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M^'c have in England everything to make us dissatisfied with the chaotic and
iiuffective condition into which our theatre has fallen. We have the remem^
brance of better things in the past, and the elements for better things in the
future. We have a splendid 7iational drama of the Elizabethan age, and a later
drama which has no lack of pieces conspicuous by their stage qualities, their
vivacity and their talent, and interesting by their pictures of manners. We
have had great cutors. We have good actors not a few at the present moment.
But we have been unlucky, as we so often are, in the work of organisation. . . .
It seems to me that every one of us is concerned to find a remedy for this melan-
choly state of things, and that the pleasure we have had in the visit of the French
company [the Comedie Franfaisel is barren, unless it leaves us with the impulse
to do so, and with the lesson how alone it can be rationally done. ^^ Forget" —
can we not /tear these fine artists saying in an undertone to us, amidst their
graceful compliments of adieu? — ^^ forget your clap-trap, and believe that the
State, the nation in its collective and corporate character, does well to concern
itself about an influence so important to national life and manners as the theatre.
. . . The people will have the theatre ; then make it a good one. . . . The theatre
is irresistible ; organise the theatre 1 "











All rights reserved

Printed by Ballanttne, Hanson <&» Co.
At the Ballantyne Press, Edinburgh












This book was compiled and privately printed in the
year 1904. We need not enter into our reasons for not
publishing it at that date : it is sufficient that they
have now ceased to operate.

In drawing up the following Estimates we had the
assistance of many expert advisers. Most of those leaders
of the theatrical profession who signed the declaration
on the previous page, not only read the book in proof,
but favoured us with many criticisms and suggestions
which are embodied in the text as it now stands.
Among our other advisers, those to whom we owe special
acknowledgments are : Mr. Robert Courtneidge, Miss
Edith Craig, Mr. Walter Hann, Mr. Ian Robertson,
and Mr. Horace Watson. We are deeply indebted to
them for information placed at our disposal ; but they
are of course in no way responsible for the deductions
we have drawn from it, or for the general scheme into
which it has been woven.

It is a source of pleasure and pride to us that the
list of those who gave their sanction to our scheme should
be headed by the name of Sir Henry Irving.

W, A.
H. G. B.

August, 1907.




My dear Archer,

You want a preface from me — do you ? — to say how-
far the three years' experience of theatre management through
which I have passed, since this unofficial blue-book was
written and printed, has altered, as far as I am concerned, the
views expressed in it. It hasn't really altered them at all.
The need for a repertory theatre remains the same : no less,
and it could not well be greater. But I cannot help think-
ing that the public mind, and especially the mind of the
theatrical public, has developed a little, and that therefore
the possibilities of the project are somewhat differently
balanced from what they were when we wrote. Moreover,
while experience has not altered my views, it has diversified
them ; so that there are one or two amendments to our scheme
which I would like to suggest. If you do not agree with
them, write another preface still to say so. It would only
bring the number up to four.

I could chip here and there at our piles of figures, but
any one is welcome to do that. Except in one or two in-
stances, their increase or decrease will ultimately depend
upon the personality of the theatre's administration.

I am inclined to think, though, that our estimate for
actors' salaries may have been invalidated since we made it


by the increasing effect of what is called the American
Invasion. The methods of syndicate and trust have, you
know, brought about a breakback competition for the limited
amount of assured talent which London possesses, of which
the actors included in that limitation have not been slow to
take advantage. Small blame to them ! At least I can
account in no other way for the great forcing-up of salaries
that has been going on for some years now. The more a
manager speculates, the more his resources of capital enable
him to juggle with the fate of companies and plays, the
more is the actor forced into speculation, gambling as he
does only with his own personality, now more in demand,
now less, and with so little assurance of stability. It will
need the establishment, not of one permanent repertory
theatre, but of many, and the operation of several years,
to steady and correct this debauched market. Meanwhile
the imaginary promoters of such a scheme as ours should be
made to face present conditions. If any one supposes that
these conditions are even to the material advantage of the
actor who may seem to be making hay while the sUn of
speculation shines, let us refer such an apostle of the Happy-
go-lucky to our argument upon the point in Section III.
The difference to prepare for would be found more in the
salaries of actresses than of actors ; and not at the head or
tail of our list, but in the middle, where the artistic safety
of such a company as this would especially lie, where absolute
competence could least afford to be jeopardised.

I think we should have allowed a definite margin to
cover the cost of artistic experiment, which should certainly
be demanded of such a theatre. I don't refer so much to
the production of experimental plays as to experimental


methods of production. Certainly the artist designer is not
called to the service of the theatre in England nearly as
much as he should be ; his co-operation in the leading Berlin
theatres has had at least the most interesting results. Even
when we use him, we are hardly ever content to give him
a free hand. He is not necessarily an expensive luxury.
Indeed my special plea for him is that at his best he substi-
tutes a simple beauty of effect for the aggressive detail which
serves, in scenic decoration as in anything, only to cover up
poverty of imagination. But he has been kept so long out
of this inheritance that time and patience are wanted before
he can work freely and at his ease in it ; and in the Theatre
time and patience mean money.

