A veritable passion for the theatre is shown by the younger generation to-day in the United States. It crowds the theatres—if we use the word to include not only places giving performances of legitimate drama but also vaudeville houses and picture shows—as in this country it never has crowded them before. To go to a theatre of the older type one must usually travel some distance and often one must save beforehand. Vaudeville and picture shows cheap enough for almost any purse are provided at our very doors. The difficulty is that what they offer is sometimes as low in art as in price. Yet surely, it may be said, there is good vaudeville, and surely proper legislation ought to dispose of what is poor or dangerous in it or the picture show. Granted, but there are inherent dangers which legislation cannot reach. In the first place, the balcony and galleries of our theatres are far less filled than they used to be before vaudeville and the picture show provided at much less expense and with greater comfort entertainment to many as satisfactory as the theatre itself. This decrease in attendance at the theatres naturally jeopardizes the chances of many a play which can be produced only if the manager feels reasonably sure of large houses or a public more general than usually frequents the orchestra. Vaudeville, too, like the collections of short stories we read in the train, is usually a mere time killer, making the least possible demand on our application and attention. In vaudeville, if something grips our interest we pay attention; if one “turn” does not interest us we simply wait for the next. Sooner or later, without any effort on our part, something will win our absorbed attention. Now drama that has literary value demands, when read, as I have pointed out, concentration, an effort to visualize. Acted drama requires surrender of one’s self, sympathetic absorption in the play as it develops. These absolutely essential conditions grow less possible for the person trained by vaudeville. The moving picture show, too, is at best drama stripped of everything but motion. The greatest appeal of all, the voice, except in so far as the phonograph can reproduce it, is wanting. But can any combination of mechanical devices such as the cinematograph and the graphophone ever equal in human significance, in reality of effect, in persuasive power, the human being—most vividly seen and felt in drama at its best? A combination of the cinematograph and the phonograph can be at best only a dramatic Frankenstein’s automaton. Dramatic literature is really threatened by the picture show and vaudeville.

All Directories