The Future of the Theatre
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 8 Feb 1934, p. 438-449
Massey, Raymond, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
The theatre as one of Canada's cherished institutions. Current issues with regard to the theatre. The continuing theatre. The theatre as the soul of the entertainment business. A discussion as to whether the talking pictures or television will kill or even affect the theatre. Comparisons between the stage and the screen. Similarities and differences between the two media. The technical and artistic course which the theatre may take. The problem of the supply of good plays. The little theatre and the amateur stage. The community theatre movement as the most prolific developing ground for playwrights. The importance of academic encouragement and development of the drama. The problem of the freedom of the theatre and the question of censorship. The state of the theatre in Canada at the present time. The strong Imperial link of the continuous and effective interchange of theatrical endeavour between England the Canada. The speaker's belief that in a hundred years time the theatre will be recognisable to us. The bright future for the stage.
Date of Original
8 Feb 1934
Language of Item
Copyright Statement
The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
Empire Club of Canada
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Full Text
February 8, 1934.

MAJOR BAXTER, who presided, introduced the distinguished guests as follows

T wish to extend a welcome to all the charming guests that we have ors the floor, in addition to those at the head table.

On Monday last, in this room, many of us had the privilege of hearing the Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. R. B. Bennett, speak and relate the success which has attended the Ottawa Empire trade pacts and the manner in which the agreements effected have quickened and increased the inter-Empire flow of goods, especially between Britain and Canada.

Now, while those of us in business are highly elated by this exchange of material merchandise, there is another type of product which, if we have any regard for our intellectual development, we should seek to attract to our shores. That is the product of English culture. Today we have tangible evidence of the value of a cultural exchange between Britain and Canada. Our guest of honour, Mr. Raymond Massey, may rightly be termed a national product "Made in Canada." Long before any Ottawa Empire Conference we exported him, a product tested and proved, exceptionally worthy in the crucible of war, to England, and there tradition and training moulded, shaped and perfected his talent. Today, with his, dramatic brilliance and producing ability, he embodies on the stage and in his own personality some of the finest characteristics of the two countries. Therefore, although here temporarily and although he is, paradoxically, both an export and import, all of us who know him as a member of an old Toronto family or who have seen his distinguished work on the stage, regard his visit to Canada as a "shining hour" indeed.

Coupled with our welcome to Mr. Massey is the sincere greeting of the Empire Club to his charming wife, that distinguished actress, Miss Adrianne Allen. Her presence here is an honour we all appreciate. I will ask Miss Allen to say a few words.

Miss ALLEN:--Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen

I must tell you that I had no idea I would be asked to speak today, otherwise I would have tried to arrange for something to say to you. But may I just say how very delighted I am to be a guest here today and to be here with my husband and Miss Cooper, and to thank you very much for the wonderful welcome you have given us here in Toronto, and I hope it will not be long before we are here again.

Thank you.

MAJOR BAXTER: Thank you, Miss Allen. Your presence here today is an honour we all greatly appreciate.

(Continuing) No mention of the stage, or of its influence in Empire affairs, would be complete without the name of another guest at our head table. To society, this guest is known as Lady Pearson. But to all of us, and particularly to thousands of Canadian soldiers she is known admiringly and affectionately as Gladys Cooper. In the minds of our returned men there are many gay and sorrowful memories, but one of the most imperishable memories of those days is cherished by Canadians who saw Miss Cooper in, London, and warmed to the radiant personality and charm of her that reached out from the stage and lightened those all to brief days of "leave". That is why, in concluding this tribute to Miss Cooper I read you this letter to the press dated January 29th:

"As one of the many Canadian overseas veterans who had the privilege of seeing and hearing Gladys Cooper, I take this opportunity of expressing my highest appreciation of this noted actress, upon both her appearance and acting, and would like to hear that a full house greeted her at her every appearance at the Royal Alexandra."

