Writing for Vaudeville eBook

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

“How many comedy playlets are there to one serious playlet in vaudeville?  I should say about ten to one.  That ought to convince anybody that comedy is the thing to write for vaudeville.”

There have been many hybrid playlets which have combined tragedy and comedy to give some particular star an opportunity to show versatility in acting. [1] But some of these playlets have been merely vehicles for a personality, and therefore cannot be considered in this discussion.

[1] See Chapter XII, section II, topic 2.

On the other hand, there have been some serious playlets which have had comedy twists, or a light turn, which brought the curtain down amid laughter that was perfectly logical and in good taste.  An example of the surprise ending that lightens the gloom is found in “The Bomb,” finely played by Wilton Lackaye, in which the Italian who so movingly confesses to the outrage is merely a detective in disguise, trapping the real bomb thrower—­and suddenly he unmasks.  If a serious playlet can be made to end with a light touch that is fitting, it will have a better chance in vaudeville.  But this is one of the most difficult and dangerous effects to attempt.  The hazard is so great that success may come but once in many efforts. [2]

[2] See Chapter XIV, section II, topic 3.

Since comedy should be the new writer’s aim, the following discussion, while conceived with the broad view to illustrate the writing of the playlet in general, brings into particular prominence the writing of comedy.


When should you begin to write your playlet?  Assuming that you already have a germ idea, the next step is to express your theme in a single short sentence, and consider it as your playlet problem, which must be proved logically, clearly and conclusively.  To do this you must dovetail your incidents into a playlet plot; but how far should you think out your playlet before beginning to set it down on paper?

1.  The Use of the Scenario

Nearly all the playlet writers with whom I have talked during a period of more than five years have with surprising unanimity declared in favor of beginning with the scenario, the summary of the dramatic action.  But they disagree as to the completeness with which the scenario should be drawn up.

Some merely sketch the main outlines of the plot and leave to the moment of actual writing the details that often make it a success.  Others write out a long scenario, boiling it down to the essence for the stage version.  Still other playlet writers carry their scenarios just far enough to make sure that they will not have to think about the details of plot when they set about writing the dialogue—­they see that there is an effective reason for the entrance of each character and a clear motive for exit.  But, however they disagree as to the completeness the scenario should show, they all agree that the plot should be firmly fixed in its general outlines before pen is set to paper.

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Writing for Vaudeville from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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