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APPLAUSE, CALLS, AND ENCORES.
LAYERS, after all," averred Hazlitt, “have little
reason to complain of their hard-earned, short-lived popularity. One thunder of applause from pit, boxes,
and gallery is equal to a whole immortality of posthumous fame.” Nevertheless, the transitory nature of an actor's rewards has oftentimes stirred regret and commiseration. Shakspeare, as we all know, makes sympathetic mention of the poor player,
“That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.
Garrick, in his prologue to the “Clandestine Marriage," states feelingly S
“The painter dead, yet still he charms the eye,
While England lives his fame can never die ;
Cibber, in his “Apology," laments mellifluously, " that the
“ momentary beauties flowing from an harmonious elocution cannot, like those of poetry, be their own record; that the animated graces of the actor can live no longer than the instant breath and motion that presents them; or, at least, can but faintly glimmer through the memory, or imperfect attestation of a few surviving spectators.” And Hazlitt, himself, notwithstanding his dictum on the subject above set forth, has placed on record certain expressions of tenderness for the player's evanescent glory. “When an author dies it is no matter, for his works remain. When a great actor dies, there is a void produced in society, a gap which requires to be filled up. The literary amateur may find employment for his time in reading old authors only, and exhaust his entire spleen in scouting new ones; but the lover of the stage cannot amuse himself in his solitary fastidiousness by sitting to witness a play got up by the departed ghosts of first-rate actors; or be contented with the perusal of a collection of old playbills: he may extol Garrick, but he must go to see Kean, and, in his own defence,
must admire, or at least tolerate, what he sees, or stay away against his will.” Hazlitt, it may be noted, was evidently writing under the impression that at no time would the stage be left without the support of players of the Garrick or Kean class. If he had survived until our present years of grace, it would have become a question with him how far he could admire tolerate the condition of the modern stage; he might even be driven to accept the alternative he himself suggests, and stay away from our theatres altogether, only with his will rather than against it, in common with a very considerable section of society.
An actor, in regard to the honours of his profession, considered apart from its commercial results, occupies the position of one who has invested his whole fortune in the purchase of an annuity terminating at his decease, and who has become entitled, therefore, to a larger income than accrues to the man able to lay up treasure, and to provide for and bequeath property to posterity. The player can be rewarded only by the applause afforded him during the continuance of his theatrical career, and it is right, therefore, that such applause should fully correspond with and be adequate to his merits. The thunders of pit, boxes, and gallery, are evoked by his own efforts, are magnified and multitudinous echoes, as it were, of his individual speech; and when he “is heard no.more," they, also, are silenced. Although it may be that
“In a theatre, the eyes of men
still, it is certain, no more plaudits will be forthcoming for the “wellgraced," and in time the tedious prattler will be surely awarded his due share of recognition and favour. The retired actor can only console himself with the memory of his old by-gone triumphs, for certainly he can triumph no more. The shadow of an inevitable neglect falls upon him. A king has come to reign who does not know Joseph-who, indeed, has never had the chance of knowing him. A new public is delighting to honour new players. He suffers not so much from the world's fickleness,-though something might be urged, perhaps, on this head-as from its sheer ignorance of his merits. What, then, can an old actor do but die? It is true that a portrait or two of him may remain extant, for the consideration of the curious. From this the younger students of theatrical history, if such students should arise, may gather, if they will, something of what manner of
man he was. But of his own peculiar art they will never know anything. How he said this, how he did that, and how he looked the while, what can these ever be to them? His brief candle is quite burnt out, so far as they are concerned. For a while he may survive, just faintly flickering, as it were, in the waning recollections of an elderly and rapidly dwindling band of old playgoers, his contemporaries; and these worthy elders may indulge, now and then, for their own diversion and solace, and for the benefit of a somewhat fatigued and listless band of juvenile auditors, in rather garrulous, and perhaps not wholly accurate accounts of his merits and achievements; but when these tales are told, and the tellers of them are mute for everwhat remains? It will be much if his name abides for a brief term in men's minds, and to effect even that it will be necessary for some Old Mortality of the stage to be constantly renewing and deepening the inscription on his tombstone. The rest is indeed, death-the grave-silence and mere oblivion.