(Signed) "One Who Saw her in the Misleading Lady."

I would also like to read a letter sent me by Rev. Canon F. E. Ward Whate, President of Toronto and District Command of the Canadian Legion, British Empire Service League

"The Members of the Toronto and District Command,

Canadian, Legion, British Empire Service League, through their President, take this opportunity of expressing their profound appreciation and grateful thanks to Lady Pearson, on her first visit to Toronto, for helping during the dark days of the War to raise their morale by means of her superb acting. Thousands of exservice men in Toronto and vicinity remember her with feelings of affection for her fine spirit of optimism, which combined with her sense of duty to Great Britain, heightened the spirit of Empire in their hearts. They wish to say "Bon Chance," good luck and every success."

I am again going to take advantage of our guest and' ask Miss Cooper to say a word of greeting

Miss GLADYS COOPER: Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen who are here and all those others who may be b listening in among them perhaps some of those Canadian boys, no longer boys but who were boys in the days of the war in which was given to me the privilege of making them perhaps forget for a few hours the horror that they were then going through: I hope I don't say this boastfully, I don't mean to, but I do say it so very proudly, when we arranged to come here, of course I was personally very pleased to be coming to Canada, but I did not think-or perhaps T had forgotten, the war was really a long while ago-that I was looked upon so much as part of England, and I am so frightfully overwhelmed by the, may I say, affectionate way in which I have been greeted here. I shall look forward so very much to coming back, but if I never do, I shall take away with me such a very, very deep feeling of this wonderful welcome which I have received.

It is rather difficult to speak of something which one feels so much, but I do hope you all realise how very, very grateful and how very proud I am. Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you so much. (Applause.)

MAJOR BAXTER: Thank you, Miss Cooper.

And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, I have the honour to introduce our guest speaker--MR. RAYMOND MASSEY.

MR. RAYMOND MASSEY: Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the great honour you have dune me in, asking me to speak to you today at this luncheon of the Empire Club of Canada. I could not voice my appreciation of my welcome home under more congenial conditions than to a gathering of people interested in the preservation and strengthening of the Imperial Bond. Nobody could have had a more thrilling home-coming, and I have enjoyed it so much I am going to repeat it in the future with monotonous regularity if you will let me.

Arid may I also say that as a Torontonian, I wish to join with you in your welcome to Gladys Cooper who, to me as a member of the C.E.F., embodied everything of England. I am so glad and proud to be appearing with her in Toronto.

I chose the theatre as the subject of my few words to you not only because it is my profession but because I know that to Canadians and Torontonians particularly the theatre is a very cherished institution. But although a treasured possession, the theatre has a delicate constitution. It is a good deal less delicate than its detractors would have. But its ailments have always been magnified into crises. Nowadays as in the past, the Ailing theatre, is the subject of pity and approbrium. "What is wrong with the Theatre?" "The dying Theatre." "Will the talkies kill the Theatre?" "Will the motor car kill the Theatre?" "Will television kill the Theatre?" We have heard these phrases and questions at nauseam, some of them date from Shakespeare's time. But the theatre with the latent strength of the chronic invalid, has always got out of bed, slapped on her grease paint and thumbed her nose at her detractors. She has ignored doctors and nurses and has trusted to her own powers of resistance and her vitality to survive. The remedies which have been suggested for the alleged moribund theatre have been diverse and fatuous. They range from the futile idea of the subsidized theatre under various guises to the preposterous compulsory attendance of the Nazi regime. The recent temporary eclipse of the glorious Berlin theatre is a complete reply in tragic mould to the suggestion of state interference in the theatre. But the English theatre has always rejected these treatments. The theatre, whether professional or amateur, is a business of entertainment which must prosper or fail on the strength of the financial support which the public may give. By entertainment I mean not merely amusement but emotional stimulus either by tragedy or comedy, laughter or tears, they complete the circle. But it must be remembered that the theatre is a commercial undertaking. I do not mean that the theatre should pander to the public taste. In the first place, nobody knows what that is, least of all the public. All we can do is to put on plays that we like and think are good and trust to luck.

