To those looking for an exhilarating vacation let us commend a week of “trouping” on one-night stands with a theatrical company, which mirthful experience has just been ours. We went along in the very lowly capacity of co-author, which placed us somewhat beneath the stage hands as far as dignity was concerned; and we flatter ourself that we have learned our station and observe it with due humility. The first task of the director who stages a play is to let the author know where he gets off. This was accomplished in our case by an argument concerning a speech in the play where one of the characters remarks, “I propose to send a mental message to Eliza.” This sounds (we contend) quite a harmless sentiment, but the director insisted that the person speaking, being an Englishman of studious disposition, would not say anything so inaccurate. “He would use much more correct language,” said the director. “He ought to say ‘I purpose to send.’” We balked mildly at this. “All right,” said our mentor. “The trouble with you is you don’t know any English. I’ll send you a copy of the Century dictionary.”
This gentleman carried purism to almost extravagant lengths. He objected to the customary pronunciation of “jew’s-harp,” insisting that the word should be “juice-harp,” and instructing the actor who mentioned this innocent instrument of melody to write it down so in his script. When the dress rehearsal came round, he was surveying the “set” for the first act with considerable complacence. This scenery was intended to represent a very ancient English inn at Stratford-on-Avon, and one of the authors was heard to remark softly that it looked more like a broker’s office on Wall Street. But the director was unshaken. “There’s an old English inn up at Larchmont,” said he, “and this looks a good deal like it, so I guess we’re all right.”
Let any one who imagines the actor’s life is one of bevo and skittles sally along with a new play on its try-out in the one-night circuit. When one sees the delightful humour, fortitude, and high spirits with which the players face their task he gains a new respect for the profession. It is with a sense of shame that the wincing author hears his lines repeated night after night–lines that seem to him to have grown so stale and disreputably stupid, and which the ingenuity of the players contrives to instill with life. With a sense of shame indeed does he reflect that because one day long ago he was struck with a preposterous idea, here are honest folk depending on it to earn daily bread and travelling on a rainy day on a local train on the Central New England Railway; here are 800 people in Saratoga Springs filing into a theatre with naive expectation on their faces. Amusing things happen faster than he can stay to count them. A fire breaks out in a cigar store a few minutes before theatre time. It is extinguished immediately, but half the town has rushed down to see the excitement. The cigar store is almost next door to the theatre, and the crowd sees the lighted sign and drops in to give the show the once-over, thus giving one a capacity house. Then there are the amusing accidents that happen on the stage, due to the inevitable confusion of one-night stands with long jumps each day, when scenery and props arrive at the theatre barely in time to be set up. In the third act one of the characters has to take his trousers out of a handbag. He opens the bag, but by some error no garments are within. Heavens! has the stage manager mixed up the bags? He has only one hope. The girlish heroine’s luggage is also on the stage, and our comedian dashes over and finds his trousers in her bag. This casts a most sinister imputation on the adorable heroine, but our friend (blessings on him) contrives it so delicately that the audience doesn’t get wise. Then doors that are supposed to be locked have a habit of swinging open, and the luckless heroine, ready to say furiously to the hero, “Will you unlock the door?” finds herself facing an open doorway and has to invent a line to get herself off the stage.