Let his audience thunder for him then, while they may, and may the thunder ever sound in his ears as harmoniously as possible. But though the plaudits of the public may be as noisy as thunder, as a rule they are also as short-lived. Calm soon succeeds the tempest; and apathy quickly follows enthusiasm. Still, they are the player's due; nor only his due, for indeed they are as necessary to him as the air he breathes. Applause is not only his recompense; it is also his sustenance. Instances have been known of an actor deliberately informing his audience that if they did not applaud he could not act his best for them. Henderson was wont to say that no actor could perform well unless he was systematically flattered both on and off the stage : an exaggeration, no doubt, which had yet its basis of truth. If an audience is in no humour to applaud, it will frequently result that the actor will find himself in no humour to act, while on the other hand, let the spectators show themselves quick to appreciate, and anxious to be entertained, and the player, though he may have been suffering in health and spirits, will promptly divest himself of his gloom, and become alert and zealous as ever. Mrs. Siddons declared that the fatigue of acting her great parts was much enhanced in the provinces, from the inferior measure of applause that there greeted her efforts. At Drury Lane, her grand bursts of passion were invariably followed by prolonged applause and excitement, that gave her rest and breathing time. Tate Wilkinson describes the York audience as particularly lukewarm in recognising the exertions of the players. Woodward, the famous comedian, was so hurt at his reception in that city, that Wilkinson, as manager, felt himself under the
necessity of calling on the chief patrons of the theatre, to inform them that the actor was chagrined at their coolness, and could not play nearly so well as in London, Dublin, and Edinburgh. The York playgoers took the hint, and on Woodward's next performance greatly delighted him with the enthusiasm of their applause. Liston found applause, of whatever kind, so necessary and grateful, that he said he liked to see even a small dog wag his tail in approbation of his proceedings.
The system of calling, or recalling, a favourite performer, which now appears to be established in our theatres, is of foreign origin, and was first instituted in London at the Italian Opera House. is the highest ambition of the opera-singers-like the Methodists—to have a call," says Parke, the oboe-player, in his “Musical Memoirs," published in 1830; and he describes the opera season of 1824, when Rossini was director and composer to the King's Theatre, and his wife, Madame Colbran Rossini, appeared as prima donna seria ; Madame Pasta and Madame Catalani being also engaged for a limited number of nights. He relates, as something remarkable, that at the fall of the curtain after the performance of Mayer's “Il Fanatico
per la Musica," Madame Catalani “was called for, when she again presented herself, making her obeisance, amidst waving of handkerchiefs and tumultuous applause." Madame Pasta, after appearing as Desdemona, “also had a call when the curtain fell, and was brought back to receive the reward due to her distinguished talents.” Two seasons later Mr. Parke says, in reference to Madame Pasta's performance of Desdemona :-—"At the end of the opera, by desire of the audience, she came forward once more to receive that reward which is becoming so common that it will shortly cease to be a mark of distinction.” And, two seasons after that, of her appearance in “Tancredi” he writes :-“She, as usual, delighted the audience; and was, as usual, enthusiastically applauded. After the curtain fell she was called for, as usual, to go through the ceremony of being unmercifully applauded.”
In the non-operatic theatres it is probable that calls first came in vogue when epilogues went out. Certainly there is not much to be said in favour of the system of delivering epilogues, except that, perhaps, in such wise, a sort of relief was given to the audience after the performance of some especially lugubrious tragedy, by demonstrating to them that the heroine they had lately seen the victim of the dagger or the bowl, expiring in great agonies in front of the footlights, was able to trip on the stage alive and well-indeed, one might almost say alive and kicking-smiling, arch, and graceful, to speak a
score or so of pertly comic lines in deprecation of censure of the play and its players, in entreaty for its favourable reception, and in recommendation of “the bard " who had given it being. But the epilogue has vanished, and tragedy has gone after it, and players are now called before the curtain, not to assure those among the spectators who had been so wrought upon by the cunning of the scene as to entertain doubts whether the performers had really survived their simulated troubles and disasters, but simply to congratulate them on their success, and to express some sort of gratitude for their exertions. There is nothing to be urged against this method of applauding the players, when kept within reasonable bounds. Sometimes, it is to be feared, however, the least discreet of the audience indulge in calls rather for their own gratification-by way of pastime during the interval between one play and another—than out of any strict consideration of the abilities of the players; d, having called on one or two deserving members of a company, proceed to require the presence before the curtain of others who have done little to merit the compliment. Certain play-goers, indeed, appear to applaud no matter what, simply for the sake of applauding. They regard the theatre as a place to be noisy in, and for the vehement expression of their own restless natures. When they cannot greet a player with acclamations, they will clamorously deride a footman, or other servant of the theatre, who appears before the foot-lights with a broom, a watering-pot, a carpet, or other necessary of representation; or they will issue boisterous commands to the gentlemen of the orchestra to “strike up" and afford an interlude of music. To these of the audience it is almost painful that a theatre should be peaceful, or a stage vacant ; rather than this should happen, they would prefer, if it could possibly be contrived, and they were acquainted with his name, that the call-boy or the prompter should be called for and congratulated upon the valuable aid he had furnished to the performance.
Calls in the middle of an act, or interruptive of the illusion of a representation, are wholly reprehensible, and should be suppressed as strenuously as possible. It was with this view the managers of the Theatre Royal at Dresden recently forbade the performers to accept calls before the termination of an act, as "the practice interrupted the progress of the action on the stage," and respectfully requested the audience to abstain from such demands in future.
Writing in 1830, Mr. Parke describes the custom of encoring performers as a prerogative that had been exercised by the public for more than a century; and says, with some justice, that it originated more from self-love in the audience than from gratitude to those who