A PRACTICAL, HANDS-ON RESOURCE FOR THE CLASSROOM ...

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STUDY GUIDE 2007 A PRACTICAL, HANDS-ON RESOURCE FOR THE CLASSROOM CONTAINING ONTARIO CURRICULUM SUPPORT MATERIALS EDUCATION PARTNERS BY ARTHUR MILLER Mack and Mabel

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Mack_Mabel_FINAL.pubSTUDY GUIDE 2007 A PRACTICAL, HANDS-ON RESOURCE FOR THE CLASSROOM
CONTAINING ONTARIO CURRICULUM SUPPORT MATERIALS
EDUCATION PARTNERS
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PRESENTS
MACK AND MABEL Book by Michael Stewart, music and lyrics by Jerry Herman
Revised by Francine Pascal
The Story ………………………………….….4
The Authors…………………………………...6
Designer’s Notes/Production History………...8
Then and Now: The Historical Context…...9-15
Did You Know? ……………………….…16-17
Response Sheet……………………...………32
including one intermission
Previews April 3, 2007 Opens May 12, 2007
This study guide for Mack and Mabel contains back- ground information for the play, suggested themes and topics for discussion, and curriculum-based les- sons that are designed by educators and theatre pro- fessionals. Mack and Mabel is recommended for students in grade 6 and higher.
The lessons and themes for discussion are organized in modules that can be used independently or inter- dependently according to the class level and time availability.
THIS GUIDE WAS WRITTEN AND COMPILED BY ROD CHRISTENSEN, JOANNA FALCK, ROBERT HAMILTON, DEBRA MCLAUCHLAN, AND AMANDA TRIPP. ADDITIONAL MATERIALS WERE PROVIDED BY WILLIAM SCHMUCK AND MOLLY SMITH.
COVER: RICK REID (CENTRE) AND MEMBERS OF THE COMPANY PHOTO: BY SHIN SUGINO
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Actor/Keystone Cop ……………………………………………………… KAWA ADA Fatty Arbuckle ………………………………………………………… NEIL BARCLAY Actress/Bathing Beauty………..……………………………….. CATHERINE BRAUND Mack Sennett.…..……………………………………………… BENEDICT CAMPBELL Actress/Bathing Beauty………………………………………….KATRINA REYNOLDS Andy………..…………………………………………………...……..…... JEFF IRVING Ella……….…………………………………………………………. PATTY JAMIESON Actress/Bathing Beauty……….…………………………………...… JANE JOHANSON Lottie………..……………..………………………………….……. GABRIELLE JONES Actress/Bathing Beauty……….………………...………………… CHILINA KENNEDY Frank………...…………………………………………….…………….. JEFF MADDEN William Desmond Taylor………...…… ………….…………………… PETER MILLARD Actor/Keystone Cop………...…………………………….………. MIKE NADAJEWSKI Actress/Bathing Beauty………..…………………… ………… MELANIE PHILLIPSON Mabel Normand……………………………………………………… GLYNIS RANNEY Actress/Bathing Beauty………..……………………...…….……… KIERA SANGSTER Actor/Keystone Cop……….…………………………… ….……… DEVON TULLOCK Kessel………..……………………………………….……………………. JAY TURVEY Actor/Keystone Cop………...…………….………………….……………. MARK UHRE Bauman………..……………………………………………….…..... WILLIAM VICKERS
Synopsis It is 1938, and the days of the silent film are over, effectively ending Mack Sennett’s career. In a series of flashbacks, the great Hollywood comic director reminisces about his career from the sound stage of the studios he once dominated. He relates the glory days of the Keystone Studios from 1910, when he discovered Mabel Normand, star of dozens of his early “two-reelers”. Mack and Mabel fall in love but when they fail to reach the altar, Mabel leaves Mack and he goes on to invent the Keystone Kops, whose iconic image comes to define silent film comedy. Their tempestuous relationship continues over the years as each suffer both personal and professional highs and lows.
Directed by MOLLY SMITH Musical Direction by PAUL SPORTELLI
Choreography by BAAYORK LEE Set & Costumes Design: WILLIAM SCHMUCK
Lighting Design: JOCK MUNRO Sound: JOHN LOTT
Stage Manager: ALISON PEDDIE
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Mack Sennett is famous for many things. He was called a movie mogul, master of fun, the man who introduced Charlie Chaplin to the world, and an in- novator of slapstick comedy. All of this and Cana- dian too (he was born in Québec)! In Mack and Mabel, subtitled “The True Love Story of Mack and Mabel and the Movies”, we witness the rise and fall of Mack Sennett and his comedienne protégé Mabel Normand as they fall in love, rise through the ranks of the world of movie making, create movie history and the inevitable dip that comes from such a glitter- ing ascent to fame and fortune.
We begin in 1929 and Mack looks on as a movie is shot in his Los Angeles studio. As he watches, he pines for the good old days – for the days when he was making movies, movies that really entertained people, that really made ‘em laugh. Suddenly we’re transported back to 1910, back to Mack’s less glam- orous beginnings in Brooklyn. We watch as he di- rects a scene with the famous comedian Fatty Ar- buckle. When the deli girl arrives with a delivery, a star is born! Mabel Normand is her name and, as Mack says, “There was something about her. What- ever she felt just popped right out for the eye to see.” As it seems to happen in the world of movies, she suddenly goes from delivery girl to movie star as she becomes Mack’s ‘two-reel’ star and with Fatty Ar- buckle makes the “Fatty and Mabel” series of movies.
Then Mack the director and Mabel the star become more than just admirers of each other’s work and they fall in love. But Mack’s willing acting student soon comes to see her worth as an artist and wants more than the fierce direction she gets from him. And there are many directors willing to make the more serious movies Mabel feels ready to make. When they fail to reach the altar, Mabel leaves Mack for a director who won’t shout directions at her and
The Story Mack goes on to invent the Keystone Kops, whose iconic image comes to define silent film comedy. Their tempestuous relationship continues over the years as each suffer both personal and professional highs and lows. When Mack is finally ready to make the kinds of movies Mabel wants to make, will she be there when he yells Lights, Camera, Action?
Set Design by William Schmuck
Costume design for Mack Sennett by William Schmuck
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Mack and Mabel
"Heartbreak and passion may both be in fashion but I wanna make the world laugh.”
Mack Sennett
Mack Sennett (1880-1960) was born Michael Sinnott in Richmond, Quebec, Canada. At age seventeen his family moved to Connecticut, New York. In New York City, under the name Mack Sennett, he worked in the performing arts as an actor, singer, dancer, and clown. Later, Sennett worked as a director and set designer for the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company – the first company in the U.S. entirely devoted to film production. He was an innovator of “slapstick comedy” in film and was a Canadian pioneer during the birth of Hollywood, securing him as a lead- ing influence in the motion picture industry. Mack Sennett died at the age of 80 in California.
Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle (1887-1933) was better known professionally as “Fatty” because of his substantial size. Arbuckle was one of the most popular actors of his era but also became widely known for the "Fatty Arbuckle scandal." Despite his size, Arbuckle was a master at prat- falls. His comedies are known for being fast-paced and full of outrageous sight gags. Arbuckle is strongly associated with the famous “pie-in-the-face” clichés made famous with his screen partner Mabel Normand.
