspapers, a dozen sandwich men (poor devils!) for a couple of days, and a few hundred posters and small bills will be all you require. Less than this will make the thing a hole-and-corner affair, and more than this is useless. You only want to attract the attention of those particularly interested in theatrical affairs. The general public it is idle whistling for.

  Give him a list of your friends, and he will send them a circular, requesting their orders for tickets; and this will save you the unpleasant task of personal touting. It will surprise you to find how many friends you have when you come to make a list of them for purposes like this. All previous little differences and dislikes are forgotten under the genial influences of such a moment, and your heart goes out to every human being whose name and address you can recollect. What if you and the man next door have had words over the garden wall, and you have tried to poison his cat, and he has called out across the street to his boy to come away and not be seen talking to your boy, and you have yelled out to your boy that if ever you catch him again speaking to low people's children you'll give him what for! What if such trifles have been? Shall they be allowed to stand in the way of friendship between Christian men? No! you will forgive your enemy--and put his name down.

  You are quite right, for it is from this list alone that any actual receipts will be brought into the house. One or two country people, wandering aimlessly about the Strand not knowing what to do with themselves, may, in a weak moment, turn into the pit, but there will be no crush anywhere, so you must work your friends to the last man. Put down your relations even, if you can be sure that they won't create any disturbance.

  Your acting manager will see to the invitations to the Press and to the managers, and get as many members of these two classes as he can. Actors, actresses, and authors are admitted on presentation of their card. There is a goodish crowd of them always pressing round the box-office. Why they come is a mystery.

  He (the A.M.) will also get your play licensed for you. Should you ever desire to do this for yourself, however, the following is the course to be adopted:--

  A neat copy of the play, bearing the signature of the manager of the theatre at which it is to be presented, must be sent, accompanied by a fee of one guinea, if in one act, and of two guineas if in two or more acts,to "Edwin F.S. Pigott, Esq., M.A., Examiner of Plays, H.M. Household, St. James's Palace." The proposed date of production must also be stated. Then in about a week, if nothing objectionable be found in the work, the Lord Chamberlain's license for it to be played will be sent to the theatre. Or, if the Lord Chamberlain does not forbid within seven clear days after the play has been sent to him, his permission may be assumed.

  Other odds and ends of expenditure will be a few pounds for the two or three copies of the play that you will require and for copies of the parts. Then there will be a certain amount needed for postage, messengers, tips, &c. Nothing can be done without tipping in this world; and I expect when we go to the next we shall be asked to "please remember the fireman."

  That is all I can think of, and I daresay you will think it quite enough. Oh--of course if it is a "costume" play you will be expected to provide dress, wigs, &c.

  If the piece is a failure, you will never hear any more of it--except, of course, from your friends. If it is a success, it will be eagerly sought for, and you will be able to command good terms. I hope it will be a success--at least, I say I hope it Will, as that is the proper thing to say. As a matter of fact, I don't care a hang whether it is or not.

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