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Bram Stoker and the Theatre

Managing London’s Lyceum Theatre (1878-1904) was the primary occupation of Bram’s adult life. His official duties involved coordinating the theatre’s local seasons and international tours, accounting its financial records, and acting as secretary for its owner, his friend, Sir Henry Irving. As anyone who has worked in theatre can tell you, however, one’s official duties and one’s actual activities form rather an interesting Venn diagram. Bram acted as everything from publicist to part-time stage crew—one story in Paul Murray’s excellent biography, From the Shadow of Dracula, recalls a play having a gondola cross the stage, and when the sheet disguising the boat’s interior was brushed aside, “the audience gasped at the figure of Stoker in evening dress…working the machinery that propelled the gondola!” 

On performance nights, when he wasn't filling in behind the scenes, one of Bram's most important tasks involved greeting, hosting, and generally hobnobbing with the Lyceum’s high-profile guests. As Murray writes, "ingratiating himself in good society was a key part of Stoker's role at the Lyceum, both in terms of bolstering Irving's social skills and in ensuring that the Lyceum remained at the pinnacle of fashion by attracting the cream of society." This public-facing position led to Bram's acquaintance with many of the leading figures of his day, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Lord and Lady Randolph Churchill, William Gladstone, and from the American tours, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Theodore Roosevelt, and Buffalo Bill Cody, among others.

Sir Henry Irving (L) and Bram Stoker (R) exit the Lyceum Theatre in London to a waiting cab

Bram Stoker

Lyceum Theatre

MR. BRAM STOKER ON THEATRES

West Gippsland Gazette, Warragul, Vic. Australia Tues. Jan 11, 1910

Mr. Bram Stoker, Irving's late manager, writes on "Deadheads" in in the "Fortnightly Review" for October. He makes the interesting calculation that out of London's 6 1/2 million residents that there are 1,300,000 playgoers, with an average yearly attendance at the theatre of eight performances, making 10,000,000 attendances a year. To these he adds 50,000 transient visitors to London, who probably see two plays a week, making a yearly attendance of 5,000,000 performances. These added together make 15,000,000 persons who attend a performance. In London, Mr. Stoker says, there are fifty-eight theatres. Giving these six performances a week and fifty weeks, he arrives at a yearly total of 20,000 performances. This gives for all the theatres an average audience of some 754 paying persons. 

Souvenir of King Henry the Eighth 

presented at the Lyceum Theatre by Henry Irving

Jan. 5 1892

 PRICE ONE SHILLING

(From the Yale Collection)

Souvenir of King Lear

presented at the Lyceum Theatre by Henry Irving

Nov. 10 1892

 PRICE ONE SHILLING

(From the Yale Collection)

GREEN ROOM GOSSIP

 

BY ARCHIBALD HADDON, With a Foreword by R.D.B.

LONDON

STANLEY PAUL & CO.

31 ESSEX STREET, STRAND, W.C. 2.

Irving's manager, the late Bram Stoker, used to tell a funny story about "Macbeth." The tragedy was being given, he said, in the Queen's Theatre, Dublin, and when the actor who played Lennox came to the lines:

 

"The night has been unruly: where we lay,

Our chimney was blown down. ..."

 

He spoke them in the very worst of Dublin accents, as follows:

 

"The night hath been rumbunctious where we slep,

Our chimbleys was blew down."

Sir Henry Irving

Ellen Terry (L) and daughter Edith Craig (R), Lyceum actresses, icons, and friends of Bram Stoker

The third Theatre Royal in Dublin (1821-1880) burns down on February 9th, 1880

How the Dublin Theatre Was Burned, from The London Review and FireEngineering.com

The destruction of the Dublin theatre is an instance where every precaution that had been taken to provide against fire were rendered of no account by the carelessness of a workman. The particulars that follow we glean from The London Review : The Dublin Theatre Royal was destroyed by fire on February 9, 1880, at mid-day; the manager, Mr. Egerton, losing his life in an endeavor to check the flames. Through the inquest on the remains of Mr. Egerton we have arrived at the facts connected with the origin of the fire, and they are instructive. The arrangements of this theatre were excellent in every way for extinction or prevention of fires ; candles were not allowed in the place; for the management of the gas there was a gas engineer; for the protection of property, and the safety of the public, there were hydrants and hose inside the building, sufficient to command the premises. As a further protection, one of the Firemen of the corporation brigade was on duty during each night’s performance, and remained all night in possession of the building until relieved in the morning by the hall porter of the stage entrance. Finally, there were mops and buckets ready for immediate use; the lessee was morbidly afraid of fire, and the Chief of the brigade, Captain Ingram, made a practice of frequently going all over the house in front and behind.

