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THE CHIEF SUFFERERS.
In a large city, and among the best class of players, it is, of course, impossible for such persons to practice their "little game.” Those who suffer most from them are performers who have achieved neither reputation nor fortune, and with whom an “engagement” means simply their daily bread.
A FRANK CONFESSION.
My Return to the Stage in Womanhood.—The Dictate of Necessity.
An Unwelcome Duty.–Getting Acquainted with Life Behind the Scenes after a Long Absence.—My Debut at Wallack's.-Following the Advice of Friends.—The Eventful Night.-How it Went off.The Morning After.—The Interesting Character of Debuts.-Reminiscences of the American Debuts of Ole Bull, Jenny Lind, Alboni, Rachel, etc., by an Old Theatre-Goer.—The Story of Leopoldine, a French Debutante.-Exciting Time in the Theatre.—The Fickleness of a French Audience.- Bravery of the Actress.—Her Scornful Treatment of her Fickle Admirers.—The Result.
For myself, I am free to confess that I never liked the life of an actress. My mature judgment rebels against it, for me, as much now as it did when I was led on, against my infantile wishes, to personate Cora's child in the play of “ Pizarro.”
I know that this is equal to an acknowledgment to actors that I had not the sacred fire for dramatic art; and I candidly believe I never had.
It was necessity which drove me to it in the first place, necessity which at different intervals in my life sent me back to it; and I trust such necessity will never come upon me again.
This is not because I am willing to concede that the theatre, per se, is an abode of sin, any more than, in itself a grocery store is, or a senate chamber; but simply because the life is distasteful to me—for reasons "too numerous to mention."
After having been for some eight years severed from the stage, I found myself, in womanhood, compelled to return to it, and my re-appearance on the dramatic scene was a debut of such importance (to me, you know) that its
sensations and vicissitudes are not likely ever to be forgotten.
Stern Fate, and the fluctuations of gold were the cause, and a bad headache and a total dissatisfaction with self the next morning, was the effect. However I determined to make the effort-and did it. I swam the Hellespont and was not drowned, although I confess that I was submerged on several occasions. When, I knew as well or better than any critic could tell me—but let that pass.
I will not linger on the painful details of preliminary events; dresses too small and dresses too large, boots too high-heeled and boots not heeled at all, the dreadful “ to be or not to be" of crinoline or no crinoline, the multitudinous varieties of coiffures, the equally puzzling choice of colors; and other bewildering questions which I alone was called upon to solve, may be passed over without mention.
They were of fearful moment in their way, but nothing compared to the all absorbing idea—the acting of the part.
The role was a difficult one for me to portray, presenting scenes of light and shadow into which my life picture has never been, and I trust never will be placed.
I never was a governess, nor yet a lady's lady companion, and have little or no idea of the exact conventional bearing of that genus; again, I never was starved, never fell in love with a lord, never made an immense fortune, and never played Lady Macbeth.
These you will confess were disadvantages, but why then did I write the play ?—(taking it for granted that I did write it, which has been doubted by some, entirely disbelieved by others, and plainly and publicly contradicted by three “well informed persons.") Simply thisbefore I had any idea of committing such a bideous offence, I went to two managers—told them who I was-explained that I wished to make a rentree on the stage—said that I had made a special study of what is known as the legiti
READING THE PLAY.
mate drama, and wished to appear in parts of that stamp.
The first manager had his time positively engaged with stars from now till never.
The second was extremely sorry, but, In fact how did he know that I was capable of playing parts which Fanny Kemble and a host of others had made famous, unless he saw me in them? And I, how could I prove to him that I was, or was not (much more likely), unless somebody gave me an opportunity of letting him see me?
All, however, were unanimous on one point: the legitimate did not draw now. The sensational was the only wear. The public cried for it, as children do for paregoric and sugar; both are deleterious, but both are nice.
So, the die was cast. I went home, and at once the manager pro tem of the first theater in the land gave me an opening
Don't blame him for favoring the sensational—don't blame the actors; blame the public, sweet public—it likes starvation when not experienced by itself, revels in suicides, goes wild with delight over arson and elopements.
Well, the play was written and accepted and the fatal day fixed for my reading it to the artists. This was a dreadful ordeal, but it had to be passed.
I will leave to your imagination the state of my feelings as I opened the MS. on a very dark day, seated as I was on a very uncomfortable chair, leaning as I was on an even more uncomfortable table, the whole placed on Wallack's stage—dull, rusty, unpoetical, ungaslit, silent, morning stage—with the eyes of ten people looking at me, and the ears of ten people listening to me-listening to me trying to throw life and character into each different character in the piece; looking at me trying to play every “ line of business " known, from the heroine and lover down to the dustman.
Ten people! How did I know they were kind people,
MAGNANIMITY OF ACTORS.
nice people, good sympathising noble hearts, ready to accept me as one of them, without spite or rancor then and there? I imagined they looked upon me as an interloper, as a person of mettle true, but that metal brass, as an effrontée, as a piece of walking impudence, as a wouldbe authoress and can't-be actress, as a silly novice, in point of fact.
Nothing of the kind. They understood my position, applauded my resolution, and spoke encouragingly not alone to me but of me to others.
But I did not know this then, and suffered quite as much as if the case had been exactly the reverse.
Show me members of any other craft who will be so magnanimous to a new aspirant for fame and fortune, perhaps a rival, certainly a competitor, and I will show you a surprised and gratified person—myself.
The reading was got over and the piece put into rehearsal. I at once began to study my part. I learned it 80 well that I soon knew every word of it backwards, and nearly everything else in the piece forwards. Still I had a vague idea that I was not “perfect,” (alas ! who is in this wicked world ?) and my whole time was passed in gentle assurance to the contrary, addressed to my unbelieving self.
When nightmares visited my uneasy couch, they generally took the form of “sticking" heroines and “stage waits” of interminable length. But sober, waking thought confirmed me in the knowledge that I was thoroughly “up."
Then I began to practice the effects, the stage walks, the managing of the voice, the general bearing of the person, the making of “points,” the attaining of "climax,” the changing of countenance, the gesticulation, the broken tones of grief, the traditional stage laugh of mirth (in contradistinction to the laugh of revenge, or the ha! ha!