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CHOICE OF METHOD
Elsewhere the municipality sets narrower limits to its sphere of operations. It merely provides the site and the building, and then lets the playhouse out at a moderate rental to directors of proved efficiency and public spirit, on assured conditions that they honestly serve the true interests of art, uphold a high standard of production, avoid the frivolity and spectacle of the market, and fix the price of seats on a very low scale. Here no public funds are seriously involved. The municipality pays no subsidy. The rent of the theatre supplies the municipality with normal interest on the capital that is invested in site and building. It is public credit of a moral rather than of a material kind which is pledged to the cause of dramatic art.
In a third class of municipal theatre the public body confines its material aid to the gratuitous provision of a site. Upon that site private enterprise is invited to erect a theatre under adequate guarantee that it shall exclusively respect the purposes of art, and spare to the utmost the pockets of the playgoer. To render dramatic art accessible to the rank and file of mankind, with the smallest possible pressure on the individual citizen's private resources, is of the essence of every form of municipal theatrical enterprise.
The net result of the municipal theatre, especially in German-speaking countries, is that the literary drama, both of the past and present, maintains a grip on the playgoing public which is outside English experience. There is in Germany a very flourishing modern German drama of literary merit. Sudermann and Hauptmann hold the ears of men of letters throughout Europe. Dramas by these authors
are constantly presented in municipal theatres. At the same time, plays by the classical dramatists of all European countries are performed as constantly, and are no less popular. Almost every play of Shakespeare is in the repertory of the chief acting companies on the German municipal stage. At the side of Shakespeare stand Schiller and Goethe and Lessing, the classical dramatists of Germany; Molière, the classical dramatist of France; and Calderon, the classical dramatist of Spain. Public interest is liberally distributed over the whole range of artistic dramatic effort. Indeed, during recent years, Shakespeare's plays have been performed in Germany more often than plays of the modern German school. Schiller, the classical national dramatist of Germany, lives more conspicuously on the modern German stage than any one modern German contemporary writer, eminent and popular as more than one contemporary German dramatist deservedly is. Thus signally has the national or municipal system of theatrical enterprise in Germany served the cause of classical drama. All the beneficial influence and gratification, which are inherent in artistic and literary drama, are, under the national or municipal system, enjoyed in permanence and security by the German people.
Vienna probably offers London the most instructive example of the national or municipal theatre. The three leading Viennese playhousesthe Burg-Theater, the Stadt-Theater, and the VolksTheater-illustrate the three modes in which public credit may be pledged to theatrical enterprise. The palatial Burg-Theater is wholly an institution of the State. The site of the Stadt-Theater, and to a
THE EXAMPLE OF VIENNA
large extent the building, were provided by the municipality, which thereupon leased them out to a private syndicate, under a manager of the syndicate's choosing. The municipality assumes no more direct responsibility for the due devotion of the StadtTheater to dramatic art than is implied in its retention of reversionary rights of ownership. The third theatre, the Volks-Theater, illustrates the minimum share that a municipality may take in promoting theatrical enterprise, while guaranteeing the welfare of artistic drama.
The success of the Volks-Theater is due to the co-operation of a public body with a voluntary society of private citizens who regard the maintenance of the literary drama as a civic duty. The site of the Volks-Theater, which was formerly public property and estimated to be worth £80,000, is in the best part of the city of Vienna. It was a free gift from the government to a limited liability company, formed of some four hundred shareholders of moderate means, who formally pledged themselves to erect on the land a theatre with the sole object of serving the purposes of dramatic art. The interest payable to shareholders is strictly limited by the conditions of association. An officially sanctioned constitution renders it obligatory on them and on their officers to produce in the playhouse classical and modern drama of a literary character, though not necessarily of the severest type. Merely frivolous or spectacular pieces are prohibited, and at least twice a week purely classical plays must be presented. No piece may be played more than two nights in immediate succession. The actors, whose engagements are permanent, are substantially paid,
and an admirably devised system of pensions is enforced without making deductions from salaries. The price of seats is fixed at a low rate, the highest price being 4s., the cheapest and most numerous seats costing 10d. each. Both financially and artistically the result has been all that one could wish. There is no public subsidy, but the Emperor pays £500 a year for a box. The house holds 1800 persons, yielding gross receipts of £200 for a nightly expenditure of £125. There are no advertising expenses, no posters. The newspapers give notice of the daily programme as an attractive item of news.
There is some disinclination among Englishmen deliberately to adopt foreign methods, to follow foreign examples, in any walk of life. But no person of common sense will reject a method merely because it is foreign, if it can be proved to be of utility. It is spurious patriotism to reject wise counsel because it is no native product. On the other hand, it is seriously to asperse the culture and intelligence of the British nation to assume that no appreciable section of it cherishes that taste for the literary drama which keeps the national or municipal theatre alive in France and Germany. At any rate, judgment should be held in suspense until the British playgoers' mettle has been more thoroughly tested than hitherto.
No less humiliating is the argument that the art of acting in this country is at too low an ebb to justify the assumption by a public body of responsibility for theatrical enterprise. One or two critics assert
THE TRAINING OF ACTORS
that to involve public credit in a theatre, until there exist an efficient school of acting, is to put the cart before the horse. This objection seems insubstantial. Competent actors are not altogether absent from the English stage, and the municipal system of theatrical enterprise is calculated to increase their number rapidly.
Abroad, the subsidised theatres, with their just schemes of salary, their permanent engagements, their well-devised pension systems, attract the best class of the profession. A competent company of actors, which enjoys a permanent home and is governed by high standards of art, forms the best possible school of acting, not merely by force of example, but by the private tuition which it could readily provide. In Vienna the companies at the subsidised theatres are recruited from the pupils of a State-endowed conservatoire of actors. It is improbable that the British Government will found a like institution. But it would be easy to attach a college of acting to the municipal theatre, and to make the college pay its way.
Much depends on the choice of manager of the enterprise. The manager of a municipal theatre must combine with business aptitude a genuine devotion to dramatic art and dramatic literature. Without a fit manager, who can collect and control a competent company of actors, the scheme of the municipal theatre is doomed to failure. Managers of the requisite temper, knowledge, and ability are not lacking in France or Germany. There is no reason to anticipate that, when the call is sounded, the right response will not be given here.
Cannot an experiment be made in London on