 

Here comes the irony of fate. The theatre was burned down at mid-day whilst being got ready for a charitable object—the fund for the relief of the distressed in Ireland ; and Her Grace the Duchess of Marlborough was to attend, supporting by her presence any effort to increase such funds. The box for the Lady-Lieutenant had to be properly decorated with hangings; and in order to place hangings a gas bracket had to be removed which should afterwards be screwed on again. In this instance an upholsterer did the work ; the gas-bracket was removed and the hangings were put up : the gas engineer was not apprised of the work wanted in his department, and no bracket was screwed on again ; the door of the box was locked and probably the gas not on. In order to light up, the meters were turned on, and on coming to the box of the Lord-Lieutenant the lighter-up perceived the smell of gas ; he got over the front with his spirit-lighter and set fire to the hangings and to the insidious current of escaping gas. This was a day performance and there were no Firemen on the premises, no Chief of brigade making his rounds. It was noon, and no men were in the building ; it wanted an hour of the opening of the doors and no one was at his post. Every precaution suggested by skill or experience was nullified. The theatre burned itself down at noonday, when every precaution had been taken to prevent it from catching fire at night; and the only life lost was that of the one person who had control over all detail, animate and inanimate, inside the theatre. The building had an existence of sixty years.

The fourth Theatre Royal in Dublin (1897-1934)

My Table-cloths; a Few Reminiscences

By Mrs. Alec-Tweedie (Ethel)

George H. Doran Company, 1916 Great Britain- 320 pages

Bram Stoker, that delightful, jovial Irish gentleman, who was for so many years Irving's right-hand man, wrote to me soon after the great actor's death:

   "Irving had so mastered his individuality—crushed it, if you will—that some of his remorseless self-command was bound to have effect on others who came within the sphere of his work. I remember an incident which much struck me in this connection. We had had several important business dealings with a man of some ability but with a 'get-rich-quick' weakness. After a somewhat painful interview between the three of us, the stranger went away. We two being left alone, Irving said to me:

   "' I have made up my mind to tell him what I think of him.'

   "Much as I valued and respected Irving's judgment of character, I thought it wise to say:

   "' May you not be mistaken? As yet we have no proof of any wrongdoing—nothing but a suspicion, however just it may be.'

   "' My dear fellow, this is no mere suspicion with me: I know.'

 

   "' How on earth can you know?'

   "' Because,' Irving answered, with one of his illuminating smiles, ' I have played too many villains not to know the heart of one. It seems to me that I can look through that man as if he were glass. He is a crook.'

   "Surely enough, though we never had any proof that might be considered legal, all of us who were aware of his transactions had finally, from many unmistakable indications, to agree with our chief. I give this as an illustration of the way characters act and react on each other. Irving the man was endowed with a trusting simplicity of character almost without flaw; Irving the artist, who had had to study human nature, had learned its sad truths so thoroughly that they had bitten deep into his own being."

   It was rumoured that Irving's production of Henry VIII. a sumptuous play, cost £16,000 to mount, but none of his great costume plays ever cost more than from £3,000 to £10,000 each. Yet, though artistic effect and magnificent pictures were his unceasing cult, nothing in the way of detail was ever too small for his notice. He was completely wrapped up in his work. On the stage nothing mattered to him but the play.

   "I remember," Bram Stoker once told me, "on the first night of his playing Othello with Edwin Booth, he found his throat parched and his powers of voice and articulation consequently crippled. He was always a bad first nighter, for with the responsibility of the play as well as his own work as an actor, such an occasion was apt to strain even his nerves. In one of the great scenes I heard him tell one of the stage workers to bring him some water—quick. The man set off for the dressing-room, but Irving called him back and told him to get it from one of the fire plugs which were on the stage.

   "' Don't wait for a glass,' he said, ' bring it in anything you can lay your hands on.'

   "The man filled a jam-pot which he had found somewhere or other. When Irving had drunk and his voice was restored, the lady playing with him, who was rather a dainty creature, said:

   "' Oh, how can you drink such water and out of such a pot?'

 

   "To which he at once answered:

   "' If it would help the play—and I could get nothing else—I would drink the slops.'