Mabel Normand (1892-1929) was born Mabel Ethelreid Fortesque in Atlanta, Georgia. Shortly after her birth, Mabel’s family moved to New York. Her dad was a struggling vaude- ville pianist and her family lived with
very little money. To help support her family, Mabel left school at the age of 14 to become a model and chorus girl for musicals in New York City. She be- gan working in film in 1910 doing one and two- reelers. By 1912, under the director Mack Sennett, she became a silent film star at Keystone Studios. As Mack and Mabel continued working together, they fell in love but never married. She appeared regularly with Fatty Arbuckle and Charlie Chaplin, and di- rected some of Chaplin's early films. She is frequently credited with being the first person to throw a cream pie on film and remains universally acclaimed as si- lent film’s most prominent comedienne. In 1918, she left Sennett’s studios and signed on with Samuel Goldwyn. Her movie star life and career maintained a fast and furious pace, which led to a dependency on drugs. This combination eventually damaged her health and career. Normand died from tuberculosis at the age of 38 in California in 1929.
William Desmond Taylor
(1872-1922) was born in Ire- land as William Cunningham Deane-Tanner, and emigrated to the U.S. in 1890. He was an actor, successful film director of silent movies, and a promi-
nent figure in the early years of Hollywood. Ironically, Taylor is best remembered for his death in 1922. He was found dead in his apartment from a gunshot and his murder remains officially unsolved. At the time of his murder, Taylor was dating Mabel Nor- mand.
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The Authors The show, says Francine Pascal who revised the
original book, is not so much about the films as the energy and novelty of the time. "There was a method, a me- dium that didn't exist before. These people were making it all up as they went along."
Mack and Mabel was written by the team that created the blockbuster hit musical, Hello Dolly!, based on The Matchmaker by Thorton Wilder.
The Book
Mack and Mabel was originally written by Michael Stewart who also penned Hello Dolly! The book was then revised by Stewart’s sister, Francine Pascal. In 1977, the book was nominated for “best musical” at the Tony Awards.
The Score
For a show which ran only 66 performances on Broadway, it is remarkably well-known and well- loved. Considered among Herman’s best work, the score is filled with songs like "I Won't Send Roses", "Time Heals Everything", "Wherever He Ain't" and "Movies were Movies". The score became a cult fa- vourite and immortalized the show.
Jerry Herman (b. 1933) is a cele- brated American composer of Broad- way musical theatre. He composed the scores for the Broadway musicals Hello Dolly!, Mame, and La Cage aux Folles. Raised by musically-inclined
parents, Herman learned to play piano at an early age, and the three frequently attended Broadway musicals. Herman’s involvement in theatre began as a child at summer camp, which was run by his parents, both teachers. While at camp, the young Herman directed Finian's Rainbow and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
In 1964, producer David Merrick united Herman with Carol Channing for a project that was to be- come one of his most successful, Hello, Dolly!. The original production ran for 2,844 performances, the longest running musical for its time, and was later revived three times. Although facing stiff competition from Funny Girl, Hello, Dolly! swept the Tony Awards that season, winning 10 distinctions – a record that remained unbroken for 37 years, until The Producers won 12 Tonys in 2001. Although not commercial successes, Dear World (1969) starring Angela Lans- bury, Mack & Mabel (1974) starring Robert Preston and Bernadette Peters, and The Grand Tour (1979) starring Joel Grey are noted for their interesting con- cepts and their melodic, memorable scores. Herman considers the Mack & Mabel score his personal fa- vourite. Many of Jerry Herman's show tunes have become pop standards. His most famous composi- tion, Hello, Dolly!, is one of the most popular tunes ever to have originated in a Broadway musical; it was a #1 hit in the U.S. for Louis Armstrong, knocking The Beatles off the charts in 1964. Herman is the only composer/lyricist in history to have three musi- cals run more than 1500 performances on Broadway: Hello, Dolly! (2,844), Mame (1,508), and La Cage aux Folles (1,761). His work is honoured by a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Michael Stewart (1929-1987) was an American play- wright and graduate of the Yale School of Drama (1953). Throughout his career, he won four Tony Awards: two for Bye, Bye Birdie as “Best Author” for a musical and/or book and “Best Musical” (1961); two for Hello, Dolly! as “Best Author” for a musical and/or book and “Best Musical” (1964). Stewart was also nominated on eight other occasions for his work on Carnival (1962); Mack and Mabel (1977); I Love My Wife (1980); Barnum (1981); the revival of 42nd Street and Harrigan 'n' Hart (1985).
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Director’s Notes Q: What’s your vision for this play? My vision is to create the wild and chaotic world of early silent filmmaking. Rather than showing the films, we will film them on-stage as if we are in a film studio. When we are filming, the set, costumes and props will be in black and white like silent films and when we’re in ‘real’ scenes, the world will be in colour. Mack and Mabel, who are modeled after Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand, were two of the best artists in silent film. Their love affair is the hot centre of the story. His obsession with film mak- ing above all else is the obstacle which stops them from being together.
Q: Who would you suggest as the ideal audience for your production? Anyone who loves movies and the history of early film- making; anyone who loves great scores since this is Jerry Herman’s best; anyone who is a romantic at heart.
Q: What is your experience in directing musicals? I have been directing large American musicals (like Cabaret and South Pacific) for the past several years and am passionate about the form. I love how subversive musicals are; musicals talk to audiences emotionally in a different way than text does. I am fascinated by how story combined with music, singing and dancing affects an audi- ence in a kinetic way.
Q: What do you find most interesting about this playwright? About this play? Jerry Herman has written a truly great score. I’m dying to immerse myself in the score and lyrics and the crazy filmmaking. Through Mack and Mabel, he has written a wonderful, maddening love affair and we’ll have a great time bringing that love affair to the stage.
Q: Are there any particular challenges you foresee in mounting this story for the stage? Challenges include: the comedy and dance elements, the love affair between Mack and Mabel which always needs to be visceral, and the creation of the rough and tumble world of early filmmaking.
Q: What do you want younger audience members to know about this musical and your direction? I’d like younger audiences to see how important it is to be passionate about the work you choose, to immerse them- selves in the creative process since this musical does this about as well as any I can think of, and to realize that relationships are ultimately more important than work.
Music Director’s Notes The music is by Jerry Herman, the composer and lyricist of classic musicals like Hello, Dolly! and Mame. The Shaw’s musical director Paul Sportelli: “Many consider Mack and Mabel Jerry Herman’s strongest and best musical score. It contains many bright, up tempo songs, that often echo the silent movies, some beautiful ballads, including the torchy ‘Time Heals
Everything’, and a very dramatic song for Mabel called ‘Wherever He Ain't’. The songs are all very tuneful, the kind you can’t get out of your head once you’ve heard them; the kind you leave the theatre humming.”
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The structure of Mack and Mabel deals with the real life struggle of the characters in contrast with the ab- stract world of film. This structure allows a greater canvas on which the designer can work because the link he creates between these two worlds becomes the basis of the design, rather than the mere depic- tion of either one of the worlds of the story. The basic mechanism I have employed in this case is a turntable, which allows the audience to see the worlds presented from all sides and in constant movement, as if through the lens of a camera. The visual concept will be to show the characters’ real life story in colour, and the film sequences with black and white costumes and scenery.
Early Hollywood is a unique subject to inspire a mu- sical and allows the designer to depict the develop- ment of early technologies of film making, from si- lent films into the talkies, as well as showing the content of the films themselves. The inspiration for the basic structure is based on tented outdoor film lots that were used before the development of sophisticated lighting and camera lenses. The use of
The musical opened in New York in 1974, with Robert Preston and Bernadette Peters as Mack and Mabel, and received 8 Tony Nominations. At the 1984 Winter Olympics, British skaters Torvill and Dean skated to the show's overture, driving a huge demand for the original-cast recording and shooting it to number 6 on the UK charts. Four years later, a concert version in London was so favourably re- ceived that plans were made to revive the show in
projected imagery in the set it- self mirrors the basic mecha- nism of watching a film.
