Writing for Vaudeville eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 421 pages of information about Writing for Vaudeville.

CHAPTER XVII

“BUSINESS” IN THE PLAYLET

In considering the “business” of the playlet, we have come to the place where it would seem that writing must be left behind and the function of the producer entered upon.  For business is the detail of stage action and movement.  But, while it is the peculiar function of the producer to invent and to incorporate into the playlet little bits of everyday movements of the characters to lend the effect of real life to the mimic picture, it is the province of the writer—­in reducing his words to the lowest possible number, in an effort to secure that “economy of attention” which is the foundation of all art—­to tell as much of his story as he can by actions that speak even louder than words.  Every great playwright is as much a producer as he is a writer.

As we saw in Chapter VII, “business” includes every movement an actor makes while he is on the stage.  Thus a facial expression may be called “business,” if it lends a peculiar significance to a line.  And a wild leap of a man on horseback through a window—­this has actually been done in a vaudeville act—­is also called business.  In fact everything, from “mugging,” [1] walking about, sitting down, picking up a handkerchief, taking off or putting on a coat, to the wordless scenes into which large parts of the story are condensed and made clear solely by situation—­everything is called “business.”  But to differentiate the actor’s part from the work of the playwright, I shall arbitrarily call every action which is as indivisible from acting as facial play, “pantomime”; while I shall employ the word “business” to express the use of movement by the playwright for the purpose of condensing large parts of the story and telling it wordlessly.

[1] “Mugging,” considered by some to be one of the lowest forms of comedy, is bidding for laughter by facial contortions unrelated to the action or the lines—­making the scene subservient to the comical faces made by the actor.

1.  The Part Business Plays in the Dramatic [2]

[2] The impossibility of keeping separate the designing and the writing of business, will be seen as the chapter progresses, therefore I shall treat both freely in one.

Let us turn to that part of the third scene of “The System” where The Eel and Goldie—­who have been given their liberty “with a string to it” by Inspector McCarthy in his anxiety to catch Officer Dugan red-handed—­are “up against it” in their efforts to get away from town.  They have talked it all over in Goldie’s flat and The Eel has gone out to borrow the money from Isaacson, the “fence.”  Now when The Eel closes Goldie’s door and runs downstairs, Goldie listens intently until the outer door slams, then begins to pack.  She opens the trunk first, gets her jacket from the couch where she has thrown it, puts it in the trunk and then goes up into the bedroom and gets a skirt.  She shakes the skirt as she comes down stage.  Then a long, low whistle is heard—­then the rapping of a policeman’s club.

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Writing for Vaudeville from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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