   "It was part of his belief—on which all his work was based—that an actor should, whilst on the stage, preserve his self-mastery and suffer whatever danger or pain might be involved. On one occasion when a lime light tank under the stage exploded and actually lifted part of the stage, not for a moment did Irving lose the thread of his speech, nor did his voice falter, nor his face change colour. In New York one evening, when he was playing Hamlet, one of the spirit torches used for the scene got overheated, and the flaming spirit overflowed and set the draperies on fire. In an instant there would have been a panic; the people were rising in their seats in preparation for a stampede; but he never even looked round. He appeared and spoke as though the matter was no concern of his—or of anyone else. The men and women sank back into their seats; danger was averted. The only recognition of the incident was in the heartiness and prolongation of the applause which greeted him when he had to take an extra call before the curtain at the end of the act."

   Of lesser occasions of self-control there were numerous instances, for the working of a great play in a big theatre affords many contretemps. Once in Faust he was carried up almost out of sight by the drop curtain catching his Mephistopheles' cloak. He calmly waited till the curtain was lowered again from the prompt sufficiently to allow his being seized by the anxiously waiting carpenters and placed in safety on his feet.

Personally, I agree with the American critic who said: "I do not consider Irving a great actor, but he was the greatest dramatic artist I ever saw."

   It is said that Irving found the part of King Lear the most physically trying in his whole repertory. After ten consecutive weeks it completely broke down his strength, and thenceforward he always spoke of it as the one part in Shakespeare which could not be played six times a week with impunity. He recalled a curious experience in connection with the part.

   "As I stood in the wings on the first night before Lear makes his entrance," he related to me, " I had a sudden idea which revolutionized the impersonation and launched me into an experience unattempted at rehearsals. I at once tried to combine the weakness of senility with the tempest of passion, but soon found as I proceeded that this was an impossible task. One should never alter a scheme of performance at the last moment. Stage art is too serious to take risks."

Henry Irving once had the unique experience of performing at Archbishop's House, Westminster. The play was Becket, and an invitation was extended to him by Cardinal Vaughan to give a reading at his official residence. The invitation was accepted, and Sir Henry Irving read— or rather acted—Tennyson's best play to a select audience of clergy, peers, and representative laymen, presided over by the Cardinal himself.

His love of animals, and also of children, was one of Irving's pleasantest characteristics.

   "Always since I knew him," Bram Stoker once said to me, " he had constantly by him a friend in the shape of a dog or a cat. From the time of taking the Lyceum into his own hands he had two dog friends, Trin and Fussy. Trin, a rough terrier, had been given to him by the Baroness Burdett-Coutts, and the little creature repaid the great manager's affection with a whole-souled devotion and shared his life day and night, never being absent from him. When Trin died, after some years of companionship, Ellen Terry replaced him with Fussy, a fox terrier. He had been picked out of a litter by Fred Archer, the great jockey, who diagnosed his character thus: 'He is absolutely faithful and you cannot lose him.' Some years afterwards this judgment was proved to be sound. In one of his journeys to America, where Irving was going with his company for a tour, by some mischance Fussy got lost at Southampton, and the party had to start without him. All sorts of persons helped to look for the little dog, or for traces of him, in vain. But some three or four days later Fussy was found one morning outside the door of Irving's rooms in London. He was weak and famished. His nails were worn down, and his paws covered with coagulated blood. He had found his way alone from Southampton to Bond Street.

   "Fussy was killed in Manchester years afterwards by falling from the mezzanine floor to the cellar of the Theatre Royal. I believe, myself, he must have committed suicide. He was very old for a dog, he had rheumatism, and for him all pleasures had passed, and all joys save being with the master whom he loved and to whom he was so devoted. Irving was inconsolable, and for a time he chose no other familiar pet. When he got back to London, however, he was himself adopted by a cat. This was also a clever creature who knew how to control its own destiny. It strayed into the theatre one day, and was placed on the staff. That very evening of Irving's return from his tour, on entering his dressing-room he saw a big grey cat sitting—of all places —on the pincushion on his table. She at once went up to him, purring, and from that time she attached herself to him as her own."

   Sir Henry was cremated by his own special desire. After this had been done it was suddenly decided that he should be buried in Westminster Abbey—an honour which the nation wished to bestow on the greatest theatrical manager and play producer of his day. When the authorities at Westminster Abbey discovered that this comedian—for he was far finer in comedy than in tragedy—had been cremated they were aghast. Somewhere in the archives of the Abbey there is a direction that "the corpse should be decorously borne into the church," and so on.

