The open-air theatre is one of the most promising influences in the dramatic world today. It is a truly democratic institution that brings together great numbers of people interested in the high motives of art and cements their friendship by a common artistic purpose. Because of the rank commercialization of the regular theatre the outdoor drama has proved a strong social factor in many communities. A word here as to the erection of such a theatre may not be amiss. In constructing an open-air theatre it should, if possible, face the east, and its plan should be symmetrical, with spacious approaches from the foreground through circular colonnades and descent to the auditorium by broad flights of steps that lead to each terrace. These auditorium terraces should be bounded by balustrades, with appropriate sculptured figures at intervals, and the orchestra plane should be semi-circular and capable of being divested of seats when the occasion requires.
The stage should have a straight front with a proscenium formed by pylons, surmounted on each side by large groups of sculpture. The rear of the stage should be formed by a colonnaded screen, through which vistas of trees and water may be seen by the audience. In the embellishment of the open-air stage there is little that the stage decorator can add to nature's background of trees and shrubs. The keynote for outdoor stage setting must be simplicity, and everything introduced into the setting should be massive in its character. Out-door productions, too, should be of a certain largeness and characterized either by classic dignity and severity or by idyllic loveliness and charm. As a rule pageantlike plays that delight the eye by rhythmic movement and color are the most successful in the open.
But it is not in the open-air theatre that the best work is being done. The most important innovations have been made in the little theatres created by amateurs throughout the country for the presentation of advanced plays. Many of these little playhouses, modeled after the Art Theatre of Munich and other little theatres in Germany, have been erected by American disciples of this new movement. These small theatres started in America with Maurice Browne's Little Theatre in Chicago, which seats only eighty-nine persons when crowded, and the Toy Theatre of Boston. Maurice Browne at Chicago and Livingston Platt, the stage director of the Toy Theatre, have always worked as artists and never as realists in the production of their plays. Mr. Platt is a Harvard disciple of the famous English stage producer, Gordon Craig.
A more ambitious step toward advanced theatre construction has been made by Winthrop Ames, a Boston millionaire, in the erection of the Little Theatre in New York (pictured elsewhere in this volume). A host of small theatres in New York have followed this latter venture, each housing a superior company of players vitally interested in advanced dramatic art, who wholly produce their plays without recourse to the customary theatrical sources. The Punch and Judy Theatre, The Band Box Theatre, The Neighborhood Playhouse, The Nine o'clock Theatre and Bramhall's Playhouse are numbered among these and all have enjoyed marked success during their initial season at advanced prices, and in consequence more of these tiny theatres are being built. In Philadelphia there is also a Little Theatre, and elsewhere this type of artistic theatre is springing up with encouraging rapidity.
Enthusiastic reformers of the drama profess to believe that in the success of these miniature theatres they see the promise of a great future for similar small houses throughout America.
They believe their advent means the realization of the much discussed "Civic Theatre." There is hardly a village hall throughout the country that with a few ingeniously contrived alterations, including a well-devised and colored proscenium arch, might not be employed to present effectively these advanced dramatic productions. The proper presentation of many advanced plays calls for shallow stages and ingeniously angled lighting, which causes the actors to stand out like figures on a bas-relief panel. All of these effects and many others would be easy to accomplish in such playhouses.
The stage settings could also be simplified to artistic advantage. Neutral-colored draperies or folding screens could be employed for backgrounds, and while the entire elimination of "flats" might be impossible there need be no perspective lines painted on the "flats" used. All such lines should be substantial and stand out in plastic relief, so that the audience could perceive the same effect from any angle. The "properties" employed upon the stage should also be real. Such scenery and "properties" need not be more difficult to transport than the present kind, and there is no good reason why the expressed hope of these ardent reformers should not be fully realized. Already Charles Edison, a son of the noted inventor, Thomas A. Edison, has equipped the double parlors of a brownstone residence at No. 10 Fifth Avenue, New York City, as a tiny theatre, which he calls "The Little Thimble Theatre." In this small playhouse, seating less than one hundred persons, modern plays of merit are successfully produced by Guido Bruno, an amateur stage director of the artistic type.
Strangely enough, America has also neglected one of the most important and fruitful uses of the theatre, namely, the amusement and educa-tion of children. There are no Marionette theatres here such as thrive all over Europe, nor have we regular theatres devoted to the presentation of children's plays like "Cinderella," "The Sleeping Beauty," "The Fairy Queen," or "The Pied Piper of Hamelin," and a host of similar plays to instill in the young a love for the beautiful and an active appreciation of all that is wholesome and pure. Performances of this kind would assure a future reflection of those ideals when the children have attained maturity.
What America needs is a true sense of art to glorify its ideals. If Americans looked more to advanced ideals of art and less to the commercial element all would be materially benefited and in the end even monetary interest would be considerably advanced.