FOR the reasons before stated, the designing and planning of theatres in this country have not exhibited the same general progress as have the designing and planning of other types of buildings. Few theatres can compare with modern hotels, either in respect to beauty or in the provision of comforts for their patrons. None of our theatres compares, in architectural elegance, with the better class of our churches and public libraries, as very few theatre architects rise sufficiently high above the commonplaces of life to contemplate seriously the necessity of artistic design in a theatre. The general demand appears to be for lavish and hideous ornamentation.
There are no definite rules or principles of design that may be laid down for planning a theatre. It should be the aim of the architect to exe-cute a design that will have an after-influence on theatre architecture, because from the standpoint of the effect upon public taste there is no other type of structure in which good designing is so essential as it is in the theatre. There are very few playhouses in America today that will serve as examples of theatre architecture worthy of perpetuation.
Although England has furnished the pattern from which most of our theatres have been copied she has supplied few ideas that are either new or original. She has furnished several good theatre planners, but they have only catered to the traditional instincts of the British people who, above all things, always demand comfort.
France and Italy, also, have failed to furnish theatre architects of authority or originality. While it is true that there are in both of these Latin countries theatres in whose auditoriums the decorative treatment is wonderfully beautiful, this beauty, however, is confined principally to the ceilings, many of which are ornate masterpieces of unique design.
It has remained for German-speaking countries to show superiority in theatre designing. It is in the departmentization and equipment of a theatre that these countries excel. The German theatre furnishes superior comfort and convenience for its patrons, as well as for its actors and employes. Special boxes with private stairways and entrances from the carriage concourse are provided for royalty and distinguished guests. While this may be a feature unnecessary in a democratic country like America, still other advantages there provided, such as commodious foyers, fine restaurants, spacious parlors and retiring rooms, with ample cloakrooms, and even a well-equipped hospital for first aid, would surely appeal to the American playgoer. In the stage section there are studios for designers, sculptors and scenic artists; workrooms for the carpenter, decorator, locksmith and blacksmith; and huge storerooms for scenery and properties, while in America, theatres are considered complete that have scene docks, storage rooms for properties and a workroom for the electrician and stage carpenter. The actors' quarters of a German theatre have well-equipped lounging and lunch rooms. Many of the dressing rooms are supplied with baths and showers, with separate sections for men, women and children. There are assembly rooms for the chorus and ballet and special hair dressers and costumers for each. Even a storage room is provided for the actors' bicycles, an unnecessary provision in this country, where most of the actors and actresses come to the theatre in their private automobiles.
In the administration departments of these same theatres there are separate rooms for department heads and a cashier's office equipped with a payroom and vault. The musicians have a lounging room and storage space for their instruments. The firemen, too, have quarters of their own, furnished with sleeping accommodations so that firemen may always remain on the premises, and better safeguard the property from fire.
Contrary to popular belief, the United States is poorly provided with superior and comfortable theatres. There are plenty of large theatres in America; many too large. But there are very few that are either strictly modern or comfortable, and hardly any that by their exterior design indicate the character of the performance within their walls, although it is a cardinal principle of architecture that the exposed facade shall be a visible expression of what is inside.
The greediness of American managers has done much to retard advancement in theatre designing. Theatres in America, like their English prototypes, are primarily commercial undertakings, and consequently financial interests dominate them. . The owner of a theatre, when not undertaking the production of the entertainment himself, is usually able with a little discrimination to select a lessee fully capable of bringing him a proper return from his investment. The idea of promoting dramatic art never enters his mind.
Although private theatres in Europe are sometimes aided by subsidy, theatres in America are invariably erected as private moneymaking enterprises, and very good investments they are as a rule. The writer has never heard of a well located theatre of the first or second class in this country, no matter how old, that has been without a paying tenant for three consecutive months. Still, he believes that if these same theatres were modernized and a higher ideal expressed in their design their rental value would be enhanced.
Architects too often take up theatre designing without regard to the intent or purpose of the venture; the consideration of dramatic art never affects them. It seems that many of those now engaged in designing theatres are at best merely good planners, good constructors or good business men.
The chief qualification demanded of them by equally inefficient managers or owners is the ability to construct theatres for a maximum audience at a minimum outlay, providing just enough comfort to insure public toleration. Such considerations as ample seating space, accessible toilets. sufficient coat-hanging accommodation, all of which are most necessary comforts, are stinted or sacrificed to satisfy the managerial demand for more seats.