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Dead heads.


bstoker06THE TERM “DEAD HEAD” in its colloquial sense has come to us from America in recent years. It may be interesting to examine how it came and its exact meaning. To this end it will be well to clear the ground by getting rid of special meanings so as to leave only one issue.

  1. In Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary two meanings of the word are given:

(a) A bottle of wine, or spirits, that has been emptied.

(b) A member of a football or cricket team called upon to play at a pinch.

2. The Century Dictionary gives another:

In founding: the extra length of metal given to a cast gun. It serves to receive the dross, which rises to the surface of the liquid metal, and would be, were it not for the dead-head, at the muzzle of the gun.

3. Again, in the New English Dictionary (Murray) another meaning of a nautical kind is given, as a fixed post on a quay to which hawsers may be made fast.

Another authority gives the word:

In Florida, a log so soaked with water that it will not float. Opposite term is live log. – Dictionary of Americanisms. Sylvan Clapin. (Weiss and Co., New York, n.d.)

WE COME FINALLY to the accepted meaning of the word as in use at the present time. It came into language as did a good many other words, viâ slang, which the Pall Mall Gazette in its very early days dubbed “new language.” It may therefore be taken to have originally a special rather than a general meaning; but what that special meaning was it is a little difficult to understand, as may be seen from the following quotations as given by various authorities:

  • One who receives free tickets for theatres, public conveyances, &c. (Colloq., U.S.). – Webster’s Dictionary. (Bell, 1897.)
  • One who rides in a public conveyance, visits the theatre, or obtains anything of value, without payment (United States). – Imperial Dictionary. Ogilvie. (Blackie’s, 1892.)
  • Colloq. (orig. U.S.), a person admitted without payment to a theatrical performance, a public conveyance, &c. – Murray’s New English Dictionary. (Clarendon Press, 1897.)
  • (U.S.), one who is allowed, without payment, to ride in a public carriage, sit a theatre, or hold a privilege having a money value. – Twentieth Century Dictionary. (Chambers, 1905.)
  • (Cf., Dan. Död thoved, a fool), one who is allowed to ride in a public conveyance, to attend a theatre or other place of entertainment, or to obtain any privilege having its public price without payment (U.S.). – Century Dictionary. (Century Company, New York, copyright, 1889.)
  • (U.S.), one who receives gratis any service or accommodation for which the general public is expected to pay; as dead-heads on a train, or in a theatre. – Standard Dictionary. (Funk and Wagenels, New York, 1901.)

So far the term seems to apply only to those who travel or get amusement free – an enlargement which would in itself show its American origin, for in England the word is not usually applied to free travel. The authorities of slang give more varied meanings, all of which have internal evidence” – to use Whately’s phrase – of transatlantic origin:

  • One who stands about the bar to drink at the expense of others. – Dictionary of Slang, Jargon, and Cant. Albert Barrere and Charles G. Leland. (Bell, London, 1897.)
  • Dead-head (dead-beat or dead-hand) one who obtains something of commercial value without special payment or charge; spec., a person who travels by rails, visits theatres, &c., by means of free passes. Also verb (American). – Dictionary of Slang and Colloquial English. John S. Farmer and W. E. Henley. (Routledge, London, 1905.)

Farmer and Henely quote De Vere’s Americanisms, “one who lives at the hotel without charge.” They quote from the London Daily Telegraph of 1883 in criticizing a certain opera “stale enough to warrant the most confirmed dead-head in declining to help make a house.” A confirmation of the origin of the word is, by the way, conveyed in the peculiarly American wording, “to help make.” We shall see, later on in this article, the utility of this quotation.

  • Persons who drink at a bar, ride in an omnibus or railroad car, travel in steamboat, or visit the theatre without charge, are called dead-heads. These consist of the engineers, conductors, and labourers on railroads; the keepers of hotels; the editors of newspapers. – Dictionary of Americanisms. John Russell Bartlett. (Little, Brown and Co., Boston, U.S., 1877.)

