The performer, whose bread and butter depends on the audience thinking him bright, cannot afford to have anything ancient in his routine. Two familiar gags or points will kill at least twenty-five percent of his applause. He may not get even one bow, and when audiences do not like a monologist well enough to call him out for a bow, he might as well say good-by to his chances of getting even another week’s booking. Therefore the performer watches the material that is offered him with the strained attention of an Asiatic potentate who suspects there is poison in his breakfast food. He not only guards against old gags or points, but he takes great care that the specific form of the subject of any routine that he accepts is absolutely new.
Some of the deliberate choosers watch the field very closely and as soon as anyone strikes a new vein or angle they proceed to work it over. But taking the same subject and working around it—even though each gag or point is honestly new—does not and cannot pay. Even though the chooser secures some actor willing to use such material, he fails ultimately for two reasons: In the first place, the copier is never as good as the originator; and, in the second place, the circuit managers do not look with favor upon copy-acts.
As the success of the performer depends on his cleverness and the novelty of his material, in identically the same way the success of a vaudeville theatre lies in the cleverness and novelty of the acts it plays. Individual house managers, and therefore circuit managers, cannot afford to countenance copy-acts. For this reason a monologist or an act is often given exclusive rights to use a precise kind of subject-material over a given circuit. A copy-act cannot keep going to very long with only a few segregated house willing to play his act.
Therefore before you offer your monologue to a possible buyer, be sure—absolutely sure—that your theme and every one of your points and gags are original.
THE VAUDEVILLE TWO-ACT
The word “two-act” is used to describe any act played by two people. It has nothing to do with the number of scenes or acts of a drama. When two people present a “turn,” it is called a two-act. It is a booking-office term—a word made necessary by the exigencies of vaudeville commerce.
If the manager of a theatre requires an acrobatic act to fill his bill and balance his show he often inquires for an acrobatic two-act. It may matter little to him whether the act plays in One or Full Stage—he wants an acrobatic act, and one presented by two people. If he requires any other kind of two-people-act, he specifies the kind of two-act of which he is in need.
On the other hand, if a performer asks an author to write a vaudeville two-act, an act of a certain definite character is usually meant and understood. For, among writers, the vaudeville two-act—or “act in One” as it is often called—has come to mean a talking act presented by two persons; furthermore, a talking act that has certain well-defined characteristics.