The Vaudeville Field

For those who have vaudeville as their goal there are booking agents who will present your act to the vaudeville circuits. New York, of course, is the big booking center for America with Chicago second. In other countries you will find agents in the respective large cities from which vaudeville is controlled.

Find a good agent, put up your story to him. This should be done in person as a rule. Describe your act and ask for a showing. If he is interested he will arrange for a showing in a tryout house to give him a chance to see your act.

A tryout house may be just a junk house, but it answers the purpose to see what you have. If he likes the act, he will go to the higher-ups and try to book you. He charges you a certain commission for his work. It is usually five or ten per cent of the salary that he gets for your act. Sometimes one agent goes to another and adds another five per cent.

The first agent you go to may not handle you and you may have to go to others until you find the one that you want. Getting into vaudeville is not the easiest thing in the world, as there is strenuous competition to contend with and all sorts of angles to overcome.

But there is this one thing to remember. The beginner has just as much chance as the old-timer providing he can deliver the goods.

It used to be that a man's reputation would serve to book him, but that is no longer true except in rare instances. The old-timer must show his act and prove that it is good just as well as the newcomer into the field.

The first angles are usually to discourage a performer so as to reduce his personal opinion of his ability and his financial worth so he can be bought as cheaply as possible. It takes considerable bartering as a rule to establish a high salary.

Vaudeville buyers figure on the investment that has been made in your act, the cost of presentation, how many people you carry, and what it WILL PULL AT THE BOX OFFICE. Vaudeville is a dollar and cents proposition.

Houdini was successful in vaudeville, not because of what he did on the stage as much as the work he did off the stage to gain publicity that would pack the house he was playing and make himself a money maker for all concerned.

One of Houdini's first publicity stunts in Europe was when he appealed to the police of Dresden for permission to throw himself overboard handcuffed and free himself under water. He was refused permission, but managed to do his manacled dive despite the refusal. Toward the end of the month Houdini's run had broken all records for admission to the theatre and the manager was wiring appeals to the manager of the Winter Garten in Berlin, where Houdini was scheduled to appear, to let him present Houdini for another month. The request was refused. Houdini went to Berlin. News of his dive in Dresden had spread like wildfire and the huge theatre in Berlin was packed to the doors.

Vaudeville is looking for another showman like Houdini. Never take vaudeville seriously until you can ask yourself and answer conscientiously, "What can I do that will create enough public interest to induce people to spend money to see me?"

But you must not think you are Houdini. He was one personality; you are another. Many persons see a successful personality and place themselves in that personality in imagination, but the audience cannot see the imagination, so it must go on what it sees and hears.

Before you give vaudeville a thought seriously, be sure that your act is right and test it out locally at the neighborhood houses. When you think you are set and ready, go to a larger city such as Chicago and book it around the smaller houses to knock off the rough edges, then on to New York where your FINAL SALARY IS SET. As conditions are now, you must go to NEW YORK to get good time. BUT DO NOT GO TO NEW YORK UNTIL YOU ARE SET AND HAVE AN ACT THAT IS AN ACT AND CAN BE SOLD AS A BOX OFFICE ATTRACTION.

Do not go to New York too soon. Your experience in smaller centers will give you valuable experience and tend to stabilize you. When ready for New York, get a good New York agent. Do not be afraid to make inquiries around as to conditions at the moment. You will receive lots of misinformation with the good information but weed out the facts. LISTEN MUCH and SAY LITTLE. Consider the source of your information and get it from the higher-ups who have clear vision rather than those who talk much and know little of true facts. Talk with people who have experience with vaudeville. But always consider that because one act may fail to land, another may be just the thing that is required.

Vaudeville conditions are constantly changing. When bookings are being made, there are certain open spots for certain types of acts, if your act fits all well and good. You have a chance. If the act does not fit, you must wait until there is a spot where you do fit.

Your act is CLASSIFIED as to whether you are an opener (first on the bill), a second act, middle act, fourth act or closing number. The intermediate acts vary according to length of program.

It is important in entering vaudeville to see that you are placed in the PROPER CLASSIFICATION as a classification is hard to change. That is why I want you to be sure your act is right before you hit New York. If you book in with a flash magic act, you are a flash magic actor. Later, if you wanted to go in as master of ceremonies, you would find it difficult to get away from flash magic classification. Sometimes you may go in and classify yourself as one thing but when the booker sees you, he forms another opinion and his opinion is the one you are classified under. Many an actor thinking he is a John Barrymore discovers that he is classified as a Ben Turpin or eccentric comedian and wins success under the latter classification and, even though he might be making a whale of a salary, yet feel deep in his heart that sometime as a John Barrymore he will astound the world with his acting, and to those who will listen he will confide his woes of being misunderstood.

