In the recent Broadway actors’ strike, things that most people only surmise came into the open: for instance, that out of 12,000 Equity members only 731 were involved in the Broadway productions that closed down, or that the weekly minimum salary for Broadway actors is $103.50, whereas musicians get $155.50 and carpenters, property men and electricians, $156. Throughout the strike the Mayor alluded to the “cultural and economic” effects on the city. Like “Brown ‘n Serve,” the two words are intimately linked in New York. Broadway is a big cog in the tourist industry, and when its lights go out hundreds of waiters and garage attendants are laid off. Thus it becomes practically a moral duty to keep the theater going, regardless of what you think of it. Broadway may lose a lot of money for itself, but it is an asset to the city. This gives it a sort of municipal power, a power over flow of traffic and efficient disposal of large numbers of people who don’t know how to dispose of themselves. Things are made easy; chartered buses provide a packaged evening of drinks, restaurant, show and transportation home, on Wednesday night opening curtain is pulled back to 7:30 to accommodate commuters. On another level, press-agents make up charts on which you check off the plays you’ve seen, like Howard Johnson charts for ice-cream flavors, and the critic, whatever his intentions, is used mainly as a guide on how to respond to these flavors. In short, the general assumption is that the audience is a herd of rhinoceroses that has to be guided into the theater and retained there in orderly fashion for two hours. The actors are afraid of the rhinoceroses occupying the seats, and the rhinoceroses are afraid of the actors. There is complaisance on both sides, mixed with false confidence; the actor straining over the line which moved the critic, the audience laughing hard at the joke the critic cited.
THE GROWING CONSPIRACY to turn New York into an enormous hotel gives its theater a museum-like impersonality and eclecticism. All plays seem to belong to the past, and to fit into certain loose categories. First, the musical, and the longer it has been running the greater its attraction as a sight-seeing phenomenon. Then the tearful play about “tenderness” or “loneliness,” written in good faith as a nostalgic recall of early Americana. Then foreign plays, provided they are made acceptable by being given the English treatment, and of course the English play itself, lately imported as an entire production. Last year I discovered that in the very latest English play there always comes a point when the hero starts criticizing the decor (the American audience worries secretly for the rest of the evening about the decor at home), and no matter how he rages, he afflicts us sentimentally, with forgotten aspirations, reminiscences of the thirties, or lost manners, like the man who tastes Tetley̵...
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