Before the item " Ladies' Modern Dresses " I pause in
some doubt. I think our estimates are sufficient. They
ought to be sufficient. But then I am deeply conscious of
the shortcomings of my judgment in this matter. I always
feel that I like to be as unconscious of the cut and colour
of clothes upon the stage as I am in the living-room of a
house. I am told by persons of great authority that, while
this is quite the right feeling to have, such a result is only
obtainable by high-priced skill, care, and material. When I
dispute such a necessity I am assured that, while my feelings
still do me credit, my powers of observation are simply em-
bryonic. I certainly recall a most unhappy afternoon at the
Court Theatre, when a certain actress, Bernard Shaw, and I
passed in review a perfect kaleidoscope of scenery and clothes.
Did blue go well against grey in an amber light, or was
purple better upon orange when the lights were blue? Shaw
protested to the bitter end that he had an opinion of his
own ; but after two or three hours of this torture I was


ready to confess that I neither knew green from pink nor
cared. I cannot recast that estimate. As I say, it may be
a perfectly sane and sound one. I sometimes think that the
only reliable figures about ladies' modern dresses are contained
in the bills for them. Certainly that department would have
to be under the control of an expert, who could decide as
quickly and authoritatively upon the colours of a dress and a
scene, as can a competent stage-manager upon the construction
of a piece of business. And why should not a chief of ward-
robe be found (what a figure of imposing mien the title
suggests!) who could also keep his expenditure within what
a mere man may consider the bounds of reason ? Still, when
I picture him informing the leading lady of a four-perform-
ance revival of The Importance of being Earnest that her
last year's frock would do perfectly well, and when I hear
in imagination that leading lady's reply, I am glad that
his post — even with that stirring title to it — will never
be mine.

From one thing this three years' interval between writing
and publication has absolved us : the extreme self-denial with
which we composed that list of plays to be performed during
the opening season. Certainly in those far-off days you, as
Ibsen's sponsor, were under more than suspicion as a dan-
gerous theatrical revolutionary. I was known to those who
knew me at all as being associated with the shadiest in-
terests. I believed that Shakespeare should be played with-
out scenery, and I was hand in glove with a crew of
impossibilists called the Stage Society. Perhaps we were
wise, then, to demand at first only a new and healthy system
of existence for our theatre, to prove that it could be
brought into being under a management which need have no


distressing gospel to preach, which need not even possess
settled artistic convictions. I hope we did not overdo our
disinterestedness. I am sure neither of us ever wanted to
see a spiritless theatre, be its economic condition never so
perfect. Anyhow, even this short lapse of time has been
enough on our side — which is, we think, the side of the
angels — for us no longer to need to assume such a position.
Helping you with this book to-day, I should unhesitatingly,
both from motives of good policy and personal taste, advocate
the inclusion in our repertory list of every author whom we
so carefully excluded four years ago — Ibsen, Hauptmann,
d'Annunzio, Shaw, and the rest. I hope I could even find
other names to add.

But one great difference I would propose to make, were
we writing the book to-day. I would draw up a second set
of figures, suitable to the foundation of an adequate reper-
tory theatre in Manchester, Birmingham, or some such pro-
vincial centre. For it is to one of these cities, easier to stir
to the expression of civic opinion, rather than to monstrous and
inarticulate London, centre of all English thought and action
though it may claim to be, that I look for the first practical
step in theatrical organisation. That there are local tendencies
towards a better understanding of the part which might be
played in English life by a vitalised English drama cannot, I
think, be denied. To promote this understanding is the avowed
object of the Dramatic Revival Society sponsored by Mr. W. T.
Stead and Mr. F. K Benson ; and what other meaning is to
be attached to the welcome formation of Playgoers' Societies
in Manchester, Leeds, and Stockport, or to the outbreak of a
perfect fever of Pageantry? Actors and actresses certainly
feel that the touring system by which the provincial Theatre


is almost exclusively fed must at last have reached the nadir
of its sweated hopelessness ; at least, if there is a lower depth
to be touched, no self-respecting worker is anxious to descend
it. And when once the formers of opinion in these very
self-respecting communities, in the Midlands and further
north, have thoroughly realised that the policy of neglect
adopted towards this institution, the Theatre, which exists
only in public buildings licensed by the citizens for their
recreation, has been both illogical and disastrous, and can be
brought to see the potentialities of an opposite course, the
change will not be very far off.

