Herein lies the reason why two-act material differs from monologic material. Experience alone can teach you to “feel” the difference unerringly.
Yet it is in a measure true that some of the points and gags that are used in many monologues—rarely the anecdotal gag, however, which must be acted out in non-two-act form—would be equally effective if differently treated in the two-act. But often this is not due so much to the points themselves as to the fault of the writer in considering them monologic points.
The underlying cause of many such errors may be the family likeness discernible in all stage material. Still, it is much better for the writer fully to recompense Peter, than to rob Peter to pay Paul inadequately.
Nevertheless, aside from the “feel” of the material—its individual adaptability—there is a striking similarity in the structural elements of the monologue and the two-act. Everything in the chapter on “The Nature of the Monologue” is as true of the two-act as of the monologue, if you use discrimination. Refer to what was said about humor, unity of character, compression, vividness, smoothness and blending, and read it all again in the light of the peculiar requirements of the two-act. They are the elements that make for its success.
The two-act—like all stage material in which acting plays a part—is not written; it is constructed. You may write with the greatest facility, and yet fail in writing material for the vaudeville stage. The mere wording of a two-act means little, in the final analysis. It is the action behind the words that suggests the stage effect. It is the business—combined with the acting—that causes the audience to laugh and makes the whole a success. So the two-act, like every other stage form, must—before it is written—be thought out.
In the preceding chapter, you read of the elements that enter into the construction of a two-act. They are also some of the broad foundation elements which underlie, in whole or in part, all other stage-acting—material. A few of the two-act elements that have to do more particularly with the manuscript construction have been reserved for discussion in the paragraphs on development. In this chapter we shall consider what you must have before you even begin to think out your two-act—your theme.
1. Selecting a Theme
Imitation may be the sincerest flattery, but it is dangerous for the imitator. And yet to stray too far afield alone is even more hazardous. Successful vaudeville writers are much like a band of Indians marching through an enemy’s country—they follow one another in single file, stepping in each other’s footprints. In other words, they obey the rules of their craft, but their mental strides, like the Indians’ physical footsteps, are individual and distinct.