In a moment I would like to make an attempt to answer the question as to whether the talking pictures or television will kill or even affect the theatre. In the first place, the theatre is the soul, the G.H.Q., the autocrat of the entertainment business. The moving picture even with dialogue and the ultimate inclusion of the third dimension is merely a reflection of primary theatrical effect which is in its pure form in the theatre. I will go so far as to say that no acting on the screen, however much the product of genius, can compare with a great flesh and blood performance on the stage. I also claim that no actor or actress can pretend to act on the screen without considerable previous stage experience. The "rapport," the indefinable mutual accord which actor and audience both feel in a good performance must be experienced and developed before any real effect can be obtained before a microphone and the bored members of a; movie production unit. The same applies to the problem of motion picture direction. The great directors of the new era in pictures must have experience ire the flesh and blood theatre. I quote Lubitsch and Mamonlian among many. But these are internal considerations, and I am dealing with the relative appeal of the theatre and the screen to the public. The latter must of necessity be circumscribed in its development because of its blanket appeal to the general public. When you have to please Kansas City and Kensington and try to do both at once the ultimate product cannot help but be mediocre. It is not an economic proposition to produce pictures of the first quality which cannot make a profit over a wide area, but a play can be a financial success and yet be seen by less than .150,,000 people. The living stage facilities for experiment are therefore much more elastic and a caviare public can be provided for by the theatre.

Then again the element of mechanical certainty which the screen must possess I think is inimical to complete entertainment realization. One knows that a gun is bound to fire, a wall to fall, a motor to turn over. Everything will go as the director intended, to plan. But in the theatre we are flesh and blood. The sword may break, the actor dry up, the cue be missed, it is all human. I remember a silly story of a man sitting in a picture theatre for hours, several times through the program. In one of the films there was an incident in which a group of maidens were disrobing preparatory to bathing in a stream. But when the progress of the scene had reached the Will Hay's limit of decorum a timely freight train in the foreground blotted out the group. Finally after this patient fellow had witnessed the seventh showing of the picture an attendant asked him why he was so interested. He replied, "I think some time that train may be late!" (Amusement.) You see it illustrates my point. In the theatre the train could be late. The plasticity, the human element which the stage possesses can never be attained by mechanical entertainment. The public can never quite get the thrill out of a star who enters the stage door ice, a tin can as it can from a flesh and blood cast of actors. The moving picture industry realizes this when they build up business by the lure of personal appearances. In the value of spoken drama the legitimate stage is supreme. The two great contributions of the screen to date are Mickey Mouse and Charlie Chaplin, one synthetic, the other select.

The best films have always been those which have appealed as the screen should principally to the eye, is which dialogue is subordinated to rhythm and movement. I have never seen a picture based on a play which has been able to hold a candle to the stage original. The theatre is the realm of individual endeavour, of the human element, the aristocrat of the entertainment world, where one man can conceive an idea and without a miracle being necessary to carry it through to actuality. It is the negation of the factory. How many motion picture magnates would give their eye teeth to produce one good play. I am not decrying the films. They supply a necessary form of entertainment in my opinion, of surprisingly high quality considering the problems of this industry, but as for supplanting the theatre or even affecting it as a form of dramatic expression, it is quite inconceivable. The screen may be credited with one useful accomplishment. It has purged the theatre of the second rate tour and has made the way clear for the establishment of permanent stock and repertory companies about which I have a few words to say later an.

About the technical and artistic course which the theatre will take I can say but little. The multiple stage, the revolving stage, double, single and treble, elevating hydraulic stages, swivel platforms, are but names to the layman and it is right that they should remain so. Our craft should be a mystery, a glamorous secret which amateur and professional should jealously guard. The result of these technical achievements of machine and power have enabled the author to throw aside the old restriction of playwriting. Now he can show six scenes at once if he so desires. His play can be in thirty scenes. Only the dictates of theatrical effect in all its mystery need govern him.

