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"The Theatre, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow" from Theatre Magazine

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from Theatre Magazine
The Theatre, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
by Ellis Parker Butler

From the first I have claimed that the motion picture is not "theatre"; it is hardly kin to the theatre at all. The motion picture, in any of its forms, is a super-illustrated story. The "Atlantic Monthly" publishes a story with printed words and no pictures; "Scribner's Magazine" could publish the same story with fewer words, using pictures to give us the scenes and to explain the characters; the newspapers have actually taken classical stories, giving us "strips" with many pictures and few words; the motion picture reduces the words to the minimum and increases the illustrations to the maximum. It uses mechanical devices to show motion, but a strip of film is actually a series of "stills." They are illustrations.

Ellis Parker Butler

"Theatre" is an entirely different matter. That it is different is shown by the attempt to make motion pictures "speak," which is an attempt to "dramatize" the motion picture just as a playwright undertakes to dramatize a novel. However successful the speaking picture may be I do not believe it will ever be "theatre." With us will remain the knowledge that the production is brought to us by mechanical means. The automobile is an amazing invention and has revolutionized traffic, but the man astride a horse feels a different joy than that of the man in a car. The man and his horse become one; the man and his car always remain a living being and a piece of mechanism.

In the spectacle called The Miracle enormous wealth and vast knowledge of effects were expended to create an emotion and the stage became a huge affair peopled by multitudes, but deeper emotion has been felt by audiences before a stage scantily fitted and with but two or three characters. Some of the greatest plays have had no change of scene; large casts are required only when the story demands them. The theatre gives relaxation and mental stimulus by means basically different from those used by books or motion pictures. In any play that is indeed a play we see no "production" or "reproduction" -- we are drawn out of ourselves and see the actual events with the actual human beings taking part before our eyes.

In considering the theatre of today this must be remembered, and we must also remember that many things that are not "theatre" have been dolled up and put on the stages of buildings that are called theatres. Minstrel show variety, Sam T. Jack smut, Bowery melodrama and burlesque have put on high hats and are posing as "theatre" to catch the dollars of hod-carriers who have made money and shop-girls who have married into silk stockings, but if these are scraped off and dropped into the ash can there remains a sound and worthy "theatre" in America, possibly equal to any we have ever had, possibly superior to any we have ever had at any one time, for in "remembering" we are apt to "remember" all the best plays of twenty years and think of them as simultaneous events.

The theatre of our tomorrow will, I believe, be greater than any we have had. It is today equal to our literature, our politics and our art, all of which have had to pass through a tensely commercial epoch and have done better than could have been expected under the circumstances. All we have wanted of life was that it tell us how to get a motor car; now that we all have cars we will ask life to tell us why we are still unsatisfied. Out of that will come tomorrow's theatre, laughing at us, amusing us and stimulating us.



Saturday, October 07 at 1:11:59am USA Central
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