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vogue in London and New York, seem to render long runs imperative. The system of long runs is peculiar to English-speaking countries, where alone theatrical enterprise is altogether under the sway of capital. It is specifically prohibited in the national or municipal theatre of every great foreign city, where the interests of dramatic art enjoy foremost consideration.
The artistic aspiration of the actor-manager may be set on the opposite side of the account. Although the actor-manager belongs to the ranks of the capitalists (whether he be one himself or dependent on one), yet when he exercises supreme control of his playhouse, and is moved by artistic feeling, he may check many of the evils that spring from capitalist domination. He can partially neutralise the hampering effect on dramatic art of the merely commercial application of capital to theatrical enterprise.
The actor-manager system is liable to impede the progress of dramatic art through defects of its own, but its most characteristic defects are not tarred with the capitalist brush. The actor-manager is prone to over-estimate the range of his histrionic power. He tends to claim of right the first place in the cast of every piece which he produces. He will consequently at times fill a rôle for which his powers unsuit him. If he be wise enough to avoid that error, he may imperil the interests of dramatic art in another fashion; he may neglect pieces, despite their artistic value, in which he knows the foremost part to be outside his scope. The actormanager has sometimes undertaken a secondary rôle. But then it often happens, not necessarily by his deliberate endeavour, but by the mere force and
popularity of his name among the frequenters of his playhouse, that there is focussed on his secondary part an attention that it does not intrinsically merit, with the result that the artistic perspective of the play is injured. A primary law of dramatic art deprecates the constant preponderance of one actor in a company. The highest attainable level of excellence in all the members is the true artistic aim.
The dangers inherent in the "star" principle of the actor-manager system may be frankly admitted, but at the same time one should recognise the system's possible advantages. An actor-manager does not usually arrive at his position until his career is well advanced and he has proved his histrionic capacity. Versatility commonly distinguishes him, and he is able to fill a long series of leading rôles without violating artistic propriety. At any rate, the actor-manager who resolutely cherishes respect for art can do much to temper the corrupting influences of commercial capitalism in the theatrical world.
It is probably the less needful to scrutinise closely the theoretic merits or demerits of the actormanager system, because the dominant principle of current theatrical enterprise in London and America renders most precarious the future existence of that system. The actor-manager seems, at any rate, threatened in London by a new and irresistible tide of capitalist energy. Six or seven leading theatres in London have recently been brought under the control of an American capitalist who does not pretend to any but mercantile inspiration. The American capitalist's first and last aim is naturally to secure the highest possible remuneration for his
THE AMERICAN CAPITALIST
invested capital. He is catholic-minded, and has no objection to artistic drama, provided he can draw substantial profit from it. Material interests alone have any real meaning for him. If he serve the interests of art by producing an artistic play, he serves art by accident and unconsciously: his object is to benefit his exchequer. His philosophy is unmitigated utilitarianism. "The greatest pleasure for the greatest number" is his motto. The pleasure that carries farthest and brings round him the largest paying audiences is his ideal stock-intrade. Obviously pleasure either of the frivolous or of the spectacular kind attracts the greatest number of customers to his emporium. It is consequently pleasure of this spectacular or frivolous kind which he habitually endeavours to provide. It is Quixotic to anticipate much diminution in the supply and demand of either frivolity or spectacle, both of which may furnish quite innocuous pleasure. But each is the antithesis of dramatic art; and whatever view one holds of the methods of the American capitalist, it is irrational to look to him for the intelligent promotion of dramatic art.
From the artistic point of view the modern system of theatrical enterprise thus seems capable of improvement. If it be incapable of general improvement, it is at least capable of having a better example set it than current modes can be reckoned on to offer. The latter are not likely to be displaced. All that can be attempted is to create a new model at their side. What is sought by the advocates of a municipal theatre is an institution
which shall maintain in permanence a high artistic ideal of drama, and shall give the public the opportunity of permanently honouring that ideal. Existing theatres whose programmes ignore art would be unaffected by such a new neighbour. But existing enterprises, which, as far as present conditions permit, reflect artistic aspiration, would derive from such an institution new and steady encouragement.
The interests of dramatic art can only be served whole-heartedly in a theatre organised on two principles which have hitherto been unrecognised in England. In the first place, the management should acknowledge some sort of public obligation to make the interests of dramatic art its first motive of action. In the second place, the management should be relieved of the need of seeking unrestricted commercial profits for the capital that is invested in the venture. Both principles have been adopted with successful results in Continental cities; but their successful practice implies the acceptance by the State, or by a permanent local authority, of a certain amount of responsibility in both the artistic and the financial directions.
It is foolish to blind oneself to commercial considerations altogether. When the municipal theatre is freed of the unimaginative control of private capital seeking unlimited profit, it is still wise to require a moderate return on the expended outlay. The municipal theatre can only live healthily in the presence of a public desire or demand for it, and that public desire or demand can only be measured by the playhouse receipts. A municipal theatre would not be satisfactorily conducted if money were merely lost in it, or spent on it without any thought of the like
THE DEMAND FOR A MUNICIPAL THEATRE 129
lihood of the expenditure proving remunerative. Profits need never be refused; but all above a fixed minimum rate of interest on the invested capital should be applied to the promotion of those purposes which the municipal theatre primarily exists to serve to cheapen, for example, prices of admission, or to improve the general mechanism behind and before the scenes. No surplus profits should reach the pocket of any individual manager or financier.
There is in England a demand and desire on the part of a substantial section of the public for this new form of theatrical enterprise, although its precise dimensions may not be absolutely determinable. The question is thereby adapted for practical discussion. The demand and desire have as yet received inadequate recognition, because they have not been satisfactorily organised or concentrated. The trend of an appreciable section of public opinion in the direction of a limited municipalisation of the theatre is visible in many places. Firstly, one must take into account the number of small societies which have been formed of late by enthusiasts for the exclusive promotion of one or other specific branch of the literary drama-the Elizabethan drama, the Norwegian drama, the German drama. Conspicuous success has been denied these societies because their leaders tend to assert narrow sectional views of the bases of dramatic art, or they lack the preliminary training and the influence which are essential to the efficient conduct of any public enterprise. Many of their experiences offer useful object