Puslapio vaizdai
[graphic][merged small]

on hand, they become direct and simple, and though retaining politeness of phrase, the element of flattery is entirely absent. The Frenchman is by nature, I should say, almost supersensitive or nervous, but under work he is calm; some critical coolness in him keeps watch over his ardor. Because of this, and of the pleasure they take in finding formulation for their ideas, it is inspiring to work in companionship with the French. With the beginning of rehearsals, I noticed how very much the actor is left in peace. There was an atmosphere of the subjective throughout all the work of preparation. Images and pictures began to come forth of themselves, as it were. When we had been rehearsing for about three weeks, there came to my mind a notion of how the principal act of the play could be brought out in quite a different way from that in which we were rehearsing it. As it would involve an entirely different stage-setting and the loss of what we had already built

my plan would be

up, and as I was in Paris as a learner, it never occurred to me to propose the change to the author, M. Léon Hennique. I merely mentioned the idea casually as an impression. The author at once asked me if I would be willing to work the act out on those lines and let him have an idea of it complete. Even then it did not occur to me that adopted. But the author and the managers did not hesitate an instant to throw aside all that had been arranged and substitute for it my rendition of the act. Neither did the actors make any protest at the extra work, but showed a keen interest in the new scheme, toward which they made valuable suggestions and were in every way kindness itself. It gives me pleasure to put on record that much in my success was due to them.

The very first performance was, according to time-honored custom at the Odéon and the Français, the "private rehearsal," la répétition générale, - at

which there was no public, but only an audience of critics, authors, painters, sculptors, statesmen, and other officials and grandees of the social world, the most formidable and critical audience that France could muster. It is at the répétition générale that the fate of play and players is virtually sealed. On that occasion not only is there an empty gallery, but also no claque, an organized institution on other nights. The claque has been naturally the object of much satire. It is supposed to be the foundation-stone of some artistic reputations, but the fact is that when the audience do not like an act or an actor, they do not lift a hand, and the few claps from that small row of official applauders sounds a dismal knell in the silence. What a shiver the poor actor has next day when he reads in the papers, "The claque applauded enthusiastically"!

Unknown to me at the time, there was bitter opposition in certain quarters to my engagement, as a foreigner, at the national theater. A few moments before I made my first entrance in the first act I was informed that menacing letters had been sent to the managers, and one of the managers came to say to me that if any uproar occurred in the auditorium, I should not be alarmed, but remain quietly wherever I chanced to be on the stage, and that the curtain would be rung down. It can be imagined how my heart beat as my entrance cue drew nearer. I turned to the two actors who were supposed to enter just after me- -we were all supposed to be ascending a staircase-and said:

"I am going to tell you a funny story while we are still unseen on the staircase. Answer me anything you like. Let us all talk together at once, and laugh if we can. Let us not see the audience as we come on."

"Count on us," they said, and I began at once to tell them the most comic American story I could think of.

We all came on the stage laughing and talking, I with my back to the audience as I finished what I was saying in the doorway. It was certainly "natural," and helped me control my thumping heart to

some extent. It obviated the necessity of receiving applause at the entrance or making painfully apparent the absence of it.

By the best of good luck, my scene came at the end of the first act, and was both brilliant and deeply human, a continual play of contrasts. I believe there was no greeting hand of applause at my entrance, but midway through my scene I had to say something that was as light as gossamer, but curiously tragic in depth; comic on the surface, tragic in the deeps. At rehearsal the author had said, "You strike a true note there; but the instant is so slight, they [meaning the public] may not perceive it." However, as soon as I had uttered the words in question, I felt a flutter of response, followed instantly like a clap of thunder after lightning by a tremendous dash of applause through the entire audience, sharp, clear, and instantly cut short with perfect and exquisite silence, permitting me to go forward without any interruption of the character. I mention this small incident not only because from that moment the managers and all present felt that my ground was won, but because that outright and unstinted response from an audience not well disposed toward me at the start showed the French characteristic of swift, almost involuntary, recognition of artistic value. sweeping away any untoward preconception. The important act-the one I had been allowed to plan, and in which I was on the stage from the rise of the curtain to its fall-was fortunate enough to attain a climax of thorough success.

When the curtain was down, the stage, the foyers, and all the corridors at the back of the theater were thronged from the auditorium, which the entire audience appeared to have emptied, pressing toward my room to tell me that I had triumphed in Paris. The marquise and Mme. Germaine stood at my door and presented the persons to me. The first words I heard from the jamming corridor were, "Let me be the first to offer my hand. I am Sir H. Campbell Clark, Paris editor of the London 'Daily Telegraph." Then came a host of "all Paris." The critics were

all strangers to me,-I had never set eyes of life and a character that was truly

on one of them before,-but the entire Paris press without exception, I believe, praised my work. Among those present was Whistler, who, after expressing himself concerning my acting, said he thought my white satin dress the most beautiful gown he had ever seen both in line and recognition of texture-value. I had designed it to suggest an inverted lily, with its vertical ridges incrusted with dew-like crystals, and wore no other ornaments whatever, the upper part of the bodice being of old lace.

I soon began rehearsing Hermione in Racine's "Andromaque." That rôle. was the most difficult and the most interesting study of

my stage experience, with the exception of "Lady Macbeth," which I played after my return to England from Paris. Hermione was to be my last stage effort in the French tongue.

The actors cast for the parts had been chosen partly from the Théâtre Français and partly from the Odéon.