There was no corpse. It had been reduced to white ashes and was reposing in a beautiful casket.

What was to be done? All sorts of cogitations took place. There was no precedent to go upon; nobody liked to take the initiative; and for a couple of days it seemed as if Henry Irving could not be buried there after all. Lo, some wiseacre hit upon an excellent device.

   "Let us have a small coffin," he said," let the ashes be placed inside; let a cloth cover the top, and let the pallbearers hold its ends. That will meet the requirements of the situation."

Accordingly, Irving's remains were buried in a miniature coffin in Westminster Abbey. His were the first cremated ashes to repose in that noble pile, and although many people were horrified for the moment, the ultimate result was a complete reversal of the attitude of the Abbey authorities towards cremation. Some seven years later it was decided that no further burial should take place there unless the body had previously been reduced to ashes. For long the only woman in the Council of the Cremation Society of England, I have naturally a strong interest in cremation— inherited, no doubt, for Sir Henry Thompson was an old friend of my father, and when Sir Henry started the Cremation Society in 1874, my father was one of the first people to write and preach its doctrines.

   A striking tribute at Irving's funeral was the wreath sent by Queen Alexandra. The empty catafalque, beside which I was sitting with Sir Francis Burnand under the lantern, was covered with purple cloth, surrounded by tall brass candlesticks with long tapers burning. At the foot rested a large cross of Madonna lilies and libes-of-the-valley, bearing the inscription:

   "Sir Henry Irving, with deepest regrets, from the Queen.

'Into Thy hands, O Lord,
Into Thy hands.'"

These were the last words which, as Becket, he ever spoke on the stage.

Bram Stoker and the Lyceum Theatre in America

From Paul Murray's From the Shadow of Dracula:

Stoker estimated that, between 1883 and 1904, he spent more than four years in the USA on eight theatrical tours with the Lyceum, during which they visited every great town in the Union. Involving travel of more than fifty thousand miles on American railways, these tours became something of a fix for the Lyceum's wider difficulties, with the profits being used to subsidise its London activities, although the mushrooming of expenses which so afflicted Irving as time went on also reduced his net takings in America. The Americans themselves credited much of Irving's success in the United States to Stoker, no doubt reflecting, to some extent at least, his superb media-handling skills... In the 1890s, the New York Commercial Advertiser declared that 'Bram Stoker, manager for Henry Irving, is rapidly achieving social prominence in this city. He is an eminently good-natured gentleman and handsome, and has received a cordial welcome in New York's highest musical and artistic circles.'

Today in America: Studies for the Old World and the New

By Joseph Hatton, Harper & Bros. 1881

 

……. While controlled by good judgment and great thoughtfulness, Mr. lrving's management is lavish in every department. He pays the highest salaries in London. His chiefs of departments are skilled and experienced men. Expense is no consideration where an outlay is considered desirable. His orchestra is the best we have; his theatre the most comfortable. When Mr. Gladstone went behind the scenes on the first night of "The Cup" he was introduced to Mr. Bram Stoker, Mr. lrving' s chancellor of the exchequer. "And do you find that all these great expenses yield you a proportionate return?" asked Queen Victoria's Chancellor of the Exchequer. "We do," was Stoker's prompt reply, and he gave the Premier some interesting financial examples in point. Mr. Gladstone was much interested in the figures. Indeed, it may be said for the Premier that everything interests him. There is not a more versatile mind in the empire.

Excerpt from "The American Audience," by Henry Irving and Bram Stoker. Published under Irving's name in The Fortnightly Review, February 1, 1885.

An example of what was a major part of Bram's Lyceum work—ghostwriting for his boss. Full article available here

What is the difference between and English and an American audience? That is a question which has frequently been put to me, and which I have always found it difficult to answer. The point of dissimilarity are simply those arising from people of a common origin living under conditions often widely different. It is, therefore, only possible for me to indicate such traits in the bearing of the American playgoer as have come under my personal notice, and impressed me with a sense of unfamiliarity.

Excerpt from Bram Stoker's article, "Americans as Actors." Read the entire article here

“Americans as Actors”, Fortnightly Review 91, 1 February 1909

If we wish to understand the idiosyncrasies of American character and life sufficiently to make some kind of forecast of possibilities of the future, we must primarily have a truthful estimate of the present. The United States of America, as it exists to-day, is a nation of specialists. This does not imply that each individual deliberately sets himself or herself to a chosen task at the beginning of life, and follows it on to the logical end. Rather does it refer to the conclusions of work and life; a sort of survival of the fittest for special endeavour, each adapting himself to special needs and following the path on which he has begun, with evergrowing ardour as new possibilities develop themselves.

