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The Theatrical Business


of Today

EDITOR'S NOTE:-This is the second of the Grau series of articles on musical and dramatic topics. Mr. Grau is well known in the amusement world, having been connected managerially and professionally with Grand Opera, theatrical productions and vaudeville entertainments. He is a brother of the late Maurice Grau, the worldfamous impresario of the Metropolitan Opera House, New York City, and is author of several works on operatic and theatrical matters that are recognized as authoritative.

It is an amazing fact and anything but an edifying revelation that there were fewer than half as many famous players featured at the head of theatrical organizations in 1911 as there were in 1891.

In 1901 there were three times as many stage celebrities of stellar renown, whose fame and artistry enabled a manager to conjure with them. Think of that, ye optimists-three times as many stage favorites whom the public idolized then as today.

The disastrous conditions now prevailing in theatredom, outside of New York, do not explain the apathy on the part of playgoers. People flock to see plays and players today, but the potency of individuals is not so great that people will stand in line for hours as formerly in order to obtain from the box office the choice places. Time was when a play by the most celebrated author required only a popular stage star to attract the public, and such names as Mary Anderson, Margaret Mather, Julia Marlowe, Clara Morris, Rose Coghlan, Richard Mansfield, Lawrence Barrett, John McCullough, and others, were a sight draft on the public purse.

As an illustration of the changed conditions in this respect, it may be stated that at the present time Julia Marlowe and E. H. Sothern, in combination, despite the fact that they present elaborate productions on a scale far surpassing those in vogue years

ago, do not attract as large audiences as either star alone was able to draw a decade ago. Moreover, the scale of prices for their productions is one-fourth lower than formerly prevailing for either artist when they appeared separately.

At a banquet recently given by the Lambs Club of New York City to disengaged players of high grade, eighty-five actors, many of them being stars whose organizations had disbanded prematurely, sat down to discuss their affairs. Among the diners were such well-known public favorites as Wilton Lackaye, Douglas Fairbanks, Edmund Breeze, John Barrymore, Thomas Wise, and the late Wright Lorrimer.

When the reader is informed that no fewer than seventy theatrical organizations were forced to close their season after a single week in November, some idea may be formed as to the conditions that brought about this unique gathering.

The situation in New York City does not reveal to those who are not intimately acquainted with actual conditions the appalling slump that has befallen the amusement calling, but this fact is due to the effort that is always made to congregate in the Metropolis the "hits" of the entire theatrical output, and it would be strange indeed if there were not enough compelling attractions to make a good front in the theatre zone of "The Great White Way," yet even in New York City the producing managers are facing problems that have never before confronted them. Fully one-third of the theatres here have reverted to the camera man, and hardly a week goes by without some theatre management, weary of meeting deficits, avoids bankruptcy by installing a moving picture machine. The silent drama does not require that the "ghost" should perambulate, and the spectacle of a crowded theatre from noon to midnight, even at bedrock prices of admission, is one that is not to be resisted by the rank and file of the managers.

That the moving picture has had a great deal to do with the slump in Thespis can not be denied, but other factors have their influence, such as the constantly improving style of entertainment given in the large restaurants, such as Louis Martin's and Shanley's, and also in the principal hotels. This is so true that the Association of Vaudeville Managers, known as "The Trust," has placed an embargo on all artists to whom they issue contracts, forbidding them to appear in any establishment where food is supplied to the spectators.

Still another serious factor, though not yet so formidable as it is likely to become, is the new fad of "the intimate theatre" and "the theatre in the home," that are the result of the vogue attained for scientific inventions, such as the phonograph and the player piano, which have combined to reduce in the homes of the wealthy the demand for musical talent.

Many clubs in all the large cities are erecting these intimate theatres and the entire entertainment is supplied through scientific and artificial simulation of singers and players rather than through artists, with their exorbitant demands.

The most discouraging feature of the situation is that there is no present indication of any change for the better. Instead, there is a constantly increasing vogue for the silent drama, the phonograph, the player piano, and the "unit orchestra," invented by Robert Hope-Jones, which does away with the corporal presence of the musician. This "one man's orchestra" has in many localities proved a serious rival of even the Cinematograph.

One must believe that the actor to a large extent makes possible the great success of the motion-picture industry, for he is an absolute necessity for the original output of photo-plays, yet it would be a decidedly heartrending situation on "the Rialto" if it were not for the employment of professionals, over four hundred players being now permanently engaged by the film manufacturers, and it is a mistaken idea to assume that these are minor players. The author recognized on one reel, exhibited by the Vitagraph Company, four well-known actors whose weekly salaries have never been quoted in recent years in less than three figures. The roster of this company contains no fewer than fourteen actors and actresses who at some time in the last two years were members of Charles Frohman's companies.