This musical begins in 1909 in a small studio in Brooklyn New York and takes us through the pioneering days of early film making into the glamorous
Hollywood of the teens and twenties; the years of Rudolph Valentino and Mary Pickford. We have the opportunity to depict the comic genius of Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton among others. At the heart of this musical is the tumultuous love story of the great comic impresario Mack Sen- nett and the equally talented comedienne Mabel Nor- mand and the impact they had on each other’s ca- reers.
As a costume designer this show is a particular chal- lenge, as one is required to create costumes for the character of Mabel Normand the person, as well as transform her into the many characters she plays in her films, all in front of the audience. The key to all aspects of this production’s design is entirely in the seamless transitions from scene to scene and moment to moment. To be successful, the audience should almost feel as if they are actually watching a film.
New York but it wasn't until seven years later, on November 7, 1995, that a full-scale production, with a book dramatically revised from the original, opened at the Piccadilly Theatre in London, and ran for 270 performances. In 2006, the Newbury Theatre pro- duction of Mack and Mabel was directed by John Doyle, in London’s West End, with David Soul and Janie Dee in the lead roles. The Shaw Festival pro- duction is the first full production in Canada.
Designer’s Notes
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Silent film – Age of the Silver Screen
A silent film is a motion picture with no accompany- ing or synchronized recorded sound such as spoken dialogue. The technology for silent films was in- vented circa 1860 and was a popular form of enter- tainment until the turn-of-the-century. Most films were silent before the late 1920s.
The visual quality of silent movies was very good, especially those made during the silent film era’s last years of producing. Compared to today’s standards, however, silent films are seen to have poor quality and an inferior appeal. This opinion is due, for the most part, to the era’s inconsistency of film speed and the present day condition of many silent films. A vast majority of silent films exist as second or third generation copies, which were often copied from al- ready deteriorated first generation versions. The im- portance of archiving films was not realized until it was too late and many classic films are now perma- nently lost. Prints for these films have become dam- aged beyond repair, recycled, or destroyed in studio fires and space-saving projects. As a result, silent film preservation has been a high priority among movie historians.
Title Cards
With no synchronized sound for dialogue, silent films used onscreen title cards (also known as intertitles). This technique incorporated a piece of printed narra- tion or dialogue, which were inserted into the film’s scenes. The purpose of the titles was to convey char- acter dialogue, or descriptive narrative material re- lated to the film’s storyline. The person responsible for creating the title cards was the title writer, who became an important part of the creative team and the silent film industry. The scenario writer, who
created the story, was often times a separate position from the title writer. Intertitles (or titles) often became part of the film’s design concept. For example, ab- stract decorations, graphic elements, or illustrations were used to communicate aspects of the action or enhance a scene’s aesthetic appeal.
Music and Sound
The first publicly viewed silent film was in 1895. At this showing a pianist provided live music, which be- came a common feature for future silent viewings. Music was considered an integral element of creating the world of the story. It provided the desired at- mosphere and ambience, giving the audience essential cues. In fact, musicians sometimes provided live mu- sic on the set while shooting a film to help convey the action and forward the storylines. Starting in about 1915, it became increasingly popular for large city theatres to hire organists or entire orchestras. The theatre organ could encompass the sounds of an entire score as well as a variety of special effects. This one instrument alone was critical in the develop- ment of the silent score as it made a notable impact on the size and instrumentation of the theatre or- chestra.
The live music heard during the early years of silent film was usually improvised. However, once full fea- tures became commonplace, music was compiled by professional musicians or the movie studio and sent out as a cue sheet with the film. As time progressed, it was not uncommon for films to arrive at the movie theatre with an original, specially composed score to be played while the film was played. In America, the silent film industry became the single largest source of employment for instrumental musicians. The in- troduction of “talkies" and the simultaneous onset of the Great Depression strongly diminished both the demand and hiring opportunities for many musicians.
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Silent film – Age of the Silver Screen continued...
Unfortunately, few film scores of the period are in existence today and musicologists continue to search for restoration techniques that best preserve and re- master those which remain. When viewing a silent film today, one might hear scores that have been completely reconstructed or newly composed or compiled from existing music libraries or even im- provised.
Acting and Cinematography
Actors of silent film emphasized non-verbal commu- nication through the use of facial expression, ges- tures, and postures so that audience members could better understand the emotional state of an on-screen character. By today’s standards, silent film acting is most likely viewed as simplistic and greatly exagger- ated. For this reason, silent comedies tend to be more popular today than silent dramas, because broader acting is, often times, better suited and ac- cepted in comedy.
Before the mid-1920s, most silent films were shot at slower speeds than sound films. For example, silent film was typically created at 16 to 23 frames per sec- ond as compared to the sound film’s speed of 24 frames per second. If silent films are not played at their original speeds they can appear unnaturally fast and frenetic, which reinforces their odd, funny ap- pearance to modern audiences. At the same time, some scenes were intentionally shot using time- lapsed cinematography (a technique that captures im- ages at a rate slower than it will be played back, which when replayed at normal speed, gives the illusion that time is moving faster). This technique was particu- larly popular in “slapstick” comedies which were characterized by broad humour, absurd situations, and vigorous, violent acts. The intended frame rate of
Then and Now: The Historical Context a silent film can be ambiguous and since they were usually hand cranked there can even be variation within one film. When presenting silent films today, such as DVD releases of restored films, the speed in which the film is set is often a sensitive and complex issue among film experts.
Projectionists frequently showed silent films at speeds which were slightly faster than the rate at which they were originally shot. Most films seem to have been shown at 18 frames per second or higher even though 16 frames per second were often cited as “silent speed”. These higher speeds may have been preferred because speeds as slow as 16 frames per second posed considerable risk of fire to the 35mm nitrate base film stock. Interestingly, projectionists would receive a cue sheet from the distributors in- structing how fast particular reels or scenes should be projected and sometimes theatres varied their projec- tion speeds depending on the time of day or popular- ity of a film in order to maximize profit.
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Then and Now: The Historical Context Mack Sennett’s Career (1908 – 1960)
Notable contributions: Keystone Kops, pie-in-the-face wars, slapstick, Sennett Bathing Beauties
After working in New York as a stage actor in smaller roles, Mack Sennett turned his attention to- ward the new medium of film. He began appearing in movies in 1908 at the Biograph Studio. As Sen- nett developed his love of the film business and his skill for writing story ideas and discovering talent, he switched from acting and began to direct and produce. In 1912, after four years in the film busi- ness, he founded the Keystone Film Company.
Sennett was often called the “King of Comedy” and he produced films at a rapid-fire pace. It was not uncommon for several Sen- nett films to be produced in a single day. Keystone Films was also fortu- nate to secure soon-to-be stars as part of their roster of talent. Some exam- ples include: Mabel Normand, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, and Ben Turpin. In
addition, Sennett helped develop the legendary ca- reers of Charlie Chaplin, Gloria Swanson, Carole Lombard, Bing Crosby, W.C. Fields, and Buster Keaton.
In spite of the appearance of Sennett’s films, which were often frenetic and seemingly improvised, the format was formulaic. Sennett believed that view- ers could more readily identify with a stock set of characters and therefore directed his actors to play specific stereotypes. He also issued firm rules about the types of ‘gags’ the Keystone Studios used. The only two categories allowed in his storylines were: "the fall from dignity” and “the mistaken identity."
Well-known techniques of silent comedy are visual and physical humour. This style of acting became
known as “slapstick” comedy and it was used to con- vey a film’s story as well as entertain audiences. ‘Pratfalls’, such as the now famous pie-in-the-face or slipping on a banana peel, are classic examples of slapstick. Mabel Normand is sometimes credited for throwing the very first onscreen pie-in-the-face.
