The word material in vaudeville means manuscript material. To write vaudeville material is to write monologues and playlets and the other forms of stage speech used in vaudeville acts.
But not only is there a vast difference between the material and the art forms of the legitimate and the vaudeville stage, there is also a great difference in their playing stages. The arrangements of the vaudeville stage, its lights and scenery, are all unique, as are even the playing spaces and mechanical equipment.
Therefore the author must know the mechanical aids peculiar to his special craft, as well as possess a familiar knowledge of the material that vaudeville welcomes and the unique forms into which that material must be cast.
4. What Chance Has the Beginner?
The “gentle reader” who has read thus far certainly has not been deterred by the emphasis—not undue emphasis, by the way—placed on the value of proved ability in other forms of writing to one who would write for vaudeville. That he has not been discouraged by what has been said—if he is a novice—proves that he is not easily downcast. If he has been discouraged—even if he has read this far simply from curiosity—proves that he is precisely the person who should not waste his time trying to write for vaudeville. Such a person is one who ought to ponder his lack of fitness for the work in hand and turn all his energies into his own business. Many a good clerk, it has been truly said, has been wasted in a poor writer.
But, while emphasis has been laid upon the value of training in other forms of literary work, the emphasis has been placed not on purely literary skill, but on the possession of ideas and the training necessary to turn the ideas to account. It is “up to” the ambitious beginner, therefore, to analyze the problem for himself and to decide if he possesses the peculiar qualifications that can by great energy and this special training place him upon a par with the write who has made a success in other forms of literary work. For there is a sense in which no literary training is really necessary for success in vaudeville writing.
If the amateur has an imaginative mind, the innate ability to see and turn to his own uses an interesting and coherent story, and is possessed of the ability to think in drama, and, above all, has the gift of humor, he can write good vaudeville material, even if he has not education or ability to write an acceptable poem, article or short-story. In other words, a mastery of English prose or verse is not necessary for success in vaudeville writing. Some of the most successful popular songs, the most successful playlets, and other vaudeville acts, have been written by men unable to write even a good letter.
But the constant advancement in excellence demanded of vaudeville material, both by the managers and the public, is gradually making it profitable for only the best-educated, specially-trained writers to undertake this form of work. The old, illiterate, rough-and-ready writer is passing, in a day when the “coon shouter” has given the headline-place to Calve and Melba, and every dramatic star has followed Sarah Bernhardt into the “two-a-day.”