A Unique Dramatic Tournament

W. S. MOORE June 1 1909

A Unique Dramatic Tournament

W. S. MOORE June 1 1909

A Unique Dramatic Tournament

W. S. MOORE

ALL human beings have a natural craving for the acted drama. They believe, as did Ben Johnson, that life itself is like a play, and agree with Bulwer Lytton in his observation that “Plays are the mirror of life.” Music and the drama have aroused widespread interest in Canada, for, in her nine provinces, there are 2,000 theatres, concert halls and places of public entertainment. Implanted in every healthy nature is a desire to act, to dance, to portray, to impersonate. To give expression to this feeling and in order that there might be a friendly rivalry among representatives from different parts of the Dominion, llis Excellency Earl Grey, a few years ago decided to inaugurate musical and dramatic competitions, and offered suitable trophies

therefor, the contests being open to all amateur companies in Canada and Newfoundland.

His generous and commendable action in this respect, it is said, grew out of a visit to Newfoundland. In the City of St. John’s the GovernorGeneral listened with so much pleasure to the splendid production of an orchestra composed principally of boys, that the idea occurred to him of starting some movement whereby these players could be brought in contact with various organizations in Canada. He believed it would result in the development of a broader and more patriotic spirit, tend to a better understanding and appreciation of art, and evoke more sympathy and interest generally in the cultivation of what is best in the world of music.

Shortly after, he announced his intention of holding each year a competition and presenting trophies to the best amateur musical and dramatic organizations.

The first two competitions were held in Ottawa, the third in Montreal and the one next year will take place in Toronto. Each succeeding year the interest has increased and the number and efficiency of competing companies have steadily grown. In 1907 the dramatic trophy was first won by the Winnipeg Dramatic Club; in 1908 by flie Thespian Club, of Ottawa, and this season by the Amateur Players, of Toronto. The first musical trophy was captured by the Quebec Orchestral Society, while the second and third went to the orchestra of the Canadian Conservatory of Music, Ottawa.

Two years ago Miss Margaret Anglin, the celebrated Canadian actress, decided to offer a handsome gold bracelet annually for the best lady actress. This was awarded in 1908 to Mrs. Edgar, of Ottawa, and this year to Mile. Marguerite Jancy, of Montreal, who, in private life, is Miss Anne Ethier. She took the part of Lionnette in “La Princesse de Bagdad,” by Alex. Dumas, Jr., a comedydrama presented by the St. Henri Literary Society. A competent critic, speaking of Mile. Jancy, says: “Her interpretation of an exacting role was admirable and aroused much favorable comment, round after round of applause greeting her delivery of important speeches. She handled her big scenes with the skill of one who received excellent training and ber manner, as well as her delivery, were both admirable.”

It is interesting to note that the mother of Miss Anglin, who gave the bracelet won by Mile. Jancy, was a member of the company that captured the prize donated by Lord and Lady Dufferin for amateur theatrical competition in Canada over thirty years ago. _

This year sixteen entries were received for the dramatic competffion.

Of this number, seven were cancelle.1 after trial performances had been given in Ottawa and Montreil before judges appointed by the committee, thus reducing the companies to the maximum number that coul 1 be accommodated during the week. Last year there were nine entries altogether.

The regulations have from time to time been altered and one stipulation this season was that the length of

each dramatic production should not be less than one hour or more than an hour and a half, that the maximum number of players in each company should be confined to 100, and that the minimum number of speaking parts should be six,

No performer who, within the past five years, has lived by the profession of the drama, is eligible to compete, A professional stage manager, may, however, be employed.

The first year the trophy was won by a company composed of some fourteen members, there being about four speaking parts. The production lastD

ed forty minutes. The judge decided that it would be advisable in future for each organization to have a leading man and leading lady. The next year the prize went to a company of only three members, and their play was presented in about thirty-one minutes. It was thought three did not constitute a company in the fullest meaning of the term and that a presentation should be longer than the time taken for an ordinary act in a professional drama or comedy. Accordingly more changes were made in the conditions governing competing companies, as it is only through a process of experiment and varied experiences, that perfection is attained, and the best results brought out in all undertakings. In all probability further amendments will, like the constitution and by-laws of other organizations, have to be made to meet circumstances and needs, which may arise.