One of Sennett’s famous inventions was the “Keystone Kops”. Historically, cop characters were portrayed as figures of fear and sometimes fun but Sennett’s cops were created in a less serious manner. They were far more comedic and usually included figures of authority that were really nothing more than incompetent fools incapable of doing the job properly. Some historians identify Sennett’s Keystone Kops for being responsible for the changes made to the North American police forces uniforms: from the English style hats to the military style officers’ caps. This was due to the strong association that de- veloped, by the 1920s, between the English hat and slapstick comedy.
A less well-known fact is that Mack Sen- nett was one of the first producers to add a sense of glamour to the film in- dustry. One of the best examples of this glamour was his film series which introduced the public to the Keystone Bathing Beauties.
By the mid-1930s, in the expanding era of “talkies”, Sennett’s career declined. Talkies changed the way films were made which motivated him to gracefully accept an early retirement. In 1938 Sennett was pre- sented with an Academy Honorary Award. Also, for his contribution to the motion picture industry he was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and in 2004, was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame.
Sennett produced more than a thousand silent films and several dozen talkies during his 25-year career. He died in 1960 at the age of 80.
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The Keystone Kops were a series of silent film comedies featuring an incompetent group of police- men produced by Mack Sennett for his Keystone Film Company between 1912 – 1917. The casting of the Keystone police force changed from one film to the next; many of the individual members were per diem actors.
The idea came from Hank Mann, who also played police chief Tehiezel in the first film before being re- placed by Ford Sterling. Their first film was Hoff- meyer's Legacy (1912) but their popularity came from the 1913 feature The Bangville Police. However, as early as 1914 they were being pushed out by Sennett in fa- vour of comedians like Charlie Chaplin and Fatty Ar- buckle.
The Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Pen- zance features, in the second act, a platoon of incom- petent and cowardly policemen, under a Sergeant, engaged by Frederic to arrest the pirates. Although the stage show dates from 1879 and the Keystone Kops appeared a quarter-century later, it is now cus- tomary for the police- men in the show to be portrayed in the style of the Keystone Kops.
The term has since come to be used to criticize any group for
its mistakes, particularly if the mistakes happened after a great deal of energy and activity, or if there was a lack of coordination among the members of the group.
Keystone Studios
In Edendale, California, Mack Sennett founded the Keystone Studios in 1912. Many important actors started their careers at Keystone, including Charlie Chaplin, Raymond Griffith, Gloria Swanson, George O’Hara, and Ford Sterling.
The studio is perhaps best remembered for the era under Mack Sennett when he created the slapstick antics of the Keystone Kops. Charlie Chaplin got his start at Keystone when Sennett hired him fresh from his vaudeville career to make silent films. Sen- nett's slapstick comedies were noted for their wild car chases and cream pies warfare. His films featured a bevy of girls known as the Sennett Bathing Beauties which included Mabel Normand, who became a ma- jor star and with whom he embarked on a tumultu- ous personal relationship.
Then and Now: The Historical Context
Pictured above: Mack Sennett’s Keystone Studios
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Then and Now: The Historical Context Canadian Pioneers in Early Hollywood
In the early 1900s, young men and women from Canada were drawn to the United States by the ex- panding motion picture industry. With the great success of silent motion pictures, nickelodeons (small, neighbourhood movie theatres that charged a nickel for admission) were built in numerous loca- tions across North America. New production com- panies soon opened to compete with Thomas Edi- son’s success in making movies. The motion picture business in the U.S. was primarily based in New York City as a direct result of the location of Edi- son's laboratories in nearby West Orange, New Jer- sey. As a result, most of these Canadian pioneers began their careers in New York.
The Move From New York to Hollywood
Around 1910, the East Coast filmmakers began to take advantage of California winters and after Nestor Studios, run by Canadian Al Christie, built the first permanent movie studio in Hollywood a number of the movie companies expanded or relo- cated to the new Hollywood.
Canadian Film Pioneers in Hollywood
Here is a list of a few Canadians who played an inte- gral role in the building of Hollywood: Al Christie (1881-1951) - co-founder of Christie Film Company, director/producer/screenwriter Marie Dressler (1869-1934) - Academy Award for Best Actress Florence Lawrence (1886-1938) - America's "first movie star" Louis B. Mayer (1885-1957) - co-founder of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Motion Picture Studios Mary Pickford, (1892-1979) - "America's Sweet- heart," Academy Award for Best Actress, Co- founder of United Artists
Mack Sennett (1880-1960) - director, known as the "King of Comedy" Nell Shipman (1892-1970) - actress, writer, director and producer Jack Warner (1892-1978) - co-founder of Warner Brothers Fay Wray (1907-2004) - actress, best known for her role in the original King Kong movie
The Canadian Scene in Hollywood
Several of these Canadian pioneers achieved enor- mous wealth and worldwide fame, such as Louis B. Mayer and Mary Pickford who were, in their day, the most powerful personalities in Hollywood and two individuals who are unsurpassed in their contribu- tions to the development of the motion picture in- dustry. Canadians were recognized as professionals who excelled at their craft. Louis B. Mayer was known to hire Canadian compatriots on the spot. Not only did Canadian female actresses dominate at the box office for most of the late 1920s and mid- 1930s, the Academy Award for Best Actress was won by a Canadian woman three years in a row from 1929-1931: Mary Pickford in Coquette, Norma Shearer in The Divorcee, and Marie Dressler in Min and Bill.
Today, many Canadians have found fame and fortune in Hollywood, but these pioneers who traveled south when Hollywood was still in its infancy made a last- ing impact on the shape and future of the motion picture industry.
Pictured above (left to right, top to bottom): Al Christie, Marie Dressler, Florence Lawrence, Louis B. Mayer, Mary Pickford, Mack Sennett, Norma Shearer, Nell Shipman, Jack Warner, Fay Wray.
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Then and Now: The Historical Context Scandals of the Silent Screen Era
The Fatty Arbuckle Scandal
Roscoe C. Arbuckle was at the height of his career, earning an impressive one million dollars a year at Paramount Studios
when a most unfortunate and personal situation un- folded.
On September 3, 1921, Arbuckle and two friends, Lowell Sherman and Fred Fischbach, decided to drive to San Francisco. They reserved a hotel room, threw a party, and invited a host of women to join them in their suite. At the party, Virginia Rappe (a young, aspiring actress) became seriously ill. Just three days later, the 26 year old died of peritonitis (an inflammation of the abdominal lining, often ac- companied by illness) caused by a ruptured bladder. Rappe’s friend, Maude Delmont, accused Arbuckle of rape and rupturing Rappe’s bladder in the proc- ess. Arbuckle remained adamant that he had noth- ing to be ashamed of and confidently voiced his in- nocence.
Arbuckle’s career is seen by many as one of the great tragedies of Hollywood. During the trial, vari- ous newspaper stories positioned Arbuckle in a guilty light. In the end, two trials resulted in hung juries, the third trial resulted in an acquittal and, for the first time in American justice, a written apology was given from the jury.
Although Arbuckle was free of all allegations, the negative attention gained by the ordeal destroyed his professional career. Across the country, moral- ity groups advocated the death sentence while the trail was unfolding, and studio executives forbade Arbuckle’s colleagues to come to his public defense. Buster Keaton did, however, make a public state- ment of support calling Roscoe one of the kindest souls he had ever known.
Murder of William Desmond Taylor
On February 1, 1922, William Desmond Taylor, the Paramount producer, was murdered shortly after a visit with Mabel Normand. The two were close friends and shared common interests, such as their love for books, and Taylor tried to help Mabel with her ongo- ing battle with drug addiction. After escorting Mabel to her limousine, and while walking back to his Hol- lywood home, Taylor was shot and killed. During the inquest that followed, several witnesses came forward reporting that they had seen a young, dark-haired man leaving Taylor’s house after hearing a gunshot. Despite a list of numerous suspects, the murderer was never found and the case remains unsolved.