It is worthy of note that the word is not in Johnson’s Dictionary either of 1799 or in the editions of 1827, 1865, or 1871 (edited by Latham); nor is it in Wedgwood’s Etymological Dictionary (Oxford Press, 1898). From which, in conjunction with the extracts given above, it may be taken for granted that the word was not in general use in Britain till towards the end of the nineteenth century.

IN ALL THE authorities the theatre forms an important part in the definition. This is as it should be, for the word is manifestly of theatrical origin. It would be little less than absurd to try to find in it merely an enlargement of the term as used in nautical matters, gun-founding, Florida lumber-work, cricket or football matches, or in the baser pleasures of the table or the drinking-bar. The old Danish of the Century Dictionary does not apply at all; whatever else he may be, the dead-head, as such, is certainly not a fool, though the term might possibly be correctly applied to “other party” of his transactions.

If the origin of the word be examined, the world of the theatre is the only one which can supply a logical cause.

If the origin of the word be examined, the world of the theatre is the only one which can supply a logical cause. Up to the time when mechanical aids to checking of theatrical accounts were invented or adapted, the only check which a manager had was to “count the house” as it is called, a simple process – exactly what its name implies. Those parts of the house for which special tickets were issued, showing the exact seat purchased, were easy to check. There were not so many of them, and there was so speedy and simple a method of identification that any fraud attempted by the attendants was a dangerous undertaking. The parts of the theatre open to possibilities of fraud were those which the public paid admission as they came in. They came in a rush; and it is at such times that dishonesty has its chance. And so collusion between the seller of the ticket and the receiver of it used to be sadly common. It therefore became at least advisable for any manager who suspected fraud to go or send someone to the pit or gallery – the unbooked seats – during the course of the evening to count the people. The money-takers (sellers of admission tickets) and check-takers were responsible for the entry of the numbers thus returned. The money-taker’s return should show all who paid, so that the total number, less free admissions, should be represented by cash. On this basis, which was a factor in each night’s work, anyone who did not represent money was considered “dead,” i.e., non est. Now, to count a large crowd of people is no easy task, but one requiring certain skill and experience. The easier way, and that alone with any chance of success, is when they are all seated. It then becomes possible, by standing a little in front at the side, to number them with fair accuracy. Only the heads are visible, and so the count becomes one of “heads.” And thus also the “dead” visitors are dead-heads. It is all perfectly simple and logical; and there is no other means of arriving at the origin of the word which would or could become acceptable. The application of the term outside theatres – for instance, to travel – is due entirely to the intellectual superiority of the American criminal over his British brother. With his better education and more adaptable nature, the American workman in this field of labour has invented new ways of achieving the success at which he aims.

So much for the origin of the word. Its meaning, developed on the slang side, is altogether a matter of the local standard of morals. In its inception the existence or aptitude of the dead-head is not wrong – has nothing to do with any standard of ethics; it is simply a fact. And the question of fact must be established before the question of ethics can arise. If, therefore, we take dead-heads as a body, we must first differentiate them before we condemn. This, in both accuracy and justice, is necessary, for the term as commonly used is, as may be inferred, one of reproach. The dead-head who boasts of his segregation as such is but a poor creature, and may well be classed in the great scheme of utility with the empty bottle, the water-soaked log, the superfluous gun-metal, the insensate post on the quay – though, indeed, this latter has a value, albeit a passive one. In fact, the further investigation must be based on the proposition that though the dead-head is the exerciser of a free franchise, the exerciser of a free franchise is not of necessity a dead-head in the ethical sense of the word. Confining ourselves for the moment to the theatre, let us examine the exceptions which make the basic proposition clear; we can afterwards, if we will, apply the reasoning to phases of life other than theatre.