There is one snag or problem which we of tie theatre are faced with. That is the supply of good plays. The demand is unlimited, the supply is sometimes perilously small. But troth in England and America several writers of the first magnitude have come forward since the war. Unfortunately with the few exceptions which prove the rule, the really good playwright is only developed in the theatre. I mean he is in a theatrical atmosphere, he must have had experience of the theatre-in-being. The novelist writes with much greater freedom. The playwright has to abide by rigid rules which necessitates practical knowledge of the theatre.

And this leads to the question of the little theatre and the amateur stage. It has been the custom of many professional actors to ignore and decry the little theatre and amateur efforts. With this view I vehemently disagree From both economic and artistic points of view it is wrong. No little theatre ever kept a penny from the legitimate theatre box office; on the contrary, a thriving little theatre creates a ready-made audience for the touring metropolitan company. The development of actors and writers by the little theatre movement and the ultimate resentment by the professional stage is too well known to need discussion. I think that the community theatre movement is the most prolific developing ground for playwrights that can exist. An organization -such as the Provincetown Players produced Eugene O'Neill who wrote plays between shifting scenery and acting. An effort at a synthetic development of dramatic authorship has been successfully carried out by Professor Baker at Harvard and later at Yale which produced several eminent American authors, including Philip Barry.

Academic encouragement and development of the drama I look an as extremely important, and I regret that the enlightened dramatic policies adopted by Harvard and Yale are in marked contrast to the apathy of Oxford and Cambridge towards the drama It is not so much the development of the actor to which such academic enterprise should be directed but to the discovery and nursery of new authors. When there are good plays there are always goad actors to play them. But in the final analysis it will be in the repertory and stack theatres, in the little theatres that the new playwrights will be discovered.

I would like to say a ward an the very vital problem of the freedom of the theatre and the question of censorship. Of course the ideal condition is a theatre unfettered by any control but such a state of affairs is I am afraid impassible. It leads to watch committees and Grundyism, and some enlightened control is preferable. The English system of censorship vesting the supervision of dramatic material in the hands of a court functionary, the Lord Chamberlain" has I think proved successful. It depends of course entirely on the character of the official himself, but happily in the present Lord Chamberlain, Lord Cromer, the theatre has a staunch and honest friend. Restraining of "Green Pastures" I think can not be laid at his door but has been caused by a technicality in the old Victorian "Theatre Act." The system is infinitely preferable to a committee or political body as decisions by the Lord Chamberlain are his own individual verdicts and the complications of a divergent body of opinion are avoided. I trust that as far as the London stage is concerned the present system will hold.

Now I come to a part of my little talk which is most interesting to me and probably the brightest side of what I have to say, and that is the state of the theatre in Canada at the present time.

There are many people who say that the people of Canada as a whole have last the theatre habit. I think that I can say that this is not true. In fact I am going to nail that lie. It is true that during the years of economic depression British and French as well as other theatrical companies have hesitated before embarking on tours overseas on account of the great initial expenditure involved during hard times. It is also true that the public in this country, as elsewhere, have turned for entertainment to the films. But it is only because of the theatrical starvation. I believe, however, that the change from the silent films to the talkies is in itself creating a demand once more far the living theatre. It stands to reason that if we see players reproduced on the films, accompanied by the reproduction not only of their movements but of their voices by mechanical means, those who see these films must have the feeling that they would prefer to see the human form itself and hear the human voice.