An interesting theory, which involved Normand, emerged from the inquest. Taylor had gone to the federal government for help in stopping the drug
suppliers who were supporting Mabel’s cocaine habit. This intervention was seen as a potential threat to the drug trafficking business, which prompted the suppli- ers to hire a hit man to “silence” Taylor. Taylor was a high profile member of Hollywood society, and could be seen hosting and attending parties where liquor was served, which was against the law during the Pro- hibition era. The press elevated this fact and spun stories about his so-called wild ways. Given that Tay- lor’s murder came shortly after the “Fatty Arbuckle scandal” and the drug-related death of actor Wallace Reid, Hollywood felt the need to “clean up its act”. The Motion Picture Producers and Directors Asso- ciation hired a new president, Will Hays, who was key to bringing a new age of censorship and studio con- trol to the Hollywood regime.
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Then and Now: The Historical Context The Scandals of Mabel Normand
Although Normand was not consid- ered a suspect in the William Des- mond Taylor murder, she was the last person to see him alive. This
motivated police to thoroughly examine Mabel and she was asked to appear in court during the inquest. The story was widely publicized in the media at the time of the murder and inquest. Taylor’s murder and the ongoing trials of her early co-star and close friend Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, along with public reports of her drug use, created poor publicity for Mabel which had a damaging effect on her career. Many parts of the United States refused to distrib- ute the Arbuckle films, which essentially banned Mabel since the “Fatty and Mabel” series were a mainstay of Arbuckle’s work. To make matters worse, in 1923, while Mabel was attending a New Year’s party, her chauffeur shot the host of the party, Courtland Dines. Fortunately, Dines was not killed, but Mabel owned the gun used in the shooting. The chauffeur, Horace Greer, turned out to be an ex-convict and was living under the assumed name of Joe Kelly. Not surprisingly, the media made the most of the story and Mabel, again, found herself in misfortunate circumstances. The driver said he shot Dines defending Mabel’s honour and he refused to testify. Surprisingly, the court found the chauffeur not guilty of assault but the public found Mabel guilty of poor judgment. Again, Mabel’s films fell in ill-favour and were banned in a number of U.S. cities. Mabel also dealt with Mrs. Norman Church who accused her of developing a “relationship” with Church’s husband while Mabel was in the hospital nursing a broken leg. Mabel was riled by the accu- sation, and sued Mrs. Church for libel and $500,000 dollars, but she lost her case.
With Taylor’s murder, the Dines’ fiasco, the Arbuckle trials, the Church lawsuit, and Mabel's taxing lifestyle, her health and reputation began to fail. Mabel took a hiatus from the film industry for a few years, but in 1926, she was signed by Hal Roach Studios. Director and producer F. Richard Jones, who had directed Mabel while starring at Keystone, offered her a sec- ond chance with roles in four new films. The Holly- wood community (including her friend Mary Pickford) supported this second chance but the pub- lic did not respond favourably. By the late 1920s, having completed more than 250 films, Mabel’s career came to a close.
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DID
Did You Know?
A “two-reeler” was a motion picture, especially a cartoon or comedy, of 20 to 24 minutes duration and contained two reels of film. Two-reelers were especially popular in the era of silent films. “One-reelers” contained only one reel of film and were 10 to 12 min- utes 12 minutes long.
Silent films were produced from 1860 to 1928
This era was known as the “Age of the Silver Screen”
Top 10 grossing silent films: The Birth of a Nation (1915) - $10,000,000
The Big Parade (1925) - $6,400,000 Ben-Hur (1925) - $5,500,000
Way Down East (1920) - $5,000,000 The Gold Rush (1925) - $4,250,000
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) - $4,000,000 The Circus (1928) - $3,800,000
The Covered Wagon (1923) - $3,800,000 The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1923) - $3,500,000
The Ten Commandments (1925) - $3,400,000
In 1895, Louis Lumière, a French inventor and film- maker, along with his brother Auguste Lumière, invented a camera and projector called the cinematograph. This new technology allowed audiences to see, for the first time, large projections of motion pictures. The Lumière brothers unveiled their new invention (a 360 degree panoramic projec- tor using 70mm film) at the Paris International Ex- hibition of 1900.
Photoplay music is the term given to
music written specifically for the
accompaniment of silent films
Sennett also had interests in real estate and once tried to develop a large tract of land in Holly- wood. To promote his scheme he erected a huge sign. Does it look familiar? When the sign fell into disrepair city officials re- moved the word "land" and had the rest of the sign rebuilt. It is, perhaps, the most lasting sym- bol of Hollywood, and was the creation of Mack Sennett.
Mack Sennett’s “Hollywoodland” sign, circa 1923.
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Definition: Slapstick (n)
1. comedy based on deliberately clumsy actions and humorously em- barrassing events. 2. a device consisting of two flexible pieces of wood joined together at one end, used by clowns and in pantomime to produce a loud slapping sound.
Did You Know?
Slapstick describes a school of comedy that cen- tered on characters being physically abused (e.g., hit, slapped, poked, tripped, etc.)
Silent film borrowed slapstick comedy from the American vaudeville acts. Slapstick made a success- ful transition to the silent screen where the lack of dialogue made subtler forms of comedy more diffi- cult
Slapstick comedy was a universal language that made early comedies accessible for an international audience
History of the Slapstick
The style of slapstick comedy is derived from the Commedia dell’arte, which was an Italian kind of im- provised comedy based on stock characters and em- ployed a great deal of physical abuse and tumbling, popular in the 16th-18th centuries. The “slap-stick”, which dates back to the Renaissance, was made of two flat pieces of wood fastened at the base to form a handle. When one of the boards was struck against something solid (e.g., another person) one board would strike the other, making a loud cracking sound that created the illusion of someone being struck much harder than they actually were. Theatre histori- ans suggest that slapstick comedy has been present in comedic genres since the ancient Greek and Roman theatre and was revitalized in the middle ages.
Popular Physical Comedians: Past to Present
Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges and the Keystone Kops. (Images below, clock- wise from left.)
More contemporary examples include: Kosmo Kramer (Michael Richard’s TV character on Sein- feld), Jim Carey, Mr. Bean, Jack Tripper (John Ritter’s TV character on Three’s Company). Slap- stick comedy is also common in animated car- toons such as The Simpsons, Tom and Jerry, and Looney Tunes.
In 1994, the Keystone Kops were honoured with their image on a United States post- age stamp designed by caricaturist Al Hirschfeld. This stamp clearly featured the spelling “Keystone Cops”, not “Kops”. It should be noted that Mack Sennett's Keystone Film Studio always used the spelling “Cops” (not “Kops”) whenever publicizing their films. Surviving press releases from Keystone Studios contain phrases such as “another ‘Cop’ comedy”. The “Kops” misspelling is a modern er- ror which has now become engrained in the public consciousness. Although Mack Sennett became a hugely successful businessman, throughout his life he was deeply sensitive about his lack of formal edu- cation. It is unlikely that he would have condoned an intentional misspelling of “Cops”, out of fear that the public might think Sennett did not know the proper spelling. No contemporary citation of the “Kop” spelling has ever surfaced.
18
Basinger, Jeanine. (2000). Silent Stars. (ISBN 0-8195-6451-6).
Brownlow, Kevin. (1990). Behind the Mask of Innocence. New York: Knopf. (ISBN 0-394-57747-7)
Bean, Jennifer M. & Negra, Diane. (2002). A Feminist Reader in Early Cinema (Camera Obscura Book). Durham, NC: Duke University Press. (ISBN 0-8223-2999-9)
Cook, David A. (1990). A History of Narrative Film, 2nd edition. New York: W.W. Norton. (ISBN0-393- 95553-2)
Eyman, Scott (1997). The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution, 1926-1930. New York: Simon & Schuster. (ISBN 0-684-81162-6)
Fussell, Betty Harper. (1982). Mabel: Hollywood's First I-Don't-Care Girl. (ISBN 0-87910-158-X).
