ALAN CASH - web pages
C. B. Purdom
Author: C. B. Purdom (editor)
First published: 1930 by J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.
Format: Hardback 7½" by 5¼"
with 231 pages
|(click image to enlarge)|
My copy of this book has a label stuck in the front which says: "Bromley (Kent) Musical Competition Festival. Presented to Captain Oswald Tuck. 1st Prize for original plays. A. T. Harris, Chairman of Committee. Nov. 29th 1933." I have discovered that Oswald Tuck (1876-1950) joined the Royal Navy in 1896 as an instructor in astronomy and navigation. He served in the far east where he learnt Japanese and became a naval translator. He served in naval intelligence in WW-I, and afterwards became Admiralty historical archivist. He wrote a naval history of WW-I. In the 1930s he worked for the BBC as a Bible reader, and took a keen interest in drama, writing and directing local amateur plays. In WW-II he taught Japanese to students recruited to decrypt military cyphers at Bletchley Park. [Information about Oswald Tuck came from the Internet.]
The book is illustrated with 20 pages of black-and-white photographs, most of which show half-page tableaux from theatre performances. There are also some line drawings in the text.
Chapter I - The Producer
Chapter II - Choosing the Play
Chapter III - The Actor
Chapter IV - Rehearsing
Chapter V - Stage-Management
Chapter VI - The Stage
Chapter VII - Scenery
Chapter VII - Costumes, Wigs, Make-up, etc.
Chapter IX - Lighting
Chapter X - Finance
Chapter XI - The Audience
Chapter XII - The Uses of Criticism
A Glossary of Stage and Theatrical Terms
A Selected Bibliography
* I have reproduced below the Preface, Glossary, and Bibliography as well as short excerpts from sections marked above with an asterisk.
This book has been written to assist amateur producers of plays. A good stage producer is born, not made; but there are large numbers of people who take part in plays as amateurs and some of them have to become responsible for production. Very few of these producers have any opportunity for training themselves, and though they may be born producers they need some knowledge of stage technique. That technique, like all other technical knowledge, is only to be gained by training and practice. What I have attempted to do in this book is to give some guidance based on my own experience that will help amateurs to get their practice in the right way.
It may be asked, why cannot amateurs rely upon professional producers ? The answer is that there are not enough to go round. As the best producer is one who knows most about the practical working of the stage and combines with that knowledge the powers of an artist of the theatre, he is likely to be a professional actor. But it is unfortunately true that professional actors are by no means necessarily capable producers. One has only to look at the professional stage to see that good producers are extremely rare, and such producers are not available for amateurs. The professional actor who specialises in amateur production is seldom much good for anything beyond the mere elements. He is frequently ignorant of much that he should know about the mechanical working of the theatre, and even if he has such knowledge and is himself a good actor it does not follow that he has any skill in production.
Any professional actor can teach any amateur a great deal, and no wise amateur will fail to acquire such knowledge whenever he gets the chance. But production is another affair altogether. Amateurs should beware of depending upon professional actors who will put them through a play for the sake of a fee. They will learn very little in that way, and will achieve little more than imitation of the professional stage.
If an amateur company does by chance find a professional actor who really knows his business and has capacity as a producer, they should stick to him. He will be able to do for them more than any but the most exceptional amateur producer can do. Most amateur companies, however, will have to depend upon themselves and find their producers from among their own number. This will mean for the persons concerned an immense amount of hard work, ceaseless study of plays on the stage, and as much practical experience of the actual working of the theatre as possible.
Amateur playing is worth while when done with sufficient thoroughness because the drama is a popular art, that is an art in which many people can take part, with an appeal to the great mass of the public. It is not an art, therefore, that need be left wholly to professionals. I do not say that there is any particular merit in amateur playing as such; for I am only too conscious that much amateur work has nothing to be said for it. Too many amateur companies are satisfied with incompetent slip-shod work. This need not be if they would take sufficient trouble, and in particular if they would encourage the efforts of capable producers. The best of the amateur companies know this, and their work therefore ranks high and is worthy of serious critical attention.
The new amateur dramatic movement is something quite different from amateur theatricals, that old established social amusement. It is an interest in the drama for its own sake. Those who take part in it as producers, actors and designers are interested in the technique of the theatre. Its most satisfactory feature, both in England and America, is that many amateurs are seeking to produce their own work, that is to do plays in their own way, and also to do original plays.
The further development of this dramatic activity depends largely upon the skill and efforts of amateur producers, to whose direction amateur players subject themselves. I offer this book to producers as a contribution to their studies. While I have written it for them and for amateur players I have the hope that it may interest others who care about the theatre too. I have made the index pretty full and hope it will be found useful by readers.
I have to thank Mr. Cyril Nairne, Mr. C. Harold Ridge, Mr. C. F. Huggett and Mr. R. Hammond for help given me.
C. B. PURDOM
The producer must be one in whom the players have confidence. His personality must be right and he must understand his work. He is a leader and must be capable of leadership. He is a director, and must be able to direct. Mr. St. John Ervine, in one of his London Observer articles, said some amusing and true things on this matter:
The producer must be sure of himself. Not "cock sure," but with the confidence that comes from a thorough study of the play and of the means available to get the result he wants. If he goes quietly to work, making his purpose clear, letting the players understand the lines on which he is working, keeping a firm hold on himself as well as on them, he will have no difficulty.
