Vanity Fair, May 1916


By P. Brooke-Haven

THE announcement that the actors of America have decided to affiliate themselves with the American Federation of Labor and propose, unless their conditions are bettered, to strike in a body encourages me to hope that the time is now ripe for carrying out a scheme which has always been near my heart. I refer to the unionizing of the playgoing public. Now, if ever, is the moment for us playgoers to follow the example of all the other sections of the community which are rallying together for mutual protection, and to announce formally that, if managers, dramatists and actors do not mend their ways, we shall take steps.


IN the past, our lamentable lack of organization has resulted in serious abuses; but, like Cousin Egbert, we playgoers can be pushed just so far; and the time has now come for us to assert ourselves. We are numerous and we are resolute. We mean business. If managers, dramatists, and actors accede to our demands, we will continue to buy tickets for their performances on such occasions as it shall prove impossible to get free seats. If underestimating our power, they are so reckless as to defy us, we shall simply abstain from theatergoing till they come to their senses. When eight o’clock arrives, instead of wasting our substance on taxi-cabs, we shall simply put on the old slippers, light the good old pipe, and start reading those “Lives of the American Poets” which the book-agent stung us with last week. The enemy need have no hope that they can bring us to heel. We can stay away from the theater indefinitely.

The downtreading of the playgoer has been going on so long that our demands will of necessity be extremely numerous. If the reforms we demand seem at first sight excessive, it must be remembered that it is the fault of the managers, dramatists, and actors that there is any need for those reforms. With these few preliminary words, I will proceed to indicate a few of the demands which the newly-formed Union will make.


FIRST, as concerns the managers. It has been the playful custom of managers in the past to announce an entertainment to begin at eight-twenty and, having caused us to bolt our dinner and smoke only a portion of our priceless cigar in the effort to get to the theater in time, to raise the curtain at a quarter to nine. This must stop. We shall allow one minute’s grace. At eight-twenty-two we shall file out of the theater, tearing up the seats as we go, never to return. There will be no exception to this rule. If any member pays two dollars for a seat, and is dumped behind a pillar, we shall strike. If the management tries to economize by doing without an orchestra on the flimsy pretext that our musical ear will be equally entertained by hearing a stage-hand bang on the floor three times with a chunk of wood, we shall strike. If any intermission is longer than any act, we shall strike.


SECONDLY, as regards the dramatists. The Playgoers’ Union will hold to strict accountability any dramatist who writes a play in which the poor workman marries the daughter of his employer, in which a bank cashier has an extravagant wife, in which there is a court scene, or in which the heroine is picked upon by more than one detective in a derby hat. Farce-writers will be required to disavow farces in which use is made of more than two (2) doors, in which the motive governing the hero’s actions is a desire to deceive his wife, or in which any character or characters hides or hide behind a screen or screens. Diplomatic negotiations will be broken off with all manufacturers of sentimental comedies in which elderly guardians marry—or are nosed out from marrying—their wards, in which any scene is accompanied by music off-stage, in which poor young authors write plays which get accepted in the last act, or in which any character or characters looks or look at a locket or lockets containing the photograph or photographs of his or their mother or mothers. As to musical pieces: the presence—after one warning—of Gaby Deslys and Harry Pilcer will be regarded as a deliberately unfriendly act.


THIRDLY, and lastly, let us address the actors. The Playgoers’ Union will omit no word or act to restrain performers (1) if male, from (a) proposing to the heroine down the back of her neck, (b) lighting more than six cigarettes in the course of an evening, (c) using the telephone more than five times in one act; and (2) if female, from (a) laughing mockingly, hysterically, or defiantly, (b) asserting that she is not a bad woman, (c) expressing her inability to stand something which is torturing her, (d) grovelling on the floor.



Note: This article and “Reviewing a Theatre Audience” were adapted into the essay “Fair Play for Audiences” in Pall Mall, August 1928, and in Louder and Funnier (1932).