"The repertory theatre is essential if the finest things in the drama are to live," said Mr. Walter Hampden, when interviewed recently by a CRIMSON reporter. Mr. Hampden, a Harvard man in the Class of 1900, is without doubt the most widely known Shaksperean actor in the world today.
"The drama is an art, but it is also a business," he continued. "Because some musical comedy runs for three weeks in Boston, the theatre managers require that Shakspere must also run three weeks. Each musical comedy, or bedroom farce, as the case may be, is new to the public, and therefore plays before crowded houses during its entire stay, while Shakspere draws only a handful of true lovers of the drama. Yet Shakspere must stand, so to speak, upon his own legs, in financial competition with the so-called 'trash', or pass into oblivion.
"Shaksperean actors in the past, men like Booth, have set an almost impossibly high standard for the actors of today. The natural tendency is for people to criticize performances of Shakspere in terms of performances of the same play that they have seen before, and they are usually able to find things not to their liking. On the other hand, there have been no standards set for the "popular" plays and musical comedies, and the people who go to presentations of Shakspere with critical minds, go to the others in search of nothing more than an evening of casual pleasure.
"In a way, the drama is comparable to music. There is poor music, which catches popular fancy for a moment, and then suddenly disappears, and there is good music, which can be heard over and over again, at long intervals, and enjoyed more each time. Such is the case of the drama. The shredded wheat' of the stage is tremendously popular for a few months or a year, and then is never heard of again. While it lasts, it provides a great deal of 'good fun', but it must not be allowed to drive the finer things out of competition. The plays of Shakspere and the other enduring figures of literature are like the symphonies of the great masters, in that they will last indefinitely, never losing their appeal, in fact gaining by repetition. But one cannot give 'Hamlet' or any other single play of Shakspere every night over a long period of time, and continue to attract audiences, just as any one symphony does not continue to appeal to people when it is presented on consecutive nights for more than a very few weeks.
"These are the reasons why I believe that the repertory theatre is the hope of the actor and of that ever-widening circle of true drama-lovers to whom Shakspere and the better plays have a real appeal. Because it is the only way in which the people who really appreciate the purposes of the stage can be supplied with what they want, and because it is the means of keeping Shakspere alive now and in the future, it has long been my ambition to found a repertory theatre. If that ambition over comes true," he concluded, "I shall feel that I have accomplished something of value both to the actors and to the public."