The Keen Competition in the Theatrical World - Touring in the Provinces is the Best Course of Training - The Difficulty of Overcoming Nervousness - A Story of "Stage Fright"- "Personality" or "Personal Magnetism" More Valuable than Beauty - Superstitions - No Room for the Incompetent
It always seems to me that the time-worn maxim, ""Tis not in mortals to command success," applies with particular force to the stage, for, frankly, there is no infallible recipe for success in the theatre. Still, there are, all the same, various "ingredients" which are very useful in the search for that for which every ambitious actor and actress must be striving - proficiency and success - and I trust that by pointing out some of these "essential factors" I may be the indirect means of assisting those who have decided to launch their bark on the stormy seas of the theatrical profession.
Luck versus Talent
So far as the stage is concerned, it must be admitted at once that the path leading to success is probably more liberally bestrewn with blighted hopes and disappointments than in any other profession, for, curiously enough, there would seem to be a common impression among many people, who have failed to succeed in other walks of life, that at least a reasonably certain means of livelihood awaits them in the theatre.
Never, however, was there a greater mistake, for to do any good in the histrionic profession each and every aspirant to success must start young and study as hard as if he, or she, as the case may be, were competing for a difficult examination. It goes without saying that ability is an essential quality in the great struggle for theatrical laurels, and yet the greatest ability may be forced to
"hide its head under a bushel " for lack of opportunity of showing that it really is there. You see, competition on the stage to-day is - I think I am right in saying - as keen, if not keener, than in any other profession, with the result that whenever there is a vacancy for a leading, or even a small, part in any play, there are always scores of professionals ready, and, in many cases, well-fitted, to fill it. It is in this respect that some people seem to be, I have often thought, so much luckier than others, for they have a knack of dropping into a part, while their more unfortunate brother or sister professional - although, maybe, just as capable - somehow or other just misses it, so that in many ways, from an actor's or actress's point of view, it may sometimes seem better to be born lucky than talented.
The Value of "Touring"
With regard to the "apprentice" side of a theatrical career, I am a great believer in every young actor and actress playing as many and as great a variety of parts as possible. Obviously, of course, opportunities for doing so seldom occur in London. For that reason I would counsel every earnest stage aspirant to tour in the provinces whenever opportunity occurs. And if they can do so in a repertoire company, so much the better. Yes; past a doubt, touring is of the greatest assistance to the beginner on the stage, and in support of my contention I would point out that almost every presentday leading actor and actress, in the early stages of their careers, spent a number of years in playing all sorts and kinds of roles with provincial companies.
One of the greatest mistakes made by beginners in connection with the stage is to imagine that no special training is required for a theatrical career. This, of course, I need hardly say, is an utterly mistaken point of view. The stage calls for as rigid an apprenticeship as any other profession, and, at the same time, it demands from its devotees the possession of qualities peculiar to itself.
Again, I do not think the general public realise sufficiently what nervous work acting is, and I feel sure that, were it possible to compile a list of reasons covering the cause of failures on the stage, nervousness would figure very nearly at the top of that list. Of course, my statistics would deal only with people who had a fair modicum of ability - not with those birds of passage who, as I have said, flock in such large numbers towards the stage when all else has failed.
A propos of nervousness on the stage, I think the following story illustrates graphically the effect a first appearance behind the footlights has upon those who are - well, not quite nerve-proof. A budding actor was once given three words to speak in a certain production not a hundred miles from the Strand. To learn his part ought not to have been a great tax on his memory, for the said part consisted only of three words, "Hail, the King!" With praiseworthy determination to be word-perfect on the night, the actor, realising the grave responsibility that rested on his shoulders, left no stone unturned to master his part.
On the top of omnibuses on which he happened to travel, the calm of the other passengers was frequently disturbed by the young actor's open-air rehearsals; in railway trains "Hail, the King ! " " Hail, the King ! " broke in on the other passengers' conversation; in fact, wherever he went, he rehearsed his heavy part.
A Precarious Livelihood
At length the all-important evening arrived, and when the conscientious actor heard his cue, with swinging stride, he literally hurled himself in the direction of the stage. But as soon as he saw the audience, his thoughts seemed to become hopelessly muddled. With startled look, he gazed around, and when he should have delivered himself of the all-important speech, "Hail, the King ! " somehow or other something seemed to go wrong, for as his Majesty made his entrance the young actor thus addressed him : " Hail, the Queen!"
With some actors and actresses stage fright vanishes with growing experience, but with many others it remains with them throughout the whole of their careers, and, even to-day, many theatrical stars frankly acknowledge that they are as nervous on a first night as they were on the first occasion on which they ever had to play the smallest of small parts.