In the management of a theatre there are so many varying conditions – so many persons have to be brought together, so many different interests are involved, so many things have to be remembered in connection with the carrying out of the high policy of the endeavor – that mere money value ceases to represent either the aim of the undertakers or the means of achieving it. As in the great scheme of one life or a nation, immediate and tangible reward is not the only thing desirable. Money is, truly enough, an important factor in the winning of success, and a demonstrable proof of successful effort; but it is not all. Continuity within possible bounds has to be achieved; so that a good result in the present becomes largely a further investment of capital. A theatre in these days has to be kept open for at least some forty to forty-five weeks in the year. Each city has its own “catchment area,” and the supply of theatre-goers is by such limited in greater or lesser degree. Take, for instance, London as an example – the greatest and perhaps the most difficult on account of the enormous actual proportions and varying percentages of its fluctuating population.

IN ROUND NUMBERS the inhabitants of London of all classes within the police district, and including the City, number some six and a half millions. In addition there is an influx on each day of perhaps twenty thousand visitors – visitors, nearly all of whom, as strangers coming to enjoy themselves, visit the theatres, as they do other places of recreation. The stay of each of such persons may be short or long; but take it that they stay on an average a week, and that during that week they go (such of them as go at all) a couple of times.

Thus we have two forms of population, resident and transient, which have to be considered separately, as they are under such different conditions. Let us take the resident population first.

The six and half millions resident in the police districts may fairly represent in family life groups of five – father, mother, and three children. This is a little larger than the average for the nation. The statistics of 1901 show the family average to be in England, Wales, and Scotland 4.62, and in Ireland 4.90. Of the family of five let us take it that (if they are theatre-goers at all) two of them now and again enjoy the play. Say that if only half of them be playgoers (it is a very small average for the poorer class, who are the larger class, as the theatre is practically their only indoor amusement, and prices in theatres are regulated to suit all pockets), we get out of the residents a body of some one million three hundred thousand playgoers. Take it that these go on an average eight times in a year. (This, class by class, is a small average – much less than reality.) So that all told, out of the resident population, we may expect – allowing nearly half a million for accidents, sickness, or other causes – ten million attendances per annum.

Of the transient population a larger average of attendances should be expected, since they largely some to enjoy – and, at any rate, do enjoy – whatever may bring them. If for each day twenty thousand visitors – a number fixed long ago, and not for this purpose – represents the influx, and if we take them arriving on only five days out of the seven, we get an influx of one hundred thousand per week. Such visitors remain varying periods; but, to get a base somewhere, let us take it that on an average they remain for a week each. This class mainly consists of individuals, or married folks coming in pairs and not family groups of five, so that the family average does not apply. Let us also surmise that out of the one hundred thousand one-half do not go to the theatre at all; thus we should get a weekly influx of theatre-goers of some fifty thousand. Each of these would see at least two plays (again a small average, as London is the home of theatrical production and the place of greatest completeness in the art), so that we get one hundred thousand theatre-goers each week, or five million per annum from the visitors.

Thus we tap a total of some fifteen million persons at least who attend a performance.

In London there are some fifty-eight theatres. So that if we take them as performing six times a week with a fair percentage of matinées in addition, we get in round numbers some four hundred theatre performances each week in London, or, in a season of fifty weeks, twenty thousand performances.

With twenty thousand performances and fifteen million attendances we get on a rough average an audience of some seven hundred and fifty per paying persons in each theatre at each performance. Experience shows that these figures are fairly correct. It is, of course, impossible to obtain with accuracy such figures. Theatres differ in size and plays in “drawing” quality, so that the laws of average cannot be anywhere applied. But it is a primary condition of theatre management that the house must be large enough to meet occasional strain. It is by this means only that a working average of receipts can be obtained; and without this the exchequer of the theatre cannot be computed or even exist.

Thus only a small measure of common sense is required to understand that in the long run in each theatre there are seats which will not be occupied by the paying public, and are, therefore, without added cost, available for managerial use.

IT IS HERE that we find the actual working possibility of the dead-head system.