At one of the last rehearsals for Hermione, on the stage of the Français, I suddenly felt as if a battle-ax had cleft my skull in two. The world turned black;

the actors rushed forward to prevent me from falling. Mme. Le Mulier cried out: "What 's the matter, child? You are as white as death!" and her arms were about me in an instant. They put me into a carriage, and she took me home, put me to bed, and sent for a doctor.


For weeks I was seriously ill, only to have a relapse after my first rehearsal. On my return in June, the Odéon had closed its doors for the season, but "Andromaque" was given at the Comédie Parisienne, with the players of the Odéon and of the Comédie Française, as had originally been planned, the French Government granting special permission for members of the Français to act in another house in Paris than the national theater. So that, before returning to England, as I had decided to do, I had the satisfaction of acting the great part of Hermione with that illustrious collaboration.

"The important act. was fortunate enough to attain a climax of thorough success

Mounet-Sully played the love-mad Orestes. At my request the Andromaque was a younger actress who interested me not only because of her fine work, but because I had accidentally become aware of a circumstance connected with her affairs which proved her to possess a proud ideal

[ocr errors]

There was a magnificent audience rep

resentative of the great world of politics, art, literature, and society. Every seat in the house had been sold in advance, which caused something in the nature of a riot by persons vainly trying to obtain places at the hour of the performance. All went well. Toward the close of the great act which ends the tragedy, after Hermione turns in despairing wrath on Orestes, cursing him for fulfilling her commands to kill Pyrrhus, given in a moment of vengeful wildness, she rushes from the stage to hurl herself into eternity, leaving Orestes amazed and on the verge of the madness which presently overwhelms him. At my exit from the stage the theater was filled with an uproar of applause that did not abate during several moments. Then the stage-manager came to fetch me, saying that I must return to the stage, as the audience was still shouting for me. I refused point-blank to do anything so dreadful while the act was still in progress (especially when the character I was impersonating was supposed to be already half-way across the Styx!). But I was

finally forced actually to show myself in the open doorway against the sea. I did so by letting Hermione be seen an instant in profile only, her face and head, which were averted, being entirely shrouded and veiled in the long draperies. Meanwhile, Orestes (Mounet-Sully) had stood motionless, as if struck to stone, from the time of my exit, and after that strange call for Hermione was finally ended, he went on with his great scene, not having "let it down" an iota. During the applause and excitement in the theater, in the entr'acte M. Laugier, one of the distinguished members of the Comédie Française, who was in the audience, arose and made an impassioned speech to the people, which was in fact a eulogy of my perform


Among incidents of my experience which I cherish with pleasure and pride was the official visit of the minister of the fine arts, who conveyed to me the congratulations of the French Government, expressed not only to me, but my country, on my achievements in France.




Scollard and the American Stage


Author of "The Smoke-Eaters,'

PAUL SCOLLARD (whoever he is)

was not a success as a playwright, and he has undertaken to tell us why. That is the true meaning of his book ("The American Stage." By Paul Scollard. Privately printed. The Charles Press. 1915). He has visualized his adventures in American drama with an eye and an art of narrative as impersonal as the camera,—and as cruel to many decent public appearances that have hitherto been shown only in pose,-but though he carries an air of meek detachment in court, he knows that he is giving testimony that is shocking, and while he pretends not to judge, but to leave the verdict to the reader, he is really making a critical plea in self-defense, and his criticism is a misjudgment because it is not sympathetic. He sees, he sees like a flash-light, but he does not honestly understand. And so, whether intentionally or not, he deceives his reader with a presentment that is true to appearances of fact, but false to verity.

[ocr errors]

Take, for instance, the opening paragraphs in which he describes his first interview with that New York manager whom he calls "Max Mohler." He presents Mohler as a gross man, ignorant, arrogant, uncultivated, in a private office that is all Persian rugs and stained-glass and subdued electroliers and tooled morocco book-shelves, like a millionaire's library, seated at an Empire desk that is a replica of Napoleon's writing-table at Fontainebleau, chewing on an unlighted cigar, which he rolls around in his mouth. growlingly, with the manners of a political boss and the authority of a trust presi

[ocr errors]

"Old Clinkers," etc.

dent and the temperament of a foreman of a construction gang. This is not the portrait of a New York manager. It is a composite photograph made up of the picturesque characteristics of half a dozen managers. Every detail of it has an ameliorating explanation which Scollard omits.

Almost all our American theatrical magnates have come to magnitude by way of the box-office. They are business men first and theatrical managers after; they have the blunt simplicity and unsophisticated assurance of the commercial mind. They have fought their way up from subservient poverty as a soldier rises from the ranks, and they expect subservience from all whom they command-authors and actors, office staffs and stage-directors. They are not cultivated, any more than Scollard is rich; for they have not been acquiring culture, but money; and if he despises their lack of aristocratic learning, they probably despise, as unjustly, his lack of aristocratic income. He goes to them to sell a play. They buy it, as they would hire a servant, ungraciously, because it is necessary to keep both a servant and his wages down. The magnificence of Mohler's office is as simple as the shine of Fingy Connors' diamonds. ("Those as has 'em wears 'em.") And the Fontainebleau table is merely an expression of what is called "the Bonaparte bug," a harmless hero-worship among American business men that puts bronze Napoleons into the offices of our captains of industry as inevitably as electric fans, and makes every slump in stocks a Waterloo for some young "Napoleon of finance" in Wall Street.

« AnkstesnisTęsti »