Foster, Charles. (2000). Stardust and Shadows: Canadians in Early Hollywood. (ISBN 1-55002-348-9)
Koszarski, Richard. (1990). History of The American Cinema - An Evening's Entertainment: the Age of the Silent Feature Picture, 1915-1928. New York: Charles Scriber's Sons. (ISBN 0-684-18415-X
Parkinson, David. (1995). History of Film. New York: Thames and Hudson. (ISBN 0-500-20277-X)
Sherman, William Thomas. (2006). Mabel Normand: A Source Book to Her Life and Films
Standish, Isolde. (2005). A New History of Japanese Cinema: A Century of Narrative Film. New York: Continuum. (ISBN 0-8264-1709-4)
Web Resources
Madcap Mabel: Mabel Normand Biography http://slapstick-comedy.com/Mabel/Bio05.html
Mack Sennett Biography, http://movies2.nytimes.com/gst/movies/filmography.html?p_id=110811
The following pages suggest questions and activities students might explore BEFORE attending Mack and Mabel
Activities relate to Ministry of Education expectations for Drama and Dance at the junior, intermediate and senior levels. To obtain Ontario Curriculum documents, visit www.edu.gov.on.ca
Movie Stars of the Early Cinema
Movie stars have existed from the time of the earliest motion pictures. Using the internet, research the fol- lowing examples, all either depicted or mentioned in Mack and Mabel:
Classroom Applications
Narrative 1:
• Charlie Chaplin
• Al Jolson
• Gloria Swanson
• Lillian Gish
• Fatty Arbuckle
• Buster Keaton
• Norma Talmadge
Mack and Mabel, the semi-factual tale of Canadian-born film director and producer Mack Sennett, and actress Mabel Normand, entwines three narratives: a story of Hollywood movies, a story of fame, and a story of romance. The student activities that follow, both pre-show and post-show, are organized accordingly.
Pictured above (from left to right): Charlie Chaplin, Al Jolson, Gloria Swanson, Lillian Gish and Norma Talmadge.
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Movie Vocabulary
Match the term in Column A (movie terms) with the correct definition in Column B (definitions).
Column A: Column B: 1. grip a. someone who provides money for a project; also called a backer
2. boom b. a beam that holds or moves a microphone or camera, usually mounted on a crane
3. angel c. a rotating piece of equipment that unrolls painted scenery behind the main action of a scene
4. 2-reeler d. erase mistakes in movies by cutting and then re-attaching (splicing) sections of the film
5. cylinder e. the main attraction in a double-bill presentation at the movies 6. strike f. a piece of scenery made of a wooden frame covered by fabric or lightweight board
7. feature g. powerful type of light once used in motion pictures, named after the brothers who invented it
8. story conference h. to switch time or place in a movie by moving abruptly from one scene to another
9. flat i. a cone-shaped device for magnifying the voice, used by early film directors to give instructions
10. megaphone j. a general assistant available on a movie set for shifting scenery and moving furniture
11. jump cut k. a meeting to discuss possible plots, settings, and characters for a movie
12. klieg l. to remove the scenery, furniture, and props required to shoot a scene
13. edit out m. a short movie, popular in early film that was shot and stored on two rolls of film
ACTIVITY
Before the “Talkies”
Mack and Mabel tells the story of how movies progressed from early 20th century silent motion pictures to the early “talkies” of the late 1920s. Silent motion pictures usually displayed the following similar qualities:
Using the guidelines above, in groups of four create a “silent movie style” depiction of the scenario described on the next page.
1. The actors used exaggerated gestures to help communicate the story.
2. The actors mouthed their lines while captions or subtitles on the screen supplied shortened versions of dialogue.
3. Organ or piano music, played while the movies were shown, heightened the mood of the story.
4. Heroes were clearly heroes and villains were clearly villains.
5. Damsels in distress were rescued in the nick of time from a terrible fate.
ACTIVITY
21
Part of the task will involve creating dialogue subtitles or captions that someone in the group will display as the scene progresses.
Select appropriate music to play on a CD during your scene.
After watching each group’s version of the scene, discuss the difficulties of communicating a story in the style of a silent movie.
Silent Movie Scenario
The poor young heroine, who works for a hand laundry company, is scrubbing clothes in an old wash- tub, with her baby in a basket beside her. She is exhausted from working all day with little food.
When she stops work for a moment to check on her baby, the villain silently enters and watches her gleefully. Looking up, she is surprised by his approach.
Standing menacingly over her, the villain orders the heroine to bring him money from the company safe. Although afraid of him, she refuses.
The villain threatens to harm the baby if the heroine doesn’t obey. She begs him to leave her and the child alone.
The villain grabs the baby. The heroine pleads with him not to hurt her child.
The villain laughs at her and knocks her to the ground.
At this important moment, the hero enters, unaware of the situation. He is a regular customer of the laundry who is bringing some clothes to be pressed.
When the hero sees the villain threatening the young woman, he approaches bravely and commands the villain to return the child and leave. The villain refuses.
The hero rescues the baby, returns it to the heroine, and ties the villain’s hands with a towel from the laundry tub.
The heroine hugs her baby and gently places it in its basket.
The hero helps the heroine rise to her feet.
The hero and the heroine embrace.
ACTIVITY (continued)
What’s Talent Got to Do with It?
• As a class, create a list of students’ favorite celebrities in music, television, movies, and sports.
• Individually, collect information about a self-selected celebrity from the list. Information should focus on details of the celebrity’s rise to fame.
Findings should be presented as a one-page resume with a picture attached, in the style of a contact sheet.
• In small groups, report to each other about your celebrities.
• As a class, discuss the rise to stardom in terms of (a) luck, (b) coincidence, (c) hard work, (d) persistence, and (e) natural ability.
Decide as a class how well the following sayings fit your celebrity stories:
“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
“Genius is 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration.”
“You have to be in the right place at the right time.”
“Luck is everything.”
The Price of Fame: Life in the Tabloids
• In groups of 3, create a collage of celebrity pictures and headlines found in current tabloid magazines and newspapers. As a class, view the collages and answer the following questions:
1. What topics are frequently mentioned in celebrity tabloid articles?
2. What invasions of privacy are evident in the pictures and stories?
3. Is it acceptable for photographers to take hidden pictures of celebrities? Why or why not?
4. Based on evidence provided in the collages, what are the advantages / disadvantages of a life of fame?
5. How do celebrity lives affect ordinary people’s expectations of their own lives?
6. Why is the public so interested in the private lives of famous people?
7. Why do people like celebrity scandal?
ACTIVITY
23
Do Girls Like “Bad Boys”?
A male character in Mack and Mabel warns a female character that he is not a “good” boyfriend. Despite his honest self-criticism, the female character continues to pursue him romantically.
• As a class, list qualities of a “good” boyfriend versus a “bad” boyfriend.
• What qualities make “bad boys” appealing to girls?
In small groups, label each of the following statements about a boyfriend either (a) unimportant, (b) serious but workable with minor changes, or (c) unacceptable. Give reasons for your choices.
He makes promises he doesn’t keep.
He says he’s not good enough for his girlfriend.
He lets other interests come before his girlfriend.
He is bossy to his girlfriend.
He takes his girlfriend for granted.
He belittles his girlfriend in front of other people.
He cheats on his girlfriend with someone else.
He doesn’t buy romantic gifts.
ACTIVITY
DISCUSSION
Character A is a very outgoing and confident high school student who is president of the drama club. Character
A loves writing and directing one-act comedies and is currently working on an original script to enter into a re- gional festival. Character A can be obsessive and bossy when directing a play.