That, however, is not the point which I desire to make, which is, briefly, this. Since the War little theatres have sprung up in all parts of the Dominion. Canada is an example of the little theatre movement reviving the latent theatrical interest of the community. Of recent years their growth has been extraordinarly rapid. Not only in the big cities but in quite small towns, in the west as well as in the east, little theatres have sprung up and received enthusiastic support from their local communities. Local provincial festivals have become a feature of winter life in the Dominion. To such an extent has the interest in community drama developed that in October, 1932, a meeting was held under the aegis of the Governor General at Government House, Ottawa, attended try representatives of those interested in the theatre from all the outlying Provinces of the Dominion. With the desire to co-ordinate and encourage the community theatre movement it was decided to organize a Dominion Drama Festival. No sooner said than done. During the winter of 1932-33 eliminating competitions were held in all parts of the country. In order to keep the competition within manageable limits only established little theatre organizations were invited to take part. Nonetheless no less than 110 groups competed in regional festivals to appear at the Dominion Drama Festival at Ottawa in April, 1933, to compete for the Governor General's trophy. At this Festival 24 selected teams competed and the public interest was so great that it was impossible to accommodate one-half the people who desired to be present during the adjudication. At this moment little theatre groups are holding eliminating competitions all over Canada to take part in the Dominion Festival at Ottawa next April. Reports received indicate the greatest possible public interest. Local competitions are being attended by packed houses. There is no doubt that the success of the Dominion Festival of 1933 will be exceeded in that of 1934 if the public interest aroused is any criterion.

At Ottawa in April Mr. J. T. Grein, the famous dramatic critic from London, England, will be the adjudicator. I am convinced that he will return to England as satisfied as I am that interest in the theatre in Canada, far from being dead, is a very live and growing thing. I (hope that as a result theatrical companies will once more come out from Great Britain and also from France to join with Canadian people in honouring the dramatic art. I have in mind the bringing out from England of the nuclei of companies, say the stars themselves, and recruiting of the remainder here. This would cut the cost of production considerably. In all this movement the inspiration and support of His Excellency, the Governor-General, as you know, has been paramount and the name of Lord Bessboraugh will always be coupled with the revival of interest in the theatre in Canada. There is no stronger Imperial link than a continuous and effective interchange of theatrical endeavour between England and Canada. I hope to see the day before long when a Leading English actor cannot afford to neglect his Canadian public but locks forward to his Canadian tour as a logical step in his career arid not as a reason to apply to the Royal Geographical Society for an explorer's medal. Our tremendously successful week herd, so much better than we had hoped far, has once again proved that Canadians love the theatre and particularly the English theatre. And one hopes that very soon a Canadian Company will be entertaining London in a Canadian play.

I have not, I am afraid, lived up to the title which I chose myself for these few words. I have made no Wellsian forecasts of the future stage. None of us know what television, electric, chromatic wonders will be unfolded to us in the coining generation. But I am inclined to believe that in a hundred years time the theatre would technically be recognisable to us. I am afraid I am optimistically vague, but I am deeply sincere, when I say that I think the future is bright for the stage. There will be ups and downs and the downs will be chiefly caused by a lack of good plays, but the good plays will come and there will be better actors to play them and with all deference to you, ladies and gentlemen, better audiences to see them. I think the English speaking theatre is destined to greater glories than ever, that it is passing from a glamorous past to an exciting future.

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The Future of the Theatre

The theatre as one of Canada's cherished institutions. Current issues with regard to the theatre. The continuing theatre. The theatre as the soul of the entertainment business. A discussion as to whether the talking pictures or television will kill or even affect the theatre. Comparisons between the stage and the screen. Similarities and differences between the two media. The technical and artistic course which the theatre may take. The problem of the supply of good plays. The little theatre and the amateur stage. The community theatre movement as the most prolific developing ground for playwrights. The importance of academic encouragement and development of the drama. The problem of the freedom of the theatre and the question of censorship. The state of the theatre in Canada at the present time. The strong Imperial link of the continuous and effective interchange of theatrical endeavour between England the Canada. The speaker's belief that in a hundred years time the theatre will be recognisable to us. The bright future for the stage.