Strangely enough, Grand Opera is having the best year of its entire régime, despite that the scale of prices has been increased and this proves that the conditions are favorable for public patronage if that public gets what it wants.

In vaudeville, the situation is not of the best. The men who have amassed great wealth in this field no longer find their position as tenable as it used to be. The encroachment of the "Pop Vaudeville Theatre," the vogue of the silent drama, and the advent of the "food" theatre will have all conspired to reduce the patronage in the regular houses.

That this must be true is evidenced by the announcement that

the Vaudeville Managers are limiting the compensation to the "headliners" and hereafter such salaries as $2,500 for a week's engagement of Eva Tanguay, for instance, and $4,000 for a similar period for Harry Lauder, will be tabooed.

But this is not the problem that the managers have to solve. William Morris, who pays Harry Lauder $4,000 a week, states that he finds the clever Scotchman the cheapest actor he ever employed, while Eva Tanguay, even at $2,500 a week, is engaged fifty-two weeks in the year. The real causes of the great slump in the theatrical business are many and complicated; the principal factor, however, has been the revelation of the working masses as being the controlling element in the scheme of public entertainment, and that this being true, new conditions have been created. The head of a family need no longer pay $2 a seat in the quest for entertainment; he has become wise in his generation, and is aware of the fact that he can go to the "cut rate" stores on Sixth Avenue and secure excellent seats, quite as good as are sold at the box office for $2, at half this price, and very often still cheaper. How true this is may be gathered from the statement here made that the second largest theatrical firm in this country and one controlling a dozen New York theatres is wont to distribute among these cut rate agencies as many as two hundred seats for each of their theatres not housing an absolute "hit." This means that the firm in question is in receipt of an average of not less than fifteen hundred dollars weekly for the sale of seats through this source.

One of these cut rate stores is presided over by a man who has amassed so much wealth that he has actually become the "backer" of one of the most important theatrical producing firms. We know of two large theatrical institutions affiliated with the cut rate agents, and how desperate must be the situation is evidenced by the fact that these agents combined dispose of two thousand reserved seats for New York theatres for a single performance. This vast public is by no means composed of the poorer classes, but, on the contrary, many of our wealthy citizens and their families have taken advantage of this practice, with the resultant effect, that once in a position to purchase seats at half price they are decidedly reluctant to pay full price, and if they can not get seats for the best theatres for a cheap rate, they accept what the agent has to offer.

Another phase of the situation is the tremendous popularity

of the theatres conducted by Mr. Marcus Loew, a man who five years ago was operating a small theatre in Harlem-a sort of Nicolodeon. He foresaw the popularity of this form of entertainment and today he is extremely wealthy. He owns or leases a dozen theatres in New York City alone, and some of these houses are conducted on a high plane, although no seat costs more than twenty-five cents.

Mr. Loew presents quite as good entertainments at these prices as the higher priced vaudeville theatres, hence the theatre-going public, largely composed of the working classes, no longer frequent the older type of entertainment, and instead of going once a week and paying from $6 to $9 for seats for a family of six, the head of the family patronizes the Loew theatres three times a week, getting as good entertainment and never paying more than $1.50 for six seats.

William Fox, who operates three theatres on East 14th Street within a few yards of each other, has made them immensely successful.

In the last two months four Broadway theatres have played to empty benches, except on Saturdays. Three others are altogether dark, while in four playhouses the scale of seat prices has been reduced twenty-five per cent., but without any perceptible improvement. There are those who believe that the only solution of the problem confronting the higher grade theatrical managers lies in the presentation of the best plays and players at a scale of prices about one-half that now charged.

Thousands of theatre-goers of older days now go to the big restaurants for their entertainment, if not exclusively, at least often enough to mean a distinct loss to the theatrical managers.

Another serious menace to the theatre of to-day is the vogue of the automobile, particularly during winter when the weather in not too inclement; and this has had the effect of making the theatrical seasons shorter in each successive year, so that now the manager is reluctant to open his theatre for the winter season until late in October and with the first sign of spring he is ready to close. In short, he is "up against it."

It is an actual fact that in one of Broadway's best and newest theatres, a play by a famous author was recently presented, on a pleasant evening, by a star of international fame, to an audience representing at the box office exactly $24. This may seem almost incredible to the lay readers, but there is still another theatre

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