Character B is a good friend of Character A, but with a much calmer and less driven personality. Food is impor- tant to Character B, who often eats snacks and enjoys discussing the quality of local fast-food restaurants. Char-
acter B has a friendly and positive outlook, and is involved in the drama club with Character A.
Character C is new to the school. While looking for the gym, Character C accidentally interrupted a drama re- hearsal. Character A invited Character C to join the drama club. Character C is now playing a lead role in Character A’s one-act comedy. Character C has quickly become a friend of Character B. Character C is at- tracted to Character A.
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• Your group task is to create the following series of telephone conversations among the three characters.
• First, assign yourselves one of the three characters to play, and give your character a name. Then discuss possible topics for the comedy the drama club is working on.
• Now you are ready to create the telephone conversations. Remember to incorporate aspects of your character description (in the boxes above) into the dialogue. Any details not supplied in these descriptions should come from your imaginations.
Conversation 1: (C calls B)
Character C calls Character B to find out information about Character A, especially about Charac-
ter A’s dating history. Character B fills in some details and offers to find out if Character A is inter- ested in dating Character C.
Conversation 2: (B calls A)
Character B calls Character A and casually mentions Character C. Eventually, Character B asks what Character A thinks of Character C as a possible girlfriend/boyfriend. Character A is too in- volved in the play to think about dating right now. Character B tries to interest Character A in Char-
acter C, with no luck.
Conversation 3: (C calls A)
Character C gets up the courage to call Character A, supposedly to talk about the play. Character C tries to guide the conversation to a more personal topic, like the upcoming school dance, but Charac-
ter A keeps bringing the conversation back to the play, showing no interest in the school dance.
Conversation 4: (C calls B)
This conversation takes place about a week later. Character C has a date for the school dance with the captain of the school’s track team. Character C, realizing that Character A has been showing no in- terest in dating, has decided to quit the drama club and join the track team. Character B unsuccessfully tries to talk Character C out of this decision.
Conversation 5 (B calls A)
Character B calls Character A with the news that Character C is dating the captain of the track team and plans to quit the drama club. Character A doesn’t want to lose Character C in the play and plans to take action.
Conversation 6 (A calls C)
Character A calls Character C and asks for a date to the school dance. What will Character C decide to do? How does the telephone conversation sequence end?
ACTIVITY (continued)
The following pages suggest questions and activities students might explore
AFTER attending Mack and Mabel
The Purpose of Movies
• In small groups, list your favorite movies of all time and give reasons for your choices.
As a real-life producer and director, Mack Sennett achieved fame by creating hundreds of short comic films, often as many as six a week, called two-reelers. Throughout the play, Mack expresses definite opin- ions about the appeal of movies to the audience. According to Mack:
“Movies were movies when you paid a dime to escape.”
“No one pretended that what we were doing was art.”
“We were just making a buck.”
“Audiences find that pain is amusing.”
“Speed, that’s what it was all about.”
“Don’t give’em time to think, that’s when they stop laughing.”
“Whaddaya need a script for? You wanna be a writer? Great, get outta movies.”
“People just adore a fight that’s death defying.”
In Mack’s view, movies appeal to audiences when they include:
(a) an obvious hero who wins and a villain who loses
(b) action scenes and chases
(c) incompetent and bumbling police
(d) Crime
(g) recognizable star performers
DISCUSSION
26
• Do you agree with Mack’s opinions about audience preferences in movies?
• Using the movies selected by your group as favorites, decide how accurately Mack’s requirements fit to- day’s popular films.
• Are the purposes of movies and live theatre the same?
Returning to your group, select one of the following statements to defend:
The primary purpose of movies is to make money for the producers. Movies are mainly a business.
The primary purpose of movies is to offer the audience an escape from life’s problems. Movies are mainly en-
tertainment.
The primary purpose of movies is to create meaningful statements about life. Movies are mainly an art form.
DISCUSSION (continued)
Questions: The Role of Technology in Early Movies
Answer the following questions based on your recollection of Mack and Mabel: 1. How were early film cameras operated?
2. How was early film stored and played?
3. When directors filmed a chase scene, how was the illusion of movement across large distance created?
4. Why did movie companies move from New York to California in the 1920s?
5. What major problems were encountered when actors began to speak on film? What solutions does the play hint at?
Knowledge and Prediction Questions: The Role of Technology in Today’s Movies
1. What technological advances have affected the movie industry since the days of the early talkies? Give ex- amples of recent movies that rely heavily on technology.
Mack and Mabel spans two decades (1910 to 1929), when the movie industry was changed forever by the addi- tion of sound to pictures on film. 2. What technological advances do you predict might happen in the same decades of the 21st century?
The Role of Technology in Live Theatre: A Comparison to the Movies
Identify examples of technology used on stage in the Shaw Festival production of Mack and Mabel.
1. What characteristics of live theatre determine the kinds of technology that can be used in a production?
2. From an audience perspective, what similarities exist between watching a movie and watching a play?
3. What are the major differences?
4. What rules of audience behaviour apply to the movies? To live theatre?
DISCUSSION
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Mabel’s Scrapbook of Fame
Imagine that an early movie fan has kept a photo scrapbook of Mabel’s career in the movies. Your group task is to create a living representation of the pictures and captions that would be included. Because the pictures will require several different characters, group members will take on various roles as Mabel’s career progresses. Each of the following pictures should be introduced by announcing an appropriate caption.
Picture 1 – Mack “discovers” Mabel
Mabel delivers a sandwich from the deli as Mack films a scene with Lottie and Fatty. Mabel’s arrival inter- rupts the scene just as Lottie and Fatty are about to embrace.
Picture 2 – Mabel’s career begins
In an early movie, Mabel pleads with a wicked landlord who wants to evict her during a snowstorm. While Mack shoots the scene, Mabel gets paper snow caught in her mouth, and spits it out while begging the landlord not to leave her homeless in the cold. Mack realizes that Mabel has enormous comic potential.
Picture 3 – Mabel’s first California movie
In her first film in California, Mabel searches through a parade of soldiers for the father of her baby, repre- sented by a rolled-up sweater she carries in her arms.
Picture 4 – Mabel discovers drugs
Overworked, Mabel runs from one film set to another. Someone offers a sandwich for her to bite. Some- one adjusts her hair and costume, someone hands her a glass of water and a pill. On the verge of exhaus- tion, she needs drugs to keep up the pace.
Picture 5 – Mabel is offered a serious script
Frank Capra shows Mabel the script of a feature film he has written especially for her. Mack finds the two of them discussing the story and orders Mabel to return to the movie set where the crew is waiting for her.
Picture 6 – Mack belittles Mabel
With Fatty playing a Roman emperor and Lottie playing his wife, Mabel plays the emperor’s maid, who is supposed to trip and spill the soup. Mack belittles Mabel in front of the cast and crew when she objects to his style of directing.
ACTIVITY
28
Picture 7 – Mabel leaves Keystone Studio
As Mabel packs her belongings from the studio dressing room, Lottie tries to persuade her not to leave the company. In the doorway, Mack apologizes to Mabel for cheating on her with another woman, but Mabel refuses to listen.
Picture 8 – Mabel works with William Desmond Taylor
Mabel and Taylor are filming a movie. Taylor plays a wealthy and unkind man, while Mabel plays his wife. When Mabel’s character demands a divorce, Taylor’s character raises his hand to strike her. Mabel strikes a strong and defiant pose.
Picture 9 – Mabel returns to Keystone Studio
Hearing that Mack needs her help, Mabel returns to Keystone Studio and is greeted by her old friends. When Mack appears, she leaves the others and walks toward him.
