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Shush! Post by :paulgardner Category :Essays Author :Heywood Broun Date :November 2011 Read :1878

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Gordon Craig's new book is called The Theatre Advancing, but we rather hope that when it reaches his goal line we will be elsewhere. To our mind the theater is the place where Art should beam upon the multitude and cry loudly, "Find out what everybody will have and don't forget the boys in the back room." Mr. Craig's theater is much too special for our taste. It will do away with everything that is boisterous and vulgar and broadly human. Consider, for instance, Mr. Craig's short chapter entitled "A Note on Applause" set down in the form of a dialogue between the Reader and the Writer:

"In the Moscow Art Theatre applause plays a very minor role. In general no play can live without it. In Moscow no actor takes a call before the curtain; hence, there is no applause."

"Reader: Isn't that very dull?"

"Writer: You think so; Moscow doesn't. It is all a matter of the point of view. When the acting is poor, an enthusiastic, roaring and thundering audience is necessary to keep up the spirits: but when the acting is absorbing applause is not needed, and if the actor won't come and bow, or the curtain rise after it has once fallen--well, then, applause becomes futile."

"Reader: Whoever heard of such an idea?"

"Writer: My dear Reader, it is not an idea, it is an established fact. Remove the reason for applause and you prevent the applause itself, and in doing so, prevent a vulgarity."

"Reader: But it is the natural desire to want to applaud when you see something good."

"Writer: Rather it is an unnatural habit. You do not applaud a thing, only a man or a woman. Applause is the flattery of the strong by the weak.

"If the conductor and musicians of an orchestra were not seen we should never applaud music. We do not applaud architecture, painting, sculpture, or literature. We should not applaud hidden musicians."

Concerning the last statement we have reason to doubt the accuracy of Mr. Craig's surmise in so far as it refers to American audiences. Every movie fan has heard audiences at some time or another break into wild applause for the shadows on the screen, and we were even more forcibly reminded of the strength of the personal illusion, no matter how inanimate the symbol, during the world's series. The players on the Scoreboard which we watched were no more than wooden disks with "Collins," "Jackson," "Cicotte" and the other names written upon them. When the Dutch Ruether disk was suddenly moved from the plate around to third base to indicate a triple, there were wild cheers from the crowd and they began to howl for a change in pitchers. "Take him out!" they cried, appealing to a manager who did not even have so much as a disk to represent him. There was some more mad scurrying around the bases by the red disks, and then suddenly a large hand, symbolizing Fate or God or Kid Gleason, we don't know which, was thrust through a hole in the scoreboard and fastened upon the little round Cicotte to bear him away from his fling of reality back into his accustomed wooden private life.

We don't know how it went with the Cicotte who left the diamond in Cincinnati. Not very well, we suppose. But for the wooden disk in Times Square it was a moment of triumph. For a fleeting second he was a man and the direct object of popular scorn and hatred. The rooter behind me shook his fist at him. "You got what was coming to you, you big stiff!" he shouted.

Everybody looked around, and the man seemed a little shamefaced at his exhibition of hostility to a wooden disk. He felt that he owed the crowd an explanation and he came through handsomely. "He was shining up the ball with emery," he said.

"We do not applaud the Atlantic Ocean," continues Craig, "or the poems of the ocean, but, catching sight of the man who can swim furthest in that ocean, we utter birdlike and beastlike cries."

And yet we rather think that there have been times when men cheered for the sea. After that first silent moment on the peak in Darien, Cortez and his men must have been a pretty dull lot if they did not give at least one "Rah, rah, rah--P-A-C-I-F-I-C--Pa-cific!"

Mr. Craig can't convince us that we applaud too much, for it is our impression that we don't get up to shout half often enough. We shout for Ty Cobb, to be sure, or for Eddie Casey if he gets loose, but as a rule we do no more than clap hands once or twice if Bernard Shaw bowls over all the interference and runs the whole length of the field without a tackler so much as throwing him off his stride. We shout when Jack Dempsey knocks Jess Willard down seven times in one round, but we don't do nearly as well for the writing man who gets after some big, hulking idea that has outlived its usefulness and is still poking around as the hope of the white race.

Somebody ought to issue a call for volunteer groups of serious shouters to go out and whoop it up for a skyscraper, or a sunset or a sonnet. None of us cuts much of a figure complaining about all the things in the world he doesn't like if he hasn't made a practice of yelling his head off for such few things as meet with his approval in the theater or out of it. More than that, Mr. Craig ought to remember that if there were no applause in the American theater there would be no curtain speeches by David Belasco.

(The end)
Heywood Broun's essay: Shush!

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