Dearest Mother,

I’ll admit I have begun to feel discouraged. I undertook this move to London to find work in the theater, and as I enter the sixth week of my habitation here I have nothing to show for it. You and father must perceive me as some elephantine failure for pursuing this, yet I feel very strongly that if I didn’t try in the first place, I would resent myself entirely.
I do feel there to be a shifting in the theatrical world here. Less emphasis seems to be placed on the art, and critics seem to be more interested in stroking the egos of the actors and directors rather than give an honest opinion of the works themselves. Take for instance Sir John Edgar, a man who has come to be defined by the court he keeps and therefore his reflections and reviews on theatrical works must be read only after a perusal of the cast list or the production he praises. Lately I’ve begun to fiercely relate to Sisyphus in this prickly web of London theater entombed in these high walls built of nepotism and mortared in exclusivity.
I apologize for making my situation here out to seem so dark. Frustration guides my hand and I wouldn’t want you to think I’m at risk for becoming a pauper. There are many in this city who do not conform to the style of theater reviews currently fashionable. I’ve enclosed this second issue of The Anti-Theater by a Sir John Falstaffe (a pseudonym, I presume, as this is the character in the plays of Shakespeare), a man who seems fixed on bringing to light the current failings of the theatrical world. Why, for instance, is credit not given where credit is due? Here is a bit from a one of Falstaffe’s many tirades:

“Were the jurisdiction of the Theatre, whose members all style themselves " His Majesty's Servants," not to strongly lodged in the Chamberlain, as by proof it is found to be; the distance in quality betwixt him and the Director of a Play-house, the dependence such a Community must necessarily have on the favour and protection of the Court, and the fear of losing that interest to which they owe all the rest of their success, should be considerations to abate and qualify any insolence in their conduct, and strong dissuasives from not complying with such measures as he should think fit to impose.”

I mentioned earlier I felt a certain shifting of the ground on which the world of theater stands at present. I feel as though it is two plates at war with one another; that of tradition and that of novelty. Falstaffe and myself fall into the latter category in our views of theater today, and we’re not alone. I do believe there’s a chance for me here. I’ve become well acquainted with the members of the Royal Academy of Music, and am helping them broaden their subscriber base for the upcoming season. The pay is dismal, but I feel there are many opportunities to grow here. Hold in your thoughts and well wishes always,