Picture 10 – Birth of the Keystone Kops
Playing Officer Dan, Fatty has spotted Mabel’s character crying on a park bench. Fatty accidentally rips his pants and knocks a baby bottle over Mabel. More police enter the scene, bump into Fatty, and send him sprawling on the bench.
Picture 11 – Mabel leaves Keystone Studio again
Mabel and Taylor are about to board a boat for Paris, when Mack arrives on the scene and argues with Mabel. To help calm her down, Taylor gives Mabel some pills.
Picture 12 – Mabel’s career is ruined by scandal
After Taylor is murdered in his bedroom, media crowd around Mabel to hear her version of the story. Newspaper headlines read “Scandal ends Mabel’s career”.
Pictured below: various photographs of Mabel Normand throughout her career
ACTIVITY (continued)
29
Symbols of Love and Love Triangles In telling the love story between Mack and Mabel, playwright Michael Stewart relies partly on:
(a) the use of a napkin ring and flowers as symbols of love, and
(b) love triangles composed of Mack/Mabel/Frank Capra and Mack/Mabel/William Desmond Taylor.
In this group activity, students create a movement-based depiction of Mack and Mabel’s love story, focusing on symbols and love triangles. Working on this activity will demonstrate the important function of symbolic objects in telling a story. The action should progress through the following sequence of events and circumstances:
· Sitting down at dinner, Mabel lets Mack know that she is interested in him. Mack explains honestly that he doesn’t want to get involved. He tells her that he isn’t romantic and won’t send flowers.
· Mabel takes a napkin ring from the table, offers it to Mack, and asks him to put it on her finger. He does, but then changes his mind, and tries to call things off. Mabel keeps the ring.
· Frank Capra shows Mabel a script he has written for her.
· Mack catches Mabel talking to Frank about the script and orders her back to work.
· Mabel threatens to leave because of the way Mack treats her on the movie set.
· Mack and Mabel get engaged.
· Mabel catches Mack with another woman.
· Mack sends flowers and Mabel refuses them.
· Packing to leave, Mabel looks for the napkin ring, but can’t find it.
· Mabel dances with William Desmond Taylor as Mack watches.
· Mack takes the napkin ring out of his pocket, stares at it, throws it in the air and catches it.
· Mabel leaves William Desmond Taylor and returns to Mack’s studio.
· Frank Capra offers flowers to Mabel and she accepts them.
· Mack appears. Mabel returns the flowers to Frank and goes to Mack.
· Mack starts making a serious movie with Mabel, but gets sidetracked by the Keystone Kops and ignores her.
· Mabel leaves Mack and returns to William Desmond Taylor.
· Mack arrives with flowers. Instead of making up, however, he and Mabel argue.
· Mabel leaves with William Desmond Taylor and Mack throws the flowers away.
· After the scandal of Taylor’s murder, Mack vows to rescue Mabel’s career and marry her. Mack offers Mabel the napkin ring and she accepts it.
Narrative 3:
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Writing in Role: A Happy Ending?
Throughout the play, Mack boasts that all of his movies feature happy endings, with the hero saving the heroine from an unfair and evil fate. Mack and Mabel ends with Mack making a similar promise to Mabel. He vows that:
he and Mabel will be happily married,
he will finish the movie that Frank Capra wrote for Mabel, and
the success of the movie will rescue Mabel’s career from the scandal of William Desmond Taylor’s murder.
Imagine that you have been hired to write a final monologue for Mack and Mabel that takes place one year after the ending of the play. Spoken from the perspective of a character of your choice from the play, the monologue should explain whether or not Mack’s “happy ending” promises came true.
ACTIVITY
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A GLOSSARY OF SELECT TERMS & CAREERS IN THE THEATRE
BLOCKING: The actor’s movement on stage is known as “blocking”. The Stage Manager writes the blocking notation into the Prompt Script.
COSTUME: Anything that an actor wears on stage is referred to as a costume. The Wardrobe department (the department responsible for creating costumes) provides clothes, shoes, hats, and any personal accessories such as umbrellas, purses and eyeglasses.
DROP: A drop is a large piece of painted canvas that is “flown in” by the flyman (see FLYMAN).
GREEN ROOM: The green room, usually near the entrance to the stage, is where the actors and crew sit while waiting for their turn to go on stage. One possible explanation of how the green room got its name is that actors used to wait for their entrances at the back of the theatre in an area where the scenery was stored. Perhaps the scenery was green, or the name “scene room” evolved into “green room”.
ORCHESTRA PIT: The orchestra pit is the place where the musi- cians perform during a musical. Usually the orchestra pit is between the front row of the audience and the stage.
PROPS: A property or “prop” is anything that the audience sees that is not worn by an actor and is not a structural part of the set. Some examples are: tables, chairs, couches, carpets, pictures, lamps, weapons, food eaten during a play, dishes, cutlery, briefcases, books, newspapers, pens, telephones, curtains and anything else you can imagine.
PROSCENIUM: A term describing the physical characteristics of a theatre. A proscenium theatre is one in which the audience and the actors are separated by a picture-frame opening that the audience looks through to see the actors, (e.g. Shaw Festival’s mainstage and Royal George Theatres). Surrounding this opening is the PROSCE- NIUM ARCH. If there is an acting area on the audience side of the proscenium arch, it is referred to as the APRON.
SCRIM: A scrim is a piece of gauze that is painted and used as part of the scenery. When a scrim is lit from in front it is opaque, you cannot see through it. When a scrim is lit from behind it is transpar- ent, you can see through it. This allows for many different visual effects to be created by the lighting and set designers.
THRUST STAGE: A thrust stage is a stage that is surrounded on three sides by the audience, (e.g. Shaw Festival’s Court House Thea- tre).
DIRECTOR: The person who guides the actors during the re- hearsal period as they stage the play. The director is responsible for presenting a unified vision of the play to the audience.
DESIGNER: The people who work with the director to decide what the production will look like. Designers must choose the col- our, shape and texture of everything you see on the stage. There are several areas that need to have designers: costumes, set, lighting and sometimes sound. The designers work very closely with the director to create the environment in which the play will take place.
FLYMAN: The person responsible for the manipulation of the scenery which is in the fly gallery (the space above the stage). The scenery is manipulated by ropes attached to a counterweight system.
MILLINER: The person who makes the hats which the actors wear on stage.
PROPS BUYER: The person who buys items that will be used or adapted to become props. Props buyers also purchase the raw mate- rial used to build props.
SCENIC ARTIST: The people who are responsible for painting and decorating the surfaces of the set. Some of the techniques they use include: wood graining, stenciling, marbling and brickwork. They also paint the drops and scrims that are flown in.
STAGE CARPENTER: The person who ensures that every- thing runs smoothly on stage during a performance. The stage car- penter and stage crew are responsible for changing the sets between scenes and acts.
STAGE MANAGER: The person who makes sure that all rehears- als and performances run smoothly. During a performance the stage manager also makes sure that all of the technical elements (e.g. lights, sound, curtains flying in and out) happen at exactly the right time.
TECHNICAL DIRECTOR: The person who is responsible for coordinating all of the technical elements of a production. Technical directors work with the people who build the sets, props, costumes, wigs and special effects to make sure that everything runs smoothly.
HEAD OF WARDROBE: Responsible for the day-to-day running of the wardrobe department and for unifying all aspects of produc- tion. For example, the head of wardrobe oversees the budget, tailor- ing (including the cutters, first-hands, seamstresses, dyers, etc.), ac- cessories, and millinery.
HEAD OF WIGS: The person who makes, styles, applies and main- tains all of the wigs and facials for production. They are responsible for implementing the designers’ wishes and ensuring that continuity is maintained throughout the course of the run. The department is also responsible for setting, shaping and maintaining the acting com- pany’s own hair while on contract.
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