But the purpose here, as in explaining all the other physical departments of the vaudeville stage, is not to tell what has been done and what can be done, interesting and instructive as such a discussion would be, but to describe what is usually to be found in a vaudeville theatre. The effects that are at ready command are the only effects that should interest anyone about to write for vaudeville. As was emphasized in the discussion of scenery, the writer should not depend for success on the unusual. His aim should be to make use of the common stage-effects that are found on every vaudeville stage—if, indeed, he depends on any effects at all.
Here, then, we have made the acquaintance of the physical proportions and aspects of the vaudeville stage and have inquired into all the departments that contribute to the successful presentation of a vaudeville entertainment. We have examined the vaudeville writer’s tool-box and have learned to know the uses for which each tool of space, scenery, property, and light is specially designed. And by learning what these tools can do, we have also learned what they cannot do.
Now let us turn to the plans and specifications—called manuscripts— that go to make up the entertaining ten or forty minutes during which a vaudeville act calls upon these physical aids to make it live upon the mimic stage, as though it were a breathing reality of the great stage of life.
THE NATURE OF THE MONOLOGUE
The word monologue comes from the combination of two Greek words, monos, alone, and legein, to speak. Therefore the word monologue means “to speak alone”—and that is often how a monologist feels. If in facing a thousand solemn faces he is not a success, no one in all the world is more alone than he.
It appears easy for a performer to stroll into a theatre, without bothersome scenery, props, or tagging people, and walk right out on the stage alone and set the house a-roar. But, like most things that appear easy, it is not. It is the hardest “stunt” in the show business, demanding two very rare things: uncommon ability in the man, and extraordinary merit in the monologue itself.
To arrive at a clear understanding of what a monologue is, the long way around through the various types of “talking singles” may be the shortest cut home to the definition.
1. Not a Soliloquy.
The soliloquy of the by-gone days of dramatic art was sometimes called a monologue, because the person who spoke it was left alone upon the stage to commune with himself in spoken words that described to the audience what manner of man he was and what were the problems that beset him. Hamlet’s “To be or not to be,” perhaps the most famous of soliloquies, is, therefore, a true monologue in the ancient sense, for Hamlet spoke alone when none was near him. In the modern sense this, and every other soliloquy, is but a speech in a play. There is a fundamental reason why this is so: A monologue is spoken to the audience, while in a soliloquy (from the Latin solus, alone, loqui, to talk) the actor communes with himself for the “benefit” of the audience.