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ACTING THE PLAYS IN SCHOOL
Importance of Acting. Plays were written to be acted; not read. The three comedies which are included in this volume did not appear in book form until after they had been produced on the stage. The audience for which Goldsmith and Sheridan wrote would never have dreamed of reading the plays before seeing them acted. We, unfortunately, are compelled to reverse the method; many of us cannot see them on the stage at all. This is much to be regretted; the full excellence of a play cannot be judged from the printed page alone. It is within the power of the average teacher - as it is certainly within his province - to vitalize the comedies by having his pupils act them.
School Value of the Plays. These plays offer an exceptionally valuable field for school dramatics. In the first place, they are all of a fine literary quality. Again, they present — especially The School for Scandal - most interesting problems in stagecraft. They are distinguished, moreover, by amusing situations and rapid dialogue. And not least of their attractions is the opportunity for beautiful costuming and effective settings.
In the Class-room. If the school is not in a position to command a stage, a great deal can be done in the class-room. Mark off the front third of the room, and let this space be sacred to the actors. Young people do not ask for much in the way of staging if they know that they
are to interpret parts before their classmates. They will quickly realize that“ the play's the thing,” and that Tony Lumpkin, or Mrs. Malaprop, or Charles Surface, can be made to live again during the recitation period. For the enthusiastic teacher the hour becomes one of sheer delight; he will probably find in himself unsuspected abilities of stage management; he is sure to make some remarkable histrionic discoveries among his pupils. Learning through acting affords the most direct and practical method of mastering the plays, while at the same time it offers a very rational means of training in posture and voice production. There is no doubt, moreover, that in these days of careless speech an additional value may be found in the enforced familiarity with work which combines ease of style with purity of diction.
The Real Stage. Many schools are fortunate enough to have a stage where the plays may be put on before an audience. If this be done, the class work takes on a new interest and value, because everything tends towards a definite climax. All things considered, there are no comedies better adapted for the “school play” than those which we are discussing. T are well within the capacities of boys and girls, and they hold the audience. It may be helpful to indicate briefly some of the more important matters that naturally engage the attention of a class which plans to stage any of the plays.
Setting. The formal “set” scene is not absolutely necessary; thoroughly good effects can be secured by employing background material in solid color - green, , or dark blue, for example. Burlap of a neutral tint may also be used to advantage. If it is at all possible, however, the set scene should be provided. The plays were written for elaborate staging, and the best results are obtained by observing the condition. After all, there is nothing that cannot be arranged for in the Art and Manual Training Departments of the average high school. The exteriors, of which there are not many, may be presented simply. The Garden in She Stoops to Conquer requires only a few potted shrubs, with a “practicable" tree in the back
" ground for Mrs. Hardcastle to hide behind. The North and South Parades in The Rivals may be treated as streets; King's Mead Fields as open country.
The interiors present more difficulty, but at the same time offer more opportunity for effective design. The Hardcastle mansion is a comfortable country house of the period—“a very well-looking house,” Hastings calls it,
antique but creditable." The furniture and the fittings should be solid and substantial. The room at The Three Pigeons Inn can be studied from some of the well-known prints that are readily available. For the interiors in The Rivals and The School for Scandal a more elaborate plan may be followed. It should be borne in mind that the fashion of the time was ornate; furniture and pictures were designed upon highly ornamental principles. There should be nothing approaching bareness in these settings; it is better to err on the side of over-elaboration. These interiors, too, are to serve as background for costume of the most brilliant description. The plays picture the fashionable London society of the day; the dress of this society was in the highest degree rich and colorful. A study of eighteenth-century furniture can be made in such a book as Quennell's History of Everyday Things in England.
Costume. In general, the costumes in She Stoops to Conquer should be planned to bring out some degree of contrast between town and country fashions; those of the Sheridan plays to reflect the fashionable styles of the late eighteenth century. They express a note of grace and elegance; they are associated with powder and patches, with sweeping bows and low curtsies — all the elaborate formal politeness which characterized the time. The illustrations in this book have been made with a special view to the needs of young actors. With suitable modifications, the designs for the characters indicated may be used for other characters of the same general type. Thus, Mr. Hardcastle gives suggestions for Sir Anthony Absolute and Sir Peter Teazle; Mrs. Malaprop, for Lady Sneerwell. The young men Marlow and Hastings may follow the costume of Charles Surface. Lady Teazle forms a good model for Lydia and Julia.
Individuality of costume should be provided for in some cases. Tony Lumpkin, as his name suggests, is a boorish young country squire, who may be supposed to know little and to care less about the niceties of dress. In The Rivals, Bob Acres and Sir Lucius O'Trigger are to be differentiated from the conventional attire of the others. Sir Lucius is an adventurer, a dashing cavalier of a somewhat rakish description. Bob Acres first appears in riding costume; but as he has come to town to make an impression, his appearance in the succeeding scenes is vivid and exaggerated. Joseph Surface should be dressed with a sort of ostentatious plainness — he affects a modest
а. attire as in keeping with his assumed character. Acting. The prime requisite for good acting is clear
enunciation. Every effort should be made to avoid slovenly phrasing, bad accentuation, or muffled voice. No amount of histrionic skill can make up for the harsh tones and the careless slurring of words and syllables which mar so many amateur performances.
Next to good enunciation come ease and rapidity of utterance. Especially in these comedies of manners, which are so full of clever repartee, is it necessary that the dialogue be carried on with vivacity. Any self-consciousness, anything at all labored, will ruin the light grace of the conversation. To the young players this quick interchange of wit must come as naturally as if they themselves were the persons involved. Here, of course, we meet the whole problem of “interpretation.” A word or two may be said on this point.
“She Stoops to Conquer.” Goldsmith's comedy has been called "an incomparable farce in five acts." We may interpret this by saying that the fun is continuous throughout, the characters are true to life, and the author never allows himself to lapse into sentimentality weakness to which Sheridan yielded more than once. The chief personage of the play is Tony Lumpkin. Because of the danger of over-doing his peculiarities, the part is not easy to act. He is crude and uneducated, but he has a certain amount of broad humor and a sound sense of justice, as may be seen from his behavior in the last act. A theatrical critic of the day spoke of him as “a most diverting portrait of ignorance, rusticity, low cunning, and obstinacy."
Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle are typical members of the “ landed gentry.” The Squire is proud of his house, his