Here it is also where the dead-head question bifurcates.

We have already seen that there are dead-heads de facto who are not ethically or morally culprits in the matter. These are those who, though they do not represent money in the house, do stand for something else. Those not learned in the policy and the difficulties of theatrical management can have no idea of either the size or importance of this class. A brief survey, and an analysis of the component elements, may bring enlightenment.

Here it is that this class in its turn again bifurcates – and we get two great divisions: those who are guests pure and simple, and those who are guests with a reason, i.e., one based on service of some form, not usually payable in cash. Let us take them in order – the guests first.

Most artists of one kind or another are specialists in national customs or historical periods, and, as expert knowledge is largely to those engaged in other similar enterprises.

Even here there are classes, mainly two – guests from personal cause, and what may be called “official” guests. In the former are the family, relations, and friends of the manager, and of some of his most important officials before and behind the curtain. To this class may be added such free admissions as are given to the families of those employed in the theatre who do not give quid pro quo in any direct form, but whose loyalty is this secured or upheld. Those comprise the authors, the actors, the composers, scene-painters, “producers” of various kinds, costumiers, property makers, perruquiers. These in themselves compose a numerous body. Much of their work is special, so that, although only a few take part in the preparation of any individual play, there are many of each kind who occasionally aid; and such, of course, have to be included in the “courtesy” list of the theatre. Most artists of one kind or another are specialists in national customs or historical periods, and, as expert knowledge is largely to those engaged in other similar enterprises. Theatre managers are hospitable in practice as well as in intent, and to the personnel of other theatres are extended habitually facilities of enjoyment or study. The art world generally is a big world, though a world of its own, and the camaraderie of art is at once brotherly and comprehensive. This is as it should be in a world of creative art. The “outsider” of to-day may be the “insider” of to-morrow or a later day. And when he comes to work for a particular theatre it is well that his education should be as effective as possible. Though to the audience play-going is a pleasure – though such may not be altogether the purpose of the drama – to those engaged in it it is an education. An artist perfects himself by practice, and practice can only rise to its best when working on the date of a well-stored mind. Moreover, as mechanical possibilities enlarge with scientific advance, it is necessary that stage-producers and actors should keep abreast of the advance of their craft. It is very seldom indeed that the audience of a London theatre does not contain its percentage of this class. They are in no sense dead-heads in the popular meaning of the word, though, of course, they are in the original or technical meaning. They are guests, and welcome guests too – this invariably in a well-conducted play-house. They do not come as a rule “on sight,” though special individuals have at times this privilege. They come either by request or on request.

This class of ‘official’ guests mainly comprises persons who have either a community of interest with the theatre or the play, or whose general work is or may be of ultimate benefit to either of them.

This class of “official” guests mainly comprises persons who have either a community of interest with the theatre or the play, or whose general work is or may be of ultimate benefit to either of them. Such, for instance, are newspaper critics doing their work, certain journalists not doing for the occasion special theatrical work, but who belong to the cult of theatrical criticism or who write from time to time useful paragraphs; authors who write for or about the play; some workers who belong to the higher offices of railway service or transport of other kinds, who work in conjunction with theatre officials, and who have therefore many opportunities of making themselves useful or agreeable; printers who do theatre work – posters, playbills, programmes, streamers, lithos, throw-aways, or any of the many forms of theatre advertising; managers of bill-posting establishments or companies; tradesmen who lend for stage purposes furniture, carpets, bric-à-brac, or any matters used as properties; florists, who beautify entrances, stairways, and passages by means of their special art; and picture dealers and print publishers, who lend their goods and chattels for the decoration of the various walls. The above are in no sense – except that of being included in the checking of the receipts of the house – dead-heads. They simply pay in a different way, that is all – in service or “in meal or malt” in some form.

