by Bill Nye
Public Domain Books
The following letter was written, recently, in reply to a dramatist who proposed the matter of writing a play jointly.
Hudson, Wis., Nov. 13, 1886.
Scott Marble, Esq.–Dear Sir: I have just received your favor of yesterday, in which you ask me to unite with you in the construction of a new play.
This idea has been suggested to me before, but not in such a way as to inaugurate the serious thought which your letter has stirred up in my seething mass of mind.
I would like very much to unite with you in the erection of such a dramatic structure that people would cheerfully come to this country from Europe, and board with us for months in order to see this play every night.
You will surely agree with me that someone ought to write a play. Why it has not been done long ago, I cannot understand. A well known comedian told me a year ago that he hadn’t been able to look into a paper for sixteen months. He could not even read over the proof of his own press notices and criticisms, to ascertain whether the printer had set them up as he wrote them or not, simply because it took all his spare time off the stage to examine the manuscripts of plays that had been submitted to him.
But I think we could arrange it so that we might together construct something in that line which would at least attract the attention of our families.
Would you mind telling me, for instance, how you write a play? You have been in the business before, and you could tell me, of course, some of the salient points about it. Do you write it with a typewriter, or do you dictate your thoughts to someone who does not resent being dictated to?
Do you write a play and then dramatize it, or do you write the drama and then play on it? Would it not be a very good idea to secure a plot that would cost very little, and then put the kibosh on it, or would you put up the lines first, and then hang the plot or drama, or whatever it is, on the lines? Is it absolutely necessary to have a prologue? If so, what is a prologue? Is it like a catalogue?
I have a great many crude ideas, but you see I am not practical. One of my crude ideas is to introduce into the play an artist’s studio. This would not cost much, for we could borrow the studio evenings and allow the artist to use it daytimes. Then we would introduce into the studio scene the artist’s living model. Everybody would be horrified, but they would go. They would walk over each other to attend the drama, and we would do well. Our living model in the studio act would be made of common wax, and if it worked well, we would discharge other members of the company and substitute wax. Gradually we could get it down to where the company would be wax, with the exception of a janitor with a feather duster. Think that over.
But seriously, a play, it seems to me, should embody an idea. Am I correct in that theory or not? It ought to convey some great thought, some maxim or aphorism, or some such a thing as that. How would it do to arrange a play with the idea of impressing upon the audience that “the fool and his money are soon parted?” Are you using a hero and a heroine in your plays now? If so, would you mind writing their lines for them, while I arrange the details and remarks for the young man who is discovered asleep on a divan when the curtain rises, and who sleeps on through the play with his mouth slightly ajar till the close–the close of the play, not the close of his mouth–when it is discovered that he is dead. He then plays the cold remains in the closing tableau, and fills a new-made grave at $9 per week.
I could also write the lines, I think, for the young man who comes in wearing a light summer cane and a seersucker coat so tight that you can count his vertebrae. I could write what he would say without great mental strain, I think. I must avoid mental strain or my intellect might split down the back and I would be a mental wreck, good for nothing but to strew the shores of time with myself.
Various other crude ideas present themselves to my mind, but they need to be clothed. You will say that this is unnecessary. I know you will at once reply that, for the stage, the less you clothe an idea the more popular it will be, but I could not consent to have even a bare thought of mine make an appearance night after night before a cultivated audience.
What do you think of introducing a genuine case of small-pox on the stage? You say in your letter that what the American people clamor for is something “catchy.” That would be catchy, and it would also introduce itself.
I wish you would also tell me what kind of diet you confine yourself to while writing a play, and how you go to work to procure it. Do you live on a mixed diet, or on your relatives? Would you soak your head while writing a play, or would you soak your overcoat? I desire to know all these things, because, Mr. Marble, to tell you the truth, I am as ignorant about this matter as the babe unborn. In fact, posterity would have to get up early in the morning to know less about play-writing than I have succeeded in knowing.
If we are to make a kind of comedy, my idea would be to introduce something facetious in the middle of the comedy. No one will expect it, you see, and it will tickle the audience almost to death.
A friend of mine suggests that it would be a great hit to introduce, or rather to reproduce, the Hell Gate explosion. Many were not able to be there at the time, and would willingly go a long distance to witness the reproduction.
I wish that you would reply to this letter at an early date, telling me what you think of the schemes suggested. Feel perfectly free to express yourself fully. I am not too proud to receive your suggestions.