Writing for Vaudeville eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 543 pages of information about Writing for Vaudeville.

With this chapter, the six elements of a successful playlet have been discussed from the angle of exposition.  In the next chapter I shall make use of all this expository material and shall endeavor to show how playlets are actually written.



While it is plain that no two writers ever have, nor ever will, go about writing a playlet in precisely the same way, and impossible as it is to lay down rules which may be followed with precision to inevitable success, I shall present some suggestions, following the logical order of composition.

First, however, I must point out that you should study the vaudeville stage of this week, not of last year or even of last month, before you even entertain a germ idea for a playlet.  You should be sure before you begin even to think out your playlet, that its problem is in full accord with the very best, and that it will fit into vaudeville’s momentary design with a completeness that will win for it an eager welcome.

You should inquire of yourself first, “Is this a comedy or a serious playlet I am about to write?” And if the latter, “Should I write a serious playlet?”

One of vaudeville’s keenest observers, Sime Silverman, editor of Variety, said when we were discussing this point:  “Nobody ought to write a tragic or even a serious playlet who can write anything else.  There are two or three reasons why.  First, vaudeville likes laughter, and while it may be made to like tears, a teary playlet must be exceedingly well done to win.  Second, the serious playlet must be so well done and so well advertised that usually a big name is necessary to carry it to success; and the ‘name’ demands so much money that it is sometimes impossible to engage an adequate supporting cast.  Third, the market for tragic and serious playlets is so small that there is only opportunity for the playlet master; of course, there sometimes comes an unknown with a great success, like ‘War Brides,’ [1] but only rarely.  Therefore, I would advise the new writer to write comedy.”

[1] Written by Miss Marion Craig Wentworth, and played by Olga Nazimova.

Miss Nellie Revell, whom B. F. Keith once called “The Big Sister of Vaudeville,” and who was Vaudeville Editor of the New York Morning Telegraph before becoming General Press Representative of the Orpheum Circuit, summed up her years of experience as a critic in these words: 

“The new writer should first try his hand at a comedy playlet.  Then after he has made a success of comedy, or if he is sure he can’t write anything but sobby playlets, let him try to make an audience weep.  Vaudeville, like any other really human thing, would rather laugh than cry, yet if you make vaudeville cry finely, it will still love you.  But a serious playlet must be mighty well done to get over—­therein lies a stumbling block sometimes.  A few great artists can make vaudeville sob finely—­but only a few.  Comedy, good comedy, always gets by.

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Writing for Vaudeville from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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