THERE IS ANOTHER order of “official” guests who are, though in accountancy dead-heads, yet give quid pro quo. These are the holders of what we called “bill orders.” In the practical working of a theatre the privileges given to them are rather in the category of “rights” than of benefactions. One of the most important departments of a theatre is that of publicity. It is necessary that the public should be well informed of what is going on; and to this end many devices (many of them commonplace and usual, others special and opportunist) are resorted to. To the first of these divisions belong advertisements in newspapers in various traditional forms – “leader” page, “outer sheet,” or in some other particular part of the broadsheet mutually arranged and always adhered to. As a rule these columns are amongst the most productive of the advertising pages or columns. In former days – up to some forty or fifty years ago, and in the provincial cities and towns much later – theatre managers did not pay for their advertisements at all in cash, but gave to the newspapers an organized privilege, that of issuing on their own account orders for certain seats in various parts of the house, which were reserved for them either for every night or at certain performances. The way that the newspaper proprietor recouped himself was this: he would – except when he wanted to use the seats himself or for his family or friends – give the orders, generally printed for parties of two, to his advertisement canvassers, who would in turn give them to persons who gave advertisements or arranged them as an inducement to patronize that particular paper. Before the time of that custom the newspaper reporters used to have, for purposes of “news,” to bribe the hall-keeper of the theatre to give them early copies of the playbill announcing the coming “attractions.” Both these customs have, except in a few places, been long ago superseded.

The other general method of publicity is by bill-posting, i.e., displaying on walls the bills of announcement which are printed in as interesting or as showy forms of attractiveness as is possible. This department of work in organized shape began with theatres, but was found so advantageous by other trades that now, and for many years past, the theatrical work is only a fraction of the mass. Bill-posting is a comparatively expensive process, especially as it appeals almost entirely to the “patrons” of the lower-priced seats. Almost by universal custom the rent paid for such posting on walls or hoardings erected for the purpose is one penny per week per sheet “double crown,” “royal,” or other size and shape as may be arranged. Bills for posting are very carefully arranged and designed, and certain men have made fortunes of greater or lesser degree in printing or posting them. As these bills run to various sizes, one sheet or many, each bill, when completed, being a separate entity, no matter how many sheets go to make it up – the rental price of a single bill can be easily estimated. Bills run to four, six, ten, twelve, and so on up to as much as fifty, sixty, or a hundred sheets. Very large bills, by the way, are necessarily limited in number, as there are not many “stands” (as they are called) where they can be posted. These bills vary in shape – “streamers,” for instance, are usually long and of the biggest letters that can be provided by the printing trade. In this category are “picture paper” – so-called lithographs – which term has been adopted as a generic one in the printing trade. Some of these “lithos” are so large that they have to be printed from great wooden blocks (stocks of sufficient size not being obtainable), generally of pear-wood, especially put together for the purpose. The doing of all this work, printing and posting, has become specialized by the needs and the size of the work itself.

But in addition to these forms of bills and the posting of them are others which have special use. Keepers of small shops, generally in unimportant thoroughfares, like to make their windows attractive or to put boards on or outside their premises to the same effect. To this end smaller bills are printed, which are usually known as “window bills” in the sizes of “double crown” or “folio.” Those who so place theatre bills are paid for so doing not in cash but in kind.