For a repertory theatre in Manchester or Birmingham
the amendments to our figures might be simple, but would
need to be drastic enough to allow for the difference in seat-
prices customary there. £1000 might be cut from the
estimate for the general staff, as much as ;^7ooo or £8000
from the salaries of actors and actresses, and £2000 or
£3000 might be docked elsewhere. The labour of the
theatre could hardly be cheapened, nor could the machinery,
but to its great disadvantage. The price of any economies
would be a reduction in repertory and the necessity of
engaging managers and actors with reputations more to
make than already made.

It would be very necessary to guard against the tempta-
tion to maintain a large repertory at the expense of an
overworked company. Actors of to - day are popularly
supposed to enjoy too much leisure. I would undertake to
prove that they have not enough, not enough of the right
sort any way, to employ it profitably. And with modern
drama to interpret, with modem standards to be satisfied,
no return to the conditions of the old stock system is possible.


The experience of the past thirty years condemns them, no
less than it condemns itself. The Theatre of the past stood
more or less for intellectual and social vagabondage. At
present it is being patronised and petted, hardly, many may
think, to its greater advantage. But if it is ever to become
a part of our civic institutions, its working conditions must
be organised as becomes a healthy and stable civil service.
And incidentally its servants must be left opportunities to
retain that social citizenship which formerly they altogether
renounced, and which now the pressure of the prevailing
system does not afford them. If they are to depict social
life they must be encouraged to enjoy it, not considered
and left to become mere emotional acrobats.

There are many reasons why the first of the new reper-
tory theatres could be more easily started in a provincial
centre than in London. If the question of endowment were
a difficulty, there are existing buildings fit to be utilised.
At the worst, (so to speak of a positively happy eventuality)
one of these could be leased by a committee and let again
to some manager upon a cahier des charges. And even
such a truncated version of our scheme as this would, I
think, have a very fair chance of success where otherwise,
as now, only the stale scraps from London's not too whole-
some theatre - table were sparingly doled out. Playgoers
there might be more ready to recognise the virtues of acting,
vitalised under simpler methods of production, than would
the pampered London public. The present eifect upon
playgoing habits of the custom of a weekly change of bill
at the theatres, would, while it lasted, and until a better
custom took hold, tend to increase the size of the average
audience under a repertory system, and to make a method


of subscription more acceptable. And would not the policy
of a management so placed be further from the reach of
the influence of Fashion ? Of all the vitiating influences
upon the Theatre in London, has not this been the worst,
with its demand for sentiment, smartness, insincerity, and
shallow thought, and its lack of reasonable interest in any
art? As a Londoner I regret my prophecy, but I think it
will not be until shamed into action by other cities' good
fortune, that we shall have our central repertory theatre.

Here, then, is my preface, my dear Archer. I wish I
could think that, in sending it you, I in any way restored
the balance of our collaboration in this book. I remember
well (will you allow me to tell you ?) how encouraged and
gratified I was, by your asking me to help you in it.
Whatever there is in it of mine, I dedicate very whole-
heartedly to you. — Yours,


August, 1907.



There has hitherto been one enormous obstacle to the estab-
lishment of a National Theatre in England. However will-
ing a man or body of men might be to give a new impulse to
the art of the theatre, and place England abreast of France
and Germany in respect of theatrical organisation, he or they
could have no definite idea how to set about it. A public
park, a picture-gallery, or a free library is very easily created,
and, once created, it practically " runs itself." There are a
hundred recognised models for its organisation and manage-
ment. But an Endowed Theatre is, in England, a wholly
unfamiliar piece of mechanism, and the management of it an
unknown art ; while there are many reasons why no foreign
institution of the kind could be imitated in detail with any
hope of success. There is no clear-cut channel, as it were, in
which liberality and public spirit can easily flow in the direc-
tion of theatrical reform. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say
that you can buy a free libraiy or a picture-gallery read}'-
made, and present it as a " going concern " to whatever
community you please. But the man who desired to en-
dow a Theatre would have first to invent it — a laborious
task, for which he would probably have no preparation and
no facilities.

In the following pages we take this task off his hands. "We



present, for the first time in England, a detailed Scheme, with
Estimates, for the creation, organisation, and management of a
National Theatre. We are far from believing that our plan is
perfect in all its details. It might even happen that every crank
and lever in our design would have to be somewhat modified
before the machine could run smoothly and satisfactorily. But
we believe that, in merely outlining the organisation, and sug-
gesting the natui'al interplay of its parts, we have made an
essential step in advance. We have substituted clear and
definite for vague and formless ideas.

It is needless to discuss at any length the abstract desirability
of the institution we have outlined. Many of our readers are
doubtless already convinced on that point ; others will, we hope,
gradually realise the uses of the institution as they study its
details. We present in our Appendix some extracts from the
very considerable literature published during recent years, in
which the theatrical situation and the theory of theatrical
endowment are discussed.

