The Vaudeville Theatre, Edwin Royle, 1899
The following passage was written by a performer and an art commentator and was published in 1899.
1. The vaudeville theater is an American invention. There is nothing like it
2. anywhere else in the world. It is neither the Café Chantant, the English music
3. hall, nor the German garden. What has been called by a variety of names but has
4. remained always and everywhere pretty much the same — reeky with smoke,
5. damp with libations, gay with the informalities of the half-world — is now
6. doing business with us under the patronage of the royal American family.
7. Having expurgated and rehabilitated the tawdry thing, the American invites in the
8. family and neighbors, hands over to them beautiful theaters, lavishly decorated and
9. appointed, nails up everywhere church and army regulations, and in the
10. exuberance of his gaiety passes around ice water. He hasn't painted out the
11. French name, but that is because he has been, as usual, in a hurry. Fourteen years
12. ago this may have been a dream in a Yankee's brain; now it is a part of us. The
13. strictly professional world has been looking for the balloon to come down, for
14. the fad to die out, for the impossible thing to stop, but year by year these theaters
15. increase and multiply, till now they flourish the country over.
16. Sometimes the vaudeville theater is an individual and independent enterprise;
17. more often it belongs to a circuit. The patronage, expenses, and receipts are
18. enormous. One circuit will speak for all. It has a theater in New York, one in
19. Philadelphia, one in Boston, and one in Providence, and they give no Sunday
20. performances; and yet these four theaters entertain over 5 million people every
21. year, give employment to 350 attachés and to 3,500 actors. Four thousand people
22. pass in and out of each one of these theaters daily. Ten thousand dollars are
23. distributed each week in salaries to the actors and $3,500 to the attachés. Take
24. one theater for example, the house in Boston. It is open the year round and it
25. costs $7,000 a week to keep it open, while its patrons will average 25,000
26. every week. On a holiday it will play to from 10,000 to 12,000 people. How is it
28. A holiday to an American is a serious affair, so the doors of the theater are open
29. and the performance begins when most people are eating breakfast; 9:30 a.m. is
30. not too soon for the man who pursues pleasure with the same intensity he puts
31. into business. There are no reserved seats, so one must come first to be first served.
32. One may go in at 9:30 a.m. and stay until 10:30 at night. If he leaves his seat,
33. though, the nearest standing Socialist drops into it and he must wait for a
34. vacancy in order to sit down again.
35. Not over 2 percent of an audience remains longer than to see the
36. performance through once, but there are persons who secrete campaign rations
37. about them and camp there from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., thereby surviving all
38. of the acts twice and most of them four or five times. The management calculate to
39. sell out the house two and a half times on ordinary days and four times on holidays,
40. and it is this system that makes such enormous receipts possible. Of course I
41. have taken the circuit which is representative of the vaudeville idea at its
42. best, but it is not alone in its standards or success, and what I have said about the
43. houses in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia applies more or less to all
44. the principal cities of the country, and in a less degree, of course, to the houses in
45. the smaller cities.
46. Some of these theaters are never closed the year round. Some are content with
47. three matinees a week in addition to their night performances. Others open their
48. doors about noon and close them at 10:30 at night. These are called “continuous”
49. houses. It is manifest, I think, that the vaudeville theater is playing an important
50. part in the amusement world and in our national life. Perhaps we should be
51. grateful. At present it would seem that the moral tone of a theater is in the inverse
52. ratio of the price of admission. The higher the price, the lower the tone. It is
53. certain that plays are tolerated and even acclaimed on the New York stage today
54. which would have been removed with tongs half a dozen years ago.
55. So far as the vaudeville theaters are concerned, one might as well ask for a
56. censorship of a “family magazine.” It would be a work of supererogation. The
57. local manager of every vaudeville house is its censor, and he lives up to his
58. position laboriously and, I may say, religiously. The bill changes usually from
59. week to week. It is the solemn duty of this austere personage to sit through the
60. first performance of every week and to let no guilty word or look escape. But this is
61. precautionary only.
Royle, Edwin. "The Vaudeville Theatre." Scribner's Magazine Oct. 1899: 485-95. Rpt. in No. 4 ed. Vol. 26. New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1899. HathiTrust Digital Library. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.
In line 59, "this austere personage" most nearly refers to