What is a mechanical performance?
It is a performance which instead of being based on new, specially discovered for that particular play, creative principles, is produced according to an old commonplace routine. The only standard rule in such kind of a theatre is the motto: “The public likes it!” Yet the public likes the theatre anyway, and attends it not because it likes to see something that it has seen hundreds of times, but simply because man cannot exist without the theatre. The best example of a mechanical production is a musical revue as
staged in nearly all the theatres in the world. With a few exceptions the recipe for such a show is almost the same. All its members know in advance what it is going to be like. The author of the book and the lyrics knows that there must be two acts with a dozen disconnected scenes in each; that the sketches, no matter how insipid they are, will go over big, providing the producer has secured the services of a popular comedian. The director knows that the show girls should be tall and goodlooking, even though they could not sing a note nor make a step on the stage, but that the dancing girls, on the other hand, must be fast steppers. The scenic designer knows that the sets should be ﬂashy and bright to the point of hurting one’s eyesight. The costumer knows that the less will the girls be dressed, the better will the producer be dressed. And so forth and so forth. The recipe for such a production, as I said
before, is not very complicated. Serious theatres, especially the very serious ones, are sometimes also purely mechanical. The theatre has a less deﬁnite scientiﬁc theory than the rest of the arts collaborating with it. That is why it gets easily inﬂuenced by the authority of some of them – especially by the art of literature. Very serious theatres, building their repertoire on important classical plays are often timid in their searches and attainments. As an example let us take the famous theatre of the “Comedie Francaise” – the ﬁrst governmental theatre of France. The plays of Moliere and other classics, as staged there, have turned into
Being full of at the same time, his masterpieces by traditional and purely mechanical repetitions of acting, that could have been appealing a hundred years ago but not now. Then, too, everyone knows to perfection how Moliere should be staged, in what sets, and “how” a certain line should be delivered. They have a ready explanation for everything: “This is the way it was played by so and so,” “that was done by Moliere himself,” “this set is an exact copy of the set of the period.” They forget that the theatre is an inalienable part of our life and as such must ﬁrst of all struggle, seek and strive toward new achievements instead of trampling on, on old grounds. The mechanical theatre is a theatre of set types and seniority. I don’t
mean to say that the respect for rank and discipline should not exist in an ideal theatre. On the contrary it is quite essential, but it has to be based only on talent and on the necessity of that particular actor for a certain part. What could be sillier than the set type of a “hero-lover” of a stock company, who plays every leading part, whether he ﬁts it or not. The mechanical theatre is a theatre that gives an accurate imitation of human feelings as though they were custom made articles: jealousy, grief, happiness, hatred are presented, each time precisely in the same way, as though bearing a certain stamp and label. It is the precision of primitive, illiterate and unimaginative means. The mechanical theatre is a theatre of trade, but not of art.