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Will Shakespeare Draw?

In the good old days, when the management of the principal theatres was in the hands of strong men, whose pride it was to " rnn" stock companies, nearly every member of which was a "star "of minor degree, the legitimate drama was indeed a profitable investment, and the question raised by the heading of this article was very seldom heard. But the "boss star" system, allied to sensationalism, has almost shunted everything else, save and except, of course, the attractions of opera bouffe, which, with its fleshy attributes, still maintains a strong hold on the tastes of colonial audiences. Shakespeare has been incontinently shelved, or, as it has been said, laid aside, because no sane manager will risk making the acquaintance of the officials of the Bankruptcy Court in endeavoring to resuscitate the CDloniala' admiration for the immortal bard. However, the experiment has just been tried by an American actor named Miln. Voluntarily abandoning a clerical career full of promise, ho took the stage, and made such rapid progiess "on the boards" that ho may be fairly said to have stepped into the front rank almost at a bound. Having gained fame in the Uuited States as a delineator of Shakespearian characters, he determined to visit Australia and personally test tho truth or falsity of the assertion he had often heard from the lips of actors who had returned to the States after touring Australia, that Shakespnaro spells ruin in our chief towns. He has been the means—to uso a phrase much in favor of late—of starting a Shakespearian boom which has affected both Melbourne and Sydney. To pky ' Hamlet' for over three consecutive weeks to genuinely crowded houses (for money was, in sober truth, refused nightly) is somethingquitcphenomena], and recallsthepalmy days of the legitimate drama in Australia, whero G. V. Brookes's name was a household word. Mr Miln was asked to account, if he could, for his extraordinary success, and his explanation is so forcible, aud to our thinking so appositely states the oase, that wo venture to give his remarks in full, feeling sure that many of our readers with any experience of matters theatrical will bo prepared to endorse his views. Hero they aro: — *' Shakespeare has spelt ruin to managers, because they havo just * shovelled' his plays on to the stage. A manager engages a Shakesperian ' star,' a very good man ; perhaps a genius. Then the manager at once sets about cheeseparing. Ho holds a conversation with his etago manager, saying : ' Now, what about scenery for 'Hamlet?'' 'Well, we'vo got that exterior of an English cottage,'roplies tho stage manager. 'lf we keep tho lights well down in the first act we could use it-for the ramparts of Elsinore ; and then, with the lights up aud a railing across from the third entrance, it would do for tho graveyard in the fifth act.' ' Yes, that will do admirably. And tho other scenes ?' ' Oh, we can 'fake' them all right,'says the stage manager ; ' Shakespeare doesn't noed anything special in the way of scenery.' 'No, of course not,'replies tho manager,' and it's sure not to pay. So run it as cheaply as possible.' Such managers start off with a fear of failure, and do their very best to make that fear a certainty. It's simply bosh to talk of Shakespeare spelling ruin. Ho is the greatest dramatist to-day— I'm not speaking of 300 years ago—but today. On all English-speaking communities he has a firm grip all over the world, and if you only give him a fair show the playwright who wrought three centuriej back will knock out the moderns every time. lam not indulging in platitudes as to genius. I mean that ho will distance all others, even on tho low but very necessary ground—the test of nightly receipts. But you must givo him a fair B how—you must prepare properly. As ' Hamlet' is to mo what King Charles's head was to Mr Dick, let mo illustrate my meaning. The ordinary preparation for 'Hamlet' is to get out old scenery and rehearse for a couple of days. Then 'Hamlet' may be expected to run three nights. I took three weeks to prepare, and ran it to crowded houses for a month. Had my lease of the theatre been longer, I should have spent six weeks in preparing, and I believe ' Hamlet' would have drawn big business for three months. Shakespeare has got to be worked as carefully and elaborately as any new modern production, and then—and then only —will Shakespoare pay. With these favorable conditions, he will, I repeat, pay better than the beßt of the newcomers. *' You want to know wherein tho secret of my success ließ ? I suppose I am myself a slight factor in the success. For my own part, I think the chief reason i 8 that I do not go in for fads, but look all round the circumstances of the production. If I were playing ' Hamlet' simply to an audience of criticß, students, and metaphysicians, I would, whilst carrying out my present conception, play it in a quioter fashion ; but for a publio audience it is necessary to accentuate the character, for naturalistio aotingis incompatible with heroic blank verse. Actors need applause, not to foed their vanity, but to give them occasional reßtß in heavy parts, and also for tho moral effect which it has in arousing tho audience, aud acting as a beneficial stimulant to the actor. lat times givo a force to portions of a part which as a critic I might myself take exception to ; but an actor who succeeds must remember the general publio as well as tho critical fow, and must so render the part as to bring hia conception foroibly before the whole of his audience. This I try to do; whether I succeed or not, it is not for me to say. My treasury's answer is in the affirmative. The real secret of making Shakespeare pay is work! His plays must be worked in the same manner as Boucicault's or Pettitt's. Scenery must be provided of a proper kind. The production should be considered as a whole; not as a display of one star, a dozen supers, and a few old faked scenes. The play must be properly mounted, and the external management as carefully attended to as if the piece were a j modern sensation. Posters and printing should be as good and as thoroughly dieSlayed as if Shakespeare were a new ramatist who had just made his name. If they like your goods—if yoa give them Shakespeare as he should be given—they will come again, and Shakeßpeare will spell 'Cash.' But if you start off by 'faking'— joining fiats that are tottering to decay, and dressing your characters like scarecrows of varying periods of history—you, in effect, tell the publio that you don't think Shakespeare worth proper mounting, and you oan hardly be surprised if the audience endorse your opinion. Then Shakespeare necessarily spells * Ruin.'"

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Bibliographic details

Will Shakespeare Draw?, Evening Star, Issue 7934, 15 June 1889, Supplement

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Will Shakespeare Draw? Evening Star, Issue 7934, 15 June 1889, Supplement