The Lyceum Theatre's American Tour Schedule 1895

The Theatre: A Monthly Review and Magazine, Volume 26

Edited by Clement Scott, Bernard Edward Joseph Capes, Charles Eglington, Addison Bright

Sept 1, 1895

 

               THE revival at the Lyceum of Coriolanus is no new project. It was resolved upon as far back as 1879 during the second great run at that theatre of Hamlet. The scenery has been designed by Mr Alma Tadema, perhaps the greatest authority on the subject that could have been selected

                SIR HENRY IRVING spent the first part of his holiday at Margate, there to meet Mr Toole.

               THE following are the arrangements for Sir Henry Irving's coming tour in America:

September 16th to September 21st, Montreal Academy of Music

September 23rd to September 28th, Toronto Grand Opera House

September 30th to October 26th, Boston Tremont Theatre

October 28th to December 21st, New York Abbey's Theatre

December 23rd to January 4th, Philadelphia Chestnut Street Opera House

January 6th to January 11th, Baltimore Academy of Music

January 13th to January 18th, Washington

January 20th to January 25th, Richmond, Charleston, Savannah and Atlanta

January 27th to February 1st, New Orleans Grand Opera House

February 3rd to February 8th, Memphis, Nashville and Louisville

February 10th to February 15th, St Louis Grand Opera House

February 17th to February 22nd, Cincinnati Grand Opera House,

February 24th to March 21st, Chicago, Columbia Theatre

March 23rd to March 28th, Indianapolis and Detroit

March 30th to April 4th Cleveland and Buffalo

April 6th to April 11th, Pittsburgh

April 13th to April 18th, Philadelphia, Chestnut Street Opera House

April 20th to April 25th, Boston, Tremont Theatre

April 27th to May 2nd, Providence, Worcester, Springfield, Hartford, and New Haven

May 4th to May 16th, New York Abbey's Theatre

               The repertory consists of Macbeth, Becket, King Arthur, The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing, Louis XI, Faust, Charles I, The Lyons Mail, Nance Oldfield, The Bells, The Corsican Brothers, Don Quixote, Journeys End in Lovers Meeting, and A Story of Waterloo.

               M. Filon has begun a series of articles in the Revue des Deux Mondes on the English theatre. 

               Sir Henry Irving he says has gone on taking to himself all the great Shakespearean parts like a conqueror annexing provinces. Often argued over and criticized, he has not been equally admirable in all. But into every one he has infused his knowledge and his genius. Dare I say it without showing a lack of appreciation for the fine and even the great actors still possessed by our own country, Irving appears to me the first in his art, the leader and king of his profession. He is so by the beauty and harmony of his life, by his splendid vigour, by the magnificent variety of his gifts, and by his intelligent, sympathy with all other arts, and with the ideas that are the spirit of his time. Moreover, by the gradual growth and the progressive formation of his talent, and by his spirit of independence and initiative, closely bound up with a reverence for the past, he is one of the incarnations of his race, one of the men in whom the character of the English genius to day is most clearly read.

EXCERPT FROM: Henry Irving's Fight for Fame

He Overcame Many Obstacles, but when

He Won Art Meant More than Money
February, 1906

In the endowment of Henry Irving for his life-work was one supremely dominant quality which, in any age, at any place, is absolutely necessary to worthy success, - tenacity of purpose. That he had great gifts in the way of histrionic ability, of thoughtfulness, of reasoning powers and all those forces which naturally lead from causes to effects, - of literary grace, of sympathy, and of understanding of character, - has been well proved by his work of forty-nine years upon the stage; and, inferentially by the labor of those antecedent years which helped to fit him for his later work, - for be it always remembered it is in youth that the real battle of success is fought when many roads seem to lie open when the blood is red and pleasure woos with claimant voice howsoever sweet it may be But all those later mentioned personal gifts fix only the direction of force they do not and can not supply it It is dogged tenacity of purpose which in the end prevails which urges and forces into action the various powers and gifts which go to make up one's individual equipment It is this quality which sustains the shrinking heart which forces the trembling nerves which restores the wearied brain and muscle which conquers sleep and which makes halcyon pleasures seem rather the sport of the butterfly than the worthy pursuit of manhood... 

(Full Article Available Here)