Special “bill orders” are provided by the management, which are supposed to be given to such exhibitors of bills, one of two persons for the pit or gallery each week. In practice this is made an average matter, the cards being sent “when business allows,” which is naturally when the first rush of the new play or new production is over. There are some few persons whose window display is of such importance that seats for the better part of the house, dress circle, or even stalls, are sent. These are usually the proprietors of popular “hotels” in leading streets or in suburbs. There are very few of such places, and they are very select in their displays. It used formerly to be the custom to give the bill orders through the “bill inspectors,” who supplied them to the various exhibitors. But experience having shown that some of them – for they were a very human class – were too often paid in malt rather than meal for their service in selecting recipients of the privilege, we made a new method in the old Lyceum Theatre some thirty years ago. We issued the bill orders direct from the management. Careful lists were kept of those entitled to receive them, and the letters were duly posted. This stopped, so far as it could be stopped, the gathering of such privilege tickets into unscrupulous hands, where they could be utilised as marketable commodity. In America, where admission prices are much larger than in Britain, the bill-order system used to be a heavy tax on visiting companies. In contracts between local theatres and travelling “show” to provide so much “paper” in designated forms. Now and again a wily manager, instead of paying rent for his posting, would pay in bill orders, so that on certain nights quite a large number of admissions which were “dead-head” in the travellers’ accountancy would be amongst the checks to be counted. When seats fetching one to three dollars (four shillings to twelve shillings) were so occupied this was a heavy drain or “hold-off” from the weekly receipts. Some of us, who took very large percentages of the total receipts, found that where this system was in vogue it was cheaper to pay for the posting ourselves – or, what was better, to do without any such posting at all. I have known, before such matters were looked into and arranged for the future, the bill orders for a week’s visit to run into a couple hundred pounds. The hardship of it was that it was the big stars only who suffered, for every holder of a bill order was sure to turn up at their performances; whilst in the case of lesser lights, when there was plenty of room, they would never come at all. In many ways the system of bill orders was imperfect and led to numerous abuses. It was on an entirely wrong base, and has no place at all in a less crude and better ordered state of affairs.

Certain admissions have to be arranged for, which are “official” in another way. Amongst these are Lord Chamberlain and police – “arranged for” because it is of the essence of security that a check-taker is not empowered to admit anybody of any kind or in any circumstances without placing a voucher for such admission in his check box. The police claim the right that the policeman on duty and wearing his service badge shall be admitted to theatres, not to stay and enjoy, but to make his inspections, and so forth. It is a privilege which no sensible man does or can object to. The presence or occasional visit of such officers is not only in itself a protection to both management and audience, but it is an overt proof of security – a valuable aid to an enjoyment of a kind that requires intellectual abstraction. The Lord Chamberlain, who is responsible under the Theatres Act of 1843 for the licensing of all theatres, as distinguished from music-halls, has a similar power. But it is very sparingly used, and always in the courteous and thoughtful way.

The above classes of unpaying visitors to theatres, of course, all belong to the dead-head class in its accountancy sense, but do not come into the meaning of the word as the public to-day understand it. They come into the dictionary meaning simply in the sense that they do not pay in the same way as the rest of the public, but the cause of their coming does touch on ethics. In reality they are “guests” or “workers” rather than dead-heads, especially in the slang meaning of the latter.

George Frederick Cook, dropping his assumed part for a moment, came down on one occasion to the footlights and addressed a torpid audience thus: “Ladies and gentlemen, if you don’t applaud, I can’t act.”

Before we get to the dead-head in the base aspect – one who has no claim to ask for admission, and whose only ground for asking is that he is mean in spirit – there are two other classes to be considered. These may be really classes as one, inasmuch as they are present because the management asks them for its own purpose. The first is not a welcome guest, neither is he an overt worker; this is what the French call the claque, a class happily rare in this country, but who, to my own knowledge, have in former days existed, though whether they are still to the fore I do not know. Their rationale can be best explained from their existence in Paris and elsewhere on the Continent. In certain French theatres and opera-houses there is a sort of official, or, rather, hanger-on, who draws salary and expenses. This is the chef du claque, whose business it is to provide a staff, who applaud as directed. At the outset such an arrangement seems to be entirely wrong, but I have heard it defended with a certain show of reason. The public, who are, in the main, most kindly disposed, do not always understand artistic values, and are, we are told, glad to get some lead as to when to applaud. This ensures a certain appearance of approval, for the “house” always follows suit. Moreover, the applause helps the artists in their work; it is difficult to maintain a high level of vocal or declamatory or passionate effort to an unresponsive audience. A hundred years ago, the tragedian, George Frederick Cook, dropping his assumed part for a moment, came down on one occasion to the footlights and addressed a torpid audience thus: “Ladies and gentlemen, if you don’t applaud, I can’t act.”