Important in vaudeville is the proper timing and speed of an act. If it is a fifteen minute act, make it fifteen minutes. Minutes are precious on the stage and it is a tendency that many times stage managers want acts cut which, of course, is a difficult thing to do and leave the proper impression. If it is a ten minute act, make it ten minutes.

Speed and grace is a vaudeville essential. Stimulation is essential to vaudeville and an audience likes to be thrilled. When an act closes, if it can leave an audience gasping with applause, so much the better. One seldom appreciates the speed and radiation of personality over the footlights in vaudeville until they have seen other acts work from the wings and are in touch with performers in other fields.

And yet a vaudeville act must have its moments of relaxation and a moment of slow motion to make the speedy parts stand out in contrast.

Cortini, the famous German magician, does a novelty magic act in eight minutes without apparent hurry or slowing down, with carefully timed motions that some magicians would do well to get through with in thirty minutes. He introduces slow motion with a tearing of a newspaper to contrast with a regularly speeded method.

In vaudeville particularly be daring and different. Do not imitate another style of act, unless of course you are classified as a mimic or character artist who imitates other people and gives them credit accordingly with their permission.

As a vaudeville performer you should belong to the National Vaudeville Association, whose main offices are in New York. Your act can be registered there as a protection and the Association helps to fight certain troubles that might arise.

Should you ever go into vaudeville I hope you will do so as a gentleman, a man of stability and a person who can be depended upon. A gentleman of consideration is welcome. Complainers and blah-blahers lose much. Talk little and think much.

One question that the average person thinking of vaudeville wants to know is, How much can I make? What shall I charge for my act? Well, that depends. There is no set price. What is it worth to a manager and what can he pay?

It requires a bit of experience to set a salary and it grows. Our high-priced headliners did not start out as high-priced headliners. They earned their way to the top and inspired confidence step by step.

There is one thing that most people either do not know or fail to remember. If one person employs another, that person must make him money, and in the proportion to the amount of money he can make for his employer the more he is worth.

Sophie Tucker, Elsie Janis, Dr. Rockwell, Van and Schenk, Will Rogers and others of similar prominence, are well paid because any one of their names on the bill means more people in the theatre and usually a packed house. They are indirect salesmen. There are many things to consider in framing an act. How much must you spend, how much excess baggage have you, how many salaries and railroad fares? What are the overheads? Never carry a nickel's worth of material that makes expense beyond that necessary to protect your act and keep it in tip top shape.

From your salary you must pay booker's fees, railroad fares, salaries, etc., as well as keep up the wear and tear of the act. All this must be taken into consideration.

Vaudeville employers will try to check up on you carefully and you might be amazed to see how close they figure your act. Employers realize that beyond salary there must be a percentage paid on investment.

However, when you can sell your personality without many props and pack the house, your own personality is worth more than a stage full of apparatus.

Certain circuits can pay more than others as the houses warrant the cost by the type of patronage and the number of people that can be seated. Some theatres can pay more for a single act than others can for a whole bill.

It will pay you, if interested in vaudeville, to study the vaudeville situation and note the reaction to various types of acts. You should read the "Billboard" and "Variety" magazines.

At present the tendency is modernism with novelty and flash. This is an age of extremes which gives a chance for the act in one or an act of a production nature. The in-between is apt to prove neutral.

The principles of magic remain the same, but the modes of presentation vary. I have trained you so carefully in principles so as to give you a background that will serve you for years to come.

In England the artist is coming to his own and a man is given credit for producing miracles with common objects.

Vaudeville undergoes changes in all its departments and no matter what branch an act may come under, it must contend with the changing conditions.

One must never forget that vaudeville is a high pressure type of performance and where high pressure comes there must be changes to counteract the stimulation on the audience.

If the magician will keep up to the minute on the changes and study conditions basically so as to keep an act up to present day requirements he has a good chance to succeed in vaudeville.

For those who are adapted for vaudeville, let them have it, but for those who are not, they should get into lucrative fields in which they do fit. It is peculiar that people are apt to pass up the big fundamentals of the magician and the many fields in life where magic is welcomed and the competition not so strenuous, to get into vaudeville. And if these persons would listen to the advice of those with experience and those who have analyzed the situation they would save themselves much grief.

Vaudeville is limited on the number of acts of a particular kind it can use, and an act has to await its turn for an opening.

If you feel that vaudeville is your forte, be sure to frame your act - get it in good working order out in the "sticks" before you submit it to a booking agent in New York.

Magic looms up with interesting things at which an audience will sit open-mouthed. Study the many interesting phases of magic - find your forte - develop it - master it -and fame and fortune are bound to be

YOURS!

YOURS!

TARBELL SYSTEM, INCORPORATED, Chicago.

The paraphernalia described in this lesson can be obtained from the Tarbell System Incorporated.

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