In discussing this, Arthur Hopkins said: “When vaudeville presents a very good dramatic offering, ‘playlet’ is the word used to describe it. If it isn’t very fine, it is called a ‘sketch.’”
But today there is a force abroad in vaudeville that is making for a more artistic form of the one-act play. It is the same artistic spirit that produced out of short fiction the short-story. This age has been styled the age of the short-story and of vaudeville—it is, indeed, the age of the playlet.
The actor looking for a vaudeville vehicle today is not content with merely an incident that will give him the opportunity to present the character with which he has won marked success on the legitimate stage. Nor is he satisfied with a series of incidents, however amusing or thrilling they may be. He requires an offering that will lift his work into a more artistic sphere. He desires a little play that will be remembered after the curtain has been rung down.
This is the sort of vehicle that he must present to win success in vaudeville for any length of time. While vaudeville managers may seem content to book an act that is not of the very first rank, because it is played by someone whose ability and whose name glosses over its defects, they do not encourage such offerings by long contracts. Even with the most famous of names, vaudeville managers—reflecting the desires of their audiences—demand acceptable playlets.
Edgar Allan Woolf, one of the day’s most successful playlet writers who has won success year after year with vaudeville offerings that have been presented by some of the most famous actors of this country and of England, said when I asked him what he considered to be the difference between the sketch and the playlet:
“There was a time when the vaudeville sketch was moulded on lines that presented less difficulties and required less technique of the playwright than does the playlet of today. The curtain generally rose on a chambermaid in above-the-ankle skirts dusting the furniture as she told in soliloquy form that her master and mistress had sent for a new butler or coachman or French teacher. How the butler, coachman or French teacher might make her happier was not disclosed.
“Then came a knock on the door, followed by the elucidating remark of the maid, ‘Ah, this must be he now.’ A strange man thereupon entered, who was not permitted to say who he was till the piece was over or there would have been no piece. The maid for no reason mistook him for the butler, coachman or French teacher, as the case may have been, and the complications ensuing were made hilarious by the entrance of the maid’s husband who, of course, brought about a comedy chase scene, without which no ‘comedietta’ was complete. Then all characters met—hasty explanations—and ‘comedy curtain.’