Those foreign artists who are accustomed to the claque often give on their own account douceurs to the chef du claque and his merry men. Doubtless at times base use is made of such a power, and the claque is bribed to condemn a rival. But, of course, should such a thing be done, care would be taken to keep it secret. Certain foreign companies, when coming to this country, either bring with them their own chef du claque or arrange for some local individual to perform the service. I have myself in past years often seen an individual of what English people call “foreign” appearance who seemed night after night to fulfil the function. He used to sit in one of the top boxes next to the proscenium – a position from which one can be seen from all parts of the house. He wore white gloves – very white when contrasted with the rest of his appearance – and as he always put his large hands out of the box to applaud, there was no mistaking his effort. The detonation of his hand-claps were always followed by certain over foreign-looking persons scattered about the house. Indeed, at one popular theatre the idea was later on more or less adopted, but the British artist in control was not so careful in his methods. One ardent play-goer, who was a constant visitor to this theatre, assured me that in the booking plan, hung up at that time at the back of the dress circle for the convenience of the attendants in placing those of the audience who had not previously booked their seats but purchased them as they came in, was written to a good many seats scattered about at the back and sides, which were not likely to be occupied unless the more preferable seats were full, the word “clapper.” This gave away to the intelligent visitor the purpose and mechanism of the fictitious applause.

THE OTHER BRANCH of this class arises from something of the same cause, but it is attributable to the management rather than the artists. Their function is simply to fill as individuals empty seats at a time when business is not very good. They are in no sense paid, directly or indirectly, except by the enjoyment which, with the paying public, they may derive from the performance. By long experience it has been found that the public are in certain ways like sheep – where one goes, they all go; what one avoids, they all avoid. It is a depressing thing to see a theatre only partially filled – depressing alike to the audience and the performers; and to avoid this the management now and again is glad to welcome (by arrangement) certain unpaying guests. It is to this habit that Farmer and Henley allude in the quotation from the Daily Telegraph inserted in their slang dictionary found at the beginning of this article. An empty box, for instance, seen from the stage, is a disturbing influence on a player. Above the glare of the footlights the vacant box attracts his eye and takes his mind from his work – of course, to the detriment of that work.

May I say, inasmuch as I was Henry Irving’s manager during the whole period of his occupancy of the Lyceum Theatre, and therefore, lest anyone should attribute to him directly or indirectly any of the practices I have mentioned, that at the old Lyceum we did not have a claque, though certain individuals were perpetually importuning us to engage one; and, further, that we had no need for dead-heads to fill empty seats. Of course in all managements there are “lean” as well as “fat” times; but when the lean time showed signs of approach we took care to “put on” the play always ready for presentation on the stage, and by so doing did away with all necessity or temptation to produce an extraneous appearance of public desire.

But I can say that that appearance can at times be used to very great advantage. Buckstone was accustomed to use it at times during his management of the Haymarket in old days, until the “ladies in red cloaks” were as easily understandable to the paying playgoers as were the “Adelphi guests” who came on and went off the stage silently and with almost startling unanimity in old-fashioned melodrama. I have always understood that during the first six weeks of the phenomenally successful run of The Colleen Bawn, Dion Boucicault the elder “papered the house” so effectively that, though the paying public clamoured for admission, they could not obtain seats at all until such time as the manager was satisfied that the play was assured for success. This was in one way an expensive proceeding, for expenses go on whether the audience pay or not; but it is a form of insurance, and at times well worth the cost.

Bram Stoker, best known as the author of Dracula (1897), was also a theatrical manager in London. This essay first appeared in The Fortnightly Review, Vol. 92, October 1909, pp. 646-58.

For more on this topic, see Arthur Crofton on Sarah Bernhardt (1930), transcribed for the Fortnightly and published here.


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