The judge in this year’s competition, Aír. John Corbin, of New York, made some timelv suggestions, and other recommendations have been offered by those who took part in the proceedings. All difficulties and vexations will, doubtless, be overcome, as well as other weaknesses and shortcomings that time fand talent) may reveal. The basis of judging is interesting. Twenty points are allowed for excellence of the company in acting together as a unit, or, in other words, for ensemble; io points for individual excellence, apart from acting, which includes dress and makeup, and 20 points for “individual excellence in acting,” including grace or ease of carriage and manner, diction, the promptness of entrances and exits, and the picking up of cues.

A rule, unless it is adhered fo, is not of much use and it is contended that the executive should see that all regulations are carried out in letter and spirit, by both the judge and the companies. Tt seems unfair, for instance, that some companies, which appear first in the evening, should have all the afternoon for the setting and aros

rangement of the stage, while a company, that follows, does not, in many cases, have as many minutes as its predecessor had hours. The second company has to make all changes and an original setting of scenery, while the audience is waiting; and any theatre-goer knows that patrons will not sit contentedly for more than ten or fifteen minutes at the most. The company playing second would thus appear to be handicapped at the outset, as it has to abide by the same regulations with respect to time, marks, dress, make-up and other qualities on which judging is based.

It is suggested, too, that a judge, instead of being a dramatic critic and playwright, as was the case this year, should be a former actor, one w ho has had a varied and extended experience behind the footlights. It is further contended—and no reflection is implied on the conscientious work of past judges—that the most competent and thoroughly equipped official would be one who has been a professional actor, as well as a playwright, as he would appraise the productions not only from the quality of their literary finish and style, but also from the actors’ viewpoint, conception and possibilities.

The recent competition also showed that Canadian dramatists are not taking advantage of their opportunities and that native talent, which is often as good as that abroad, is not being exploited to the extent that is should be. Other recommendations, made by the press and competent critics, are that everv competing organization should engage a capable stage manager; that short plays are preferable to very long ones that have to elide one or two acts to come within the time limit, and the plays chosen for production should be those having several speaking parts of equal or nearly equal importance. Of course, there should be a leading man and a leading ladv. but the support rendered them should involve some responsible parts or. in other words, the company should be evenlv divided in the mat-

ter of work as far as possible. Careless, thoughtless, amateur efforts will not answer.

No doubt some of the suggestions made, as well as others that develop, will 'be taken into consideration next vear. It is worthy of note that, contrarv to statements made in the press, the company which carried off the prize in this year’s competition, had very little previous amateur experience. The members of the Amateur Players of Toronto determined last fall to get up a production—merely for their own amusement and to while away pleasantly the long winter evenings. The decided to put on a play which would require only a small cast, and selected “Candida,” by Geo. Bernard Shaw. One critic says that, to successfully produce this comedy every individual must be a player of some experience, and that the Amateur Players all evidently had that experience.

As a matter of fact only two members of the organization have had anv experience worth speaking of. “Candida" was first given privately before a few friends, who thought well of the performance and urged the players to enter the Earl Grey competition. The company employed no stage manager, and coached themselves entirely. The judge, in an eulogistic reference, says “As a whole, the acting was on the highest plane of art, excelling, in my opinion, that of the New York production of the play. To find flaws here criticism is obliged to verge on hypercriticism.” The Marchbanks of Mr. Owen was far more truly psychologic and temperamental than that of Mr. Aruold Daly, and was quite adequate 'to one of the most difficult parts in the modern drama.”

The closest rivals to the winners were the amateurs of La Conservatorie La Salle, Montreal, who gave a remarkably fine performance and clever interpretation of Molliere’s comedy “La Prescieuses Ridicules."

In 'his general report, Mr. Corbin says: “The majority of the plays were better than any amateur acting in my

experience, while “Les Precieuses Ridicules" and “Candida’'’ were excellent in any comparison. It seems obvious to me, therefore, that the competition is of the utmost value, not only to the performers, but to the public at large. In time is must be recognized generally as an important and a vital element in the cultured life of the Canadian cities.

The chairman of the permanent executive committee of the Earl Grey Musical and Dramatic Trophy Competition is Sir John Hanbury-Williams, Military Secretary to His Excellence. Mr. F. C. T. O'Hara, Deputy Minister of Trade and Commerce, is honorary secretary.

The hope is expressed that the competition, which will be held in Toronto next year, will witness, among the entries, some dramatic clubs from the Maritime Provinces and Newfoundland,