Page images
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

other, to find a soft place where he might fall-it was evidently his intention to yield up his existence as comfortably as possible. Having satisfied himself in the selection of an advantageous spot, he dropped down gently, breaking his descent in a manner not altogether describable. As he softly laid himself back, he informed Romeo of the calamity that had befallen him by ejaculating

“O, I am slain! The audience hissed their rebellion at such an easy death.

"If thou art merciful, continued Paris; the audience hissed more loudly still, as though calling upon Romeo to show no mercy to a man who died so luxuriously.

“ Open the tomb, andfaltered Paris—but what disposition he preferred to be made of the mortal mould upon which he had bestowed such care, no Romeo could have heard; for the redoubled hisses of the audience drowned all other sounds, and admonished Paris to precipitate his departure to the other world. The next day, the young aspirant for dramatic distinction was summoned by the manager, and asked what he meant by dying in such a manner on the night previous. Why, I thought that I did the thing in the most gentlemanly style,' replied the discomfited Thespian. “How came you to look behind you, sir, before you fell ?" angrily inquired the manager. Surely you wouldn't have had me drop down without looking to see what I was going to strike against ? Do you suppose a man, when he is killed in reality, looks behind him for a convenient spot before he falls, sir?' But I wasn't killed in reality, and I was afraid of dislocating my shoulder!' pleaded Paris. • Afraid of dislocating your shoulder! If you are afraid of breaking your leg, or your neck.

[blocks in formation]

a

either, when you are acting,' said the stern manager, 'you're not fit for this profession. Your instinct of selfpreservation is too large for an actor's economy. You're dismissed, sir; there's no employment here for persons of your cautious temperament.'"

This young man might have taken a lesson or two in recklessness of consequences, from a Thespian whom Sol Smith used to tell of. This gentleman played the hero's part on the stage, and led the orchestra between the acts besides, playing the first violin. On one occasion he accomplished the brilliant feat of dying into the orchestra. Having fallen, in his character of the murdered hero, dead upon the stage, he quietly rolled over into the orchestra, took up his fiddle and played “solemn music" while the curtain slowly fell. The effect is said to have been very moving—to the risibles.

One night during my starring tour in the West, we were playing “Romeo and Juliet,” and the greenest goose I ever saw was cast for Paris.

At rehearsal I had fully instructed Paris to take my hand at a given “cue,” for the purpose of giving proper and indeed necessary coloring to Romeo's lines :

“ Cousin Benvolio, dost thou mark that lady,
Which doth enrich the hand of yonder gentleman?"
I do."

Oh, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
Her beauty hangs upon the cheek of night

Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear.” I said that I had fully instructed my Paris to take my hand in a tender manner at the proper moment, and be swore on his honor as a gentleman that he would not forget it.

Imagine my dismay, then, at night when I found my “ County," my “man of wax,” my “flower, a very flower,” smilingly oblivious of all instructions and ignoring

9

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

a

AN AWKWARD POSITION.

115

“ father, mother, Tybalt, Romeo, Juliet, and all,” and my hand into the bargain. Knowing that Romeo was just on the point of speaking his lines, I could stand it no longer, but whispered to Paris,

“Take my hand.”

“What say ?” he retorted, looking as if the occasion were one of the most commonplace.

“Take my hand,” I repeated, perhaps a little testily.

He looked at me in what I suppose he considered a very arch manner, and then began to smile knowingly. He had evidently forgotten every earthly thing I had told him in the morning. But Romeo began :

" Cousin Benvolio, dost thouIn an agony of despair I leaned over, and stagewhispering, but determinedly, I said: “Take my hand.”

He seized it frantically, and then, looking quite affrighted, answered:

" What will I do with it?"

Everybody on the stage heard it, and there was a suppressed laugh, which was indulged in fully at the fall of the curtain. I could not help joining in the laugh myself, and have often wondered, but never learned, what in the world he supposed I wanted him to do with it.

Now, why do such men, who have not wit enough for literary pursuits, intelligence enough for mercantile avocations, education enough for professorships, nor brains enough for anything, espouse a profession which requires all these qualifications and personal advantages into the bargain?

Alas, I fear the question is unanswerable!

Public sentiment is such-the common creed of “respectability” is such—that usually, with men and women of genius, and culture, and pure love of dramatic art, it is a very rash step to “ go upon the stage.”

116

BRED TO THE STAGE.

This fact affords the real occasion of such a woful lack of high merit on the stage.

Look over the list of our best actors and actresses, and you

find that most of them were the children of actors and actresses-bred to the stage from birth-and who, therefore, had no gauntlet of horrified relatives to run in adopting that profession.

This state of public sentiment is what renders clowns, and sticks, and loafers, tolerable in a profession whose members should take rank with painters and sculptors. That they should, is proved by the fact that the names of such artists as Rachel, the elder Kean, Booth, Garrick, Siddons, Macklin, Kemble, and many others that might be named, glow as proudly on the historic page as those of Raphael, Rubens, Titian, Vandyke, and the like.

Tom, Dick and Harry have no more right to be classed among dramatic artists, than the veriest daubs and cobblers have in the ranks of painting and sculpture.

There are hundreds of mouthing, grimacing dunces, “periwig-pated fellows," who call themselves actors, who are entitled to no better name than that of mountebanks.

THE DEN OF A LUNATIC,

117

CHAPTER XIII.

The Property Man and his Curious Duties. His Singular Surroundings.

The Abode of a Lunatic.-An Actress Drinks a Bottle of Ink by Mistake. Amusing Inventory of “Properties."-Quaint Picture of the Property Man and his Powers.

The property man" of a theatre is a person who occupies a middle ground between the carpenter and the costumer.

It is he who makes and furnishes those numberless little things used by the players in the course of a performance, such as fairy wands, rings, sceptres and crowns, purses, pocket-books, rings, walking-sticks, garlands of flowers, bank notes, handcuffs for felons, packages of letters, gilt inkstands, goblets, pasteboard hams, chickens and rounds of beef.

A visit to the room where this individual holds state reveals a glimpse of what the imagination might easily convert into the den of a lunatic-80 diverse are the objects collected there, so closely are they cramped on shelves, so seemingly without order in their arrangement.

If a player has occasion to use a purse, or a roll of bills, or any other“ property,” in the course of a play, it is the duty of the prompter to write that fact out on a slip of paper, give it to the call-boy, who every evening proceeds to the property man, gets the article, and then hands it to the player.

But between prompter and call-boy this is often neglected, in which case the player must go in person and get it of the property man; for, if it were Ristori herself, no property man is obliged to carry a “property” to her. He might do so out of courtesy, however.

In the “Autobiography of an Actress” this amusing inci

« PreviousContinue »