A producer who is not sure of what he wants, who consults the players when in a difficulty and allows discussion of problems as they arise will never succeed. Players must be willing to subject themselves to his direction, obeying him honestly and cheerfully, giving him their unfaltering support; and the producer must respect their confidence and give them the leadership that they deserve.
When the producer gets a play to do, the last thing he should remember is how it was done before. I always prefer to produce a play I have never seen. He should look at the play, however old, however well established in the tradition of the stage, as a new work. It is wrong to try to discover the old business and repeat it. The tricks and outworn business of the old actors should not be kept in Shakespeare or Sheridan or Goldsmith. They make these plays stale both to audience and players. The old business does not fit the actors of to-day; it is finished. Mr. Granville-Barker's three Shakespearean productions at the Savoy Theatre, London, in 1912, are memorable largely because he thought the plays out afresh and gave them new business.
When I am choosing a play for production I look for one that pleases me; that I think will please the players; that I expect to please the audience, and that is practicable. These four rules, though quite simple, will, I believe, never lead one astray. The producer should look for a play that he likes because it is hope less to expect to do any good with a play that one does not care for.
Amateur companies ought to spend much more time in searching for original plays than they do. An original play, even if it is not quite so good as a well- known play that you could do, should be chosen in preference to it. By doing original work amateurs can contribute something original to the theatre in playing, staging, and in the plays themselves.
An actor must have personality. He may be ugly, deformed, ignorant, with every possible physical and mental drawback; but so long as he has personality and the skill to exploit it he has the first qualification for the stage. Almost every kind of handicap can be overcome except lack of personality, so that no one should think of acting who does not possess this natural gift.
One of the objections to women on the stage is, I suppose, if I may be pardoned the digression, that it is regarded as unpleasant to see a woman exploiting her personality for public approbation, as she must if she is an actor. An actor gives himself away to the public; he reveals himself, not as he likes to be considered but as he is, letting the audience see into some of the secrets of his nature, or if you please, into human nature in him. Women actors must do this too, and can, as experience shows, do it successfully; for women in daily life are accomplished natural exploiters of their personalities. Yet there is an objection, or has been in the past, on the part of some men themselves rather than of women, to witnessing the unfolding of human nature in the female on the stage.
A tendency of amateur players after a little experience of the stage is to develop excessive egotism. Success upon the stage has the effect of stimulating personal vanity. Even those who are capable of knowing better are often influenced by applause, so that their judgment is disturbed. Hence arise frequent quarrels and jealousies among companies of players.
It has to be remembered that actors, including amateur actors, are temperamental, that is, are nervous and highly strung. Success and the appreciative applause of others have the effect of exaggerating this. Actors should be aware of it and endeavour to counteract it. The successful amateur comedian often receives great applause. It is not surprising that he frequently becomes self-opinionated, and forgets that he knows very little. He is found to take less and less trouble with his stage work. He plays when he chooses and refuses when he thinks fit. In the end, of course, nobody can stand him, and a promising actor is lost.
Before rehearsals start, the producer must think out the whole play. He must work out the complete performance in his mind with the actors he has available. He must be satisfied that this imaginary performance is a good one before he proceeds further. The play must then be prepared in detail and everything set down on paper.
When the cast has been arranged, and the producer has fully worked out the details of the play, he should call the members of the cast together and read the play to them. Alternatively, he can get the players them selves to read their parts aloud. On this occasion the producer should talk about the play, and explain his way of working. He should, indeed, at all times be as explanatory as possible. He should encourage the players to discuss the play, and particularly their own parts. He cannot, of course, allow a discussion of his methods or ideas; for though they may be worthy of discussion, that is not the time and place for it. In particular, he cannot let what he purposes to do with the play in hand become matter for debate. If there is not time at the first reading to say all that is necessary of a preliminary and general character, a second call should be made for this special purpose. The producer should do his utmost to let the players know what he has in mind regarding the play generally and about their particular parts; but he must avoid anything in the nature of argument. It is an advantage at this stage to let individual players talk about their own parts; but no player should be permitted to discuss or comment upon any part but his own.
Do not encourage discussion about the way in which the play was done in some other production which any of the players saw. Invite them, if any of them ever saw it before, to forget it. I never encourage players to see the play we are going to do, if by any chance they are able to do so. I have found this to be a mistake. What is liable to happen is that certain actions or incidents, a mannerism of an actor, or a particular piece of business may stick in the mind, and an endeavour will be made to introduce it by the player himself.
Leave nothing to chance.
Start rehearsals promptly. The producer should never be late and should inculcate such a sense of responsibility in the players that they are always punctual. This is one of the most certain means of creating a sense of efficiency and maintaining an atmosphere in which discipline is easy.