Edmund



Dearest Mother,

You will be pleased to hear my role at the Academy has grown substantially. Not only are we to premiere George Frederic Handel’s Floridante, but I have been instrumental (pardon the pun, afraid I couldn’t resist), working for the production itself. I take orders from the chief stage manager, and my duties include overseeing the construction of the various sets—having a carpenter for a father I’ve never been more thankful for—and, on occasion, doing various smaller tasks. Your son, in fact, was the very one to put the wax seal on the invitation to the King himself, who has been a subscriber to the theater for the past year now. Several months ago I had been working hard to garner subscribers to the theater, and because of my diligence, we—that is to say, the Academy—are now unable to sell more than 350 seats in our 400 seat theater. The remainder 50 are for the vast multitude of our subscribers that we must keep open every night.
You remember Sir John Falstaffe, author of The Anti-Theater of whom I sent you a volume last, yes? I discovered the was in fact a pseudonym for Sir Richard Steele, who has written the preface to this new play The Drummer, or, the Haunted-House, that I’ve found discarded by one of the singers in Floridante. Naturally his preface whet my appetite for the production, and I made a point to go and see the production at the Theater Royal. Steele likened the work to one of those of Moliere, so of course my curiosity was piqued beyond telling, as I am such an ardent fan of Tartuffe. I’ll admit I’ve become so reliant on Steele’s journal that even if he’d given it a scathing review I would have gone to the production simply to say I agreed with him—but I found the production wonderful indeed! I feel inclined to tell you the plot as a student writing a book report for a grade might.
A Sir George is thought dead by the house, and his widow jumps in with a new Mr. Tinsel almost immediately. The house then becomes haunted by a drumming from within the walls of the very manor. The help thinks it to be the ghost of Sir George, but Abigail, the Lady’s maid, knows better. She is conspiring with the ‘Fantome’ within the walls; a man she’s paid to haunt the house and scare Mr. Tinsel away, as she feels it indecorous for the Lady of the house to carry on with him so soon after her husband’s death. In addition, Mr. Tinsel’s character is one Abigail loathes completely—he’s a free thinker and rather lazy.
The second act reveals Sir George to be alive, after fourteen months thought dead. Once hearing of his wife’s conduct, he plots to disguise himself as a conjurer and go to his former house to spy on his wife and act as the man to rid the manor of the supposed ghostly character. The audience is made aware of Mr. Tinsel’s horrid character and intent—not only is he making passes at the maid Abigail (who wants no part of him), but he makes it very clear that he is using the Lady of the manor for her money. The Fantome makes his appearance just as Tinsel begins to persuade the Lady to marry him and, Tinsel frightened half to death, flees the manor. Sir George, still disguised as a conjurer, must prove his mysticism to the skeptics residing within the home, and does so rather easily, as he knows everything there is to know about everything that occurs in the house. He knows every spoon and every horse—and thus, the staff and Lady of the manor are convinced swiftly.
Sir George faces off with the Mr. Fantome and sends him away, finally revealing himself from within the conjuror’s garb much to the happiness of his wife, the Lady, who never stopped loving him, despite her dalliances with unscrupulous characters such as Mr. Tinsel. A comedy and a happy ending was precisely the tonic I required.
I felt, coming out of the play, such relief to have seen something so light-hearted and gay, which was such a change from the heavy operas or dramatic productions that seem woefully bent on acting out for the world horrid times in history. The world is growing tired of these pompous productions, and crave plays such as the one I’ve described to you. Theater must stop taking itself so dreadfully seriously. Sir Richard Steele wrote on this exact subject himself recently:

“This species of Drama seems to hit the humour of the times exactly; for I remember a Comedy, which was exploded at the theater…but met with wonderful success on the other stage, when it was transposed into this style; and it still continues to be acted with applause, under the title of "The Jealous Doctor." It is said, there are some new dramatic pieces of this kind, now composing, full of mysterious wit and excellent satire…”

Which would you rather attend, mother; a satire or a drama? An opera or a simple comedy? I fear this letter has turned into a ramble. Apologies from your son,

Edmund


Dearest Mother,
My situation has improved once more, as I’ve spent all my free time studying the arts and stagecraft. My dedication reminds me of an anecdote from our oft-quoted comrade, Sir Steele:

“ I would recommend the example of this prudential animal as a document to all young actors, who expect to rise, and make a figure in their business. It will furnish them with this two-fold instruction; first, that it will be much better for them to study the Poet than the punch-bowl; and, in the next place, that night, of all other times, is the most proper season for helping their memories, and assisting them-selves in the powers of action and elocution.”

It’s not enough to merely want to take part in this medium—one must practice diligently and remain focused on their goals, as one would in any other trade. Lately, with the tide of new theatrical works rising and any fellow with a pen and parchment can write a play, the need for actors is growing. The theatrical world is expanding rapidly, and we all must sink or swim together. Productions, good or bad, are the result of the characters who go into it; from the carpenters to the playwrights, everyone must do their best.
I am grateful for this insurgence of theatrical works and talent. Even a bad play shouldn’t be punished for poorness—it ought to be celebrated for contributing to the medium. A new generation of critics must rise to the occasion and quit themselves of the nepotism they are so thoroughly wrapped up in and examine theater for what it is: an art form.
Until my next missive, your affectionate son,

Edmund



Works Cited


The London Stage, 1660-1800: a Calendar of Plays, Entertainments & Afterpieces, Together With Casts, Box-receipts And Contemporary Comment. [1st ed.] Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1960196811965.

Falstaffe, John. The Anti-Theatre (1719). Web. <http://www.18thcjournals.amdigital.co.uk.proxy-um.researchport.umd.edu/transcript.aspx?imageid=165162&list=list_section-bodleian&navsearch=true&searchmode=true>.

Addison, John. The Drummer, Or, The Haunted House, A Comedy. Print.