To assert the urgent need for an Endowed Theatre is not
necessarily to adopt a wholly pessimistic view of the existing
condition of the English drama and stage. On the contrary,
the present writers are convinced that dramatic authorship, at
any rate, has greatly advanced of recent years, though there is
reason to fear that hostile conditions are beginning to check that
advance. We also admit that the stage owes much, in many
ways, to the actor-manager and the long run. Both of these
institutions have their merits ; and a National Theatre, while
excluding them from its own economy, would in no sense be
hostile to them. What is harmful is their present predominance
over the whole field of theatrical enterprise. In the interests
both of authorship and of acting, a fair proportion of Repertory


Theatres ought to co-exist whh the actor-managed and long-run
theatres ; and in order to set the repertory system firmly afoot,
a certain measure of endowment is necessary.

It follows from what we have said that we do not regard the
National or Central Theatre here outlined as, in itself, a sufficient
cure for all that is amiss in our theatrical life. Even if it stood
alone, it would do incalculable service ; but the most useful of
all its functions, perhaps, will be that of supplying an incentive
and model to similar enterprises in provincial cities, in the
colonies, and in America. The acted drama ought to be, and
indeed is, one of the great bonds of union between all the
Anglo-Saxon peoples ; but at present, unfortunately, it may be
said to "draw the whole English-speaking world together in
the bonds of a racial vulgarity."

In the provinces and beyond the seas, Repertory Theatres
would no doubt be designed on many different scales, according
to the circumstances and resources of each particular locality.
A much less ambitious theatre than that which is here outlined
would be adequate to the needs of many provincial towns. We
do not, however, profess to give any estimates for minor theatres.
Our forecasts and figures refer to a Central Theatre, to be situated
in London, and organised on such a scale as to justify it in
assuming, without incongruity or grandiloquence, the rank of a
National Theatre, worthy of the metropolis of the Empire. At
the same time, we hope and believe that our Scheme and Esti-
mates will prove helpful to the organisers of Repertory Theatres
on whatever scale. It is easy to "take in" a garment that is
cut too large ; difficult, if not impossible, to "let out" one that
is cut too small.

An enterprise on a large scale — short of extravagance or
ostentation — would have a far greater chance of succeeding and



establishing itself in a permanent and honourable position than
an enterprise on a small scale, however ably conducted. It is
essential to break away, completely and unequivocally, from
the ideals and traditions of the profit-seeking stage ; and it
is essential that the new system should have sufficient re-
sources to give it time to establish itself and take hold upon
the public. Moreover, the National Theatre must be its own
advertisement — must impose itself on public notice, not by
posters and column advertisements in the newspapers, but by
the very fact of its ample, dignified, and liberal existence.
It must bulk large in the social and intellectual life of
London. There must be no possibility of mistaking it for
one of those pioneer theatres which have been so numerous
of late years, here and elsewhere, and have in their way done
valuable work. It must not even have the air of appealing
to a specially literary and cultured class. It must be visibly
and unmistakably a popular institution, making a large appeal
to the whole community. So manifest does this appear to us
that we would strongly deprecate any eflfort on a small scale,
until it shall be absolutely apparent that no effort on the scale
here indicated is within the range of practical politics. A
struggling enterprise, with narrow resources, might prove a
mere stumbling-block in the path of theatrical progress at
large. Its failure would be disastrous, and its partial success
only less so.

It will be seen that the Theatre we propose would be a
National Theatre in this sense, that it would be from the
first conditionally — and, in the event of success, would become
absolutely — the property of the nation. It may be asked why,
in that case, we do not suggest going direct to the Govern-
ment (which would, of course, mean to Parliament) for the


money required. The reason is simply that we believe it
would be waste of time. It is not to be expected that, at
the present stage of affairs, Parliament should vote money for
the establishment of a theatre in London or elsewhere. We
must look to private liberality to present a Central Theatre
to London and to the Empire. That is not only the most
probable, but, on the whole, the most desirable event. In
the provinces it is otherwise. There one would hope that
municipalities would in many cases undertake the urgent duty
of bringing wholesome and rational theatrical entertainments
within the reach of the people. The successful establishment
of a Central Theatre in London would most probably be fol-
lowed by legislation, empowering municipalities to do what is
required of them in this respect. At present their powers are
ill-defined and inadequate ; and the same remark applies to
the powers of local bodies within the metropolitan area. A
Central Theatre would not by any means supply all the
higher theatrical needs even of London alone. But it ought
to lead the way in the reform of our theatrical system ; and
the establishment of it ought to be, and probably will be,
effected by the public spirit of individual citizens.

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Online LibraryWilliam ArcherA national theatre, scheme & estimates → online text (page 1 of 16)