Visitors should never be allowed at rehearsals. They may cause distraction and create embarrassment. Players should not be permitted to bring their friends. Only those who are concerned with the play should be present at any time. I have never found any good to come from the presence of outsiders, and frequently much harm. Visitors may talk about what they have seen to their friends, with results that are never advantageous, and they are liable to discuss their playing with the actors and interfere with what is being done.
Talking and laughing by those who are waiting to come on should be forbidden. It is irritating to players who are working, and those who are self-conscious are likely to feel that their playing is being discussed. Players waiting for their call should be silent.
All effects "off" must be well rehearsed, properly timed, and under the control of a reliable person. Often the stage-manager attends to them himself.
The following are some of the more usual effects required:
At the Welwyn Theatre, opened in 1928, the width of the auditorium, is 66 feet, and its length on the ground floor is 95 feet, the balcony extending a further 5 feet 6 inches. The incline of the floor is .79 inch per foot, which is barely sufficient. There are gangways in the centre and at each side; the seats are placed in straight rows, 16 each side of the centre gangway. The ground floor can accommodate 918 and the balcony 250, a total of 1168.
Very few amateur companies have stages of their own in England. The Oxted and Limpsfield Players in Surrey, the Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich, and the Unnamed Society of Manchester are among the few. The work of these companies has a permanence that is due very largely to their possession of a stage.
The advantages of having a stage of one's own are inconceivable. Only then can really good work be done. It gives an opportunity for experimenting, without which serious work on the stage is hardly possible. It makes possible the proper testing of lighting, the satisfactory designing of scenery and adequate rehearsal.
In America many amateur companies have theatres of their own that surpass anything that exists in England, among them the Dallas Little Theatre, Texas; the Pasadena Community Playhouse; the Cleveland Playhouse and the Berkeley Playhouse. A large number. of American Universities and colleges have their own theatres too.
The outstanding need of the amateur dramatic movement is for small halls, seating from 350 to 600, with reasonable stage accommodation. There is a need for buildings of this sort in practically every town in England, including London, where it is hardly possible to get a theatre at all. If such halls were provided they would give immense impetus to the movement for the good productions of plays by amateurs. Expensive buildings are not required, and the stage accommodation need only be simple: the essential requisites are ample space, plenty of lighting points and two good dressing rooms.
Usually plays have to be specially written or adapted for the new staging or else Shakespeare becomes its victim. I tried the experiment at the opening of the Welwyn Theatre of treating a realistic light comedy, written for conventional production, in this way. The play was entitled When the Heart is Young, by my friend Mr. W. Millington Limb, and the critics said that I spoiled a delightful little comedy; perhaps they were right. The scenes of the play were two drawing rooms in South Kensington, London; one belonging to an opulent manufacturer, the other to a highly placed civil servant. The principle observed in the production was to formalise the entire action of the play and to stage it with a complete absence of realism. I do not pretend that it was a success, for it demanded a great deal from the players, and the staging, lighting and costumes were experimental. It also demanded much of the audience and many of them were perplexed. It showed, however, that non-realistic treatment of modern plays was practicable, and gave great scope to the actors as well as to the scenic designer. I hope to repeat the experiment elsewhere.
The competitions between amateur theatrical companies held in England and America, known by the name of "tournaments" or "festivals" have a value in encouraging critical attention of amateur production and acting and in testing the work of producers and players. The British Drama League has organized three National Festivals of Community Drama and the fourth will take place in 1930. One hundred and twelve amateur companies took part in the first in 1926-1927, one hundred and sixty-four took part in the second in 1927-1928, and two hundred and five took part in 1928-1929. The aims of the Festivals are "To assist the development of the art of the theatre and to promote a right relation between the drama and the life of the community." The specific objects of the Festivals are declared to be:
The Festival is organized in four areas: Eastern; Western; Northern; Scotland; each of which has its own Area Festival. The National Festival is held in London when the companies which gained the first place in each Area Festival play for the award of the Lord Howard de Walden Cup. That cup was won for the first time in 1927 by the Welwyn Garden City Theatre Society, for its performance of Mr. Sampson, in 1928 by the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Players Club, for a performance of Sir J. M. Barrie's play The Old Lady Shows Her Medals and in 1929 by the Liverpool Playgoers Club, for The Devil Among the Skins, by Ernest Goodwin.
A Glossary of Stage and Theatrical Terms
There is no good modern dictionary
of stage terms, and in putting forward the following list of words I do
not pretend that it is complete; but I offer it as a first attempt at
the preparation of such a dictionary, in the hope that it may be found
useful not only by amateurs but by students of the stage generally. Some
of the words have other meanings than those in which they are used in
the theatre; I have not taken note of those meanings. Terms that are not
peculiar to the theatre, though used in it, such as electrical and architectural
terms, etc., I have ignored as a rule; also I have generally omitted slang.
Descriptions of stage "effects" are not included here but will
be found in Chapter V, pages 76 to 87; descriptions of certain lighting
apparatus will be found in Chapter IX, pages 140 to 143. The index should
also be consulted as some terms defined in the Glossary will be found
described in greater detail in the text of the book.
A Selected Bibliography
Choice of Plays
Acting, Speech and Gesture
Scenery, Lighting, Etc.