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The ladies' home journal
Vol. XX, No. 7 (June, 1903)

Bok, Edward
The young girl at the matinĂ©e,   p. 16 PDF (838.2 KB)

Page 16

The Young Girl at the Matinee
By Edward Bok
MAN or woman with any sense of
the fitness of things cannot go
to an average matine per-
formance of what is nowadays
called the " problem  play "
without a feeling that there is
oomething radically wrong in either
the watchfulness or the point of view
f hundreds of American parents.
( >ne will see at these matindes seats
and boxes full of sweet young girls
ranging from twelve to sixteen years
of age. They are not there by the
tew, nor by the score, but literally by
the hundreds. I am leaving out of
the pre.-nt: at cussion of this question the young boys
who havc no more business to be at these performances
than have the young girls. Perhaps, because of my
sex, I am more concerned about the presence there of
the young girls. Be that as it may, it is enough to
make a man burn with shame and indignation to see
hundreds of young girls sitting in the theatre, and, with
open mouths, literally drinking in remarks and conver-
sation to which no young girl in her teens should listen.
1 AM not a prig on this question of the theatre, by any
means. I am not a fanatic who can see no benefit to
be derived from seeing a good clean play. There is as
much real education in seeing a good play as in reading
a good book. I go to the theatre and enjoy going. And
I would not for a moment, even if I could, advocate the
closing of the doors of the theatre to the young girl. Nor
would I confine her enjoyment of the theatre to pastoral
plays such as " The Old Homestead," or to religious
dramas such as" Ben Hur."  For my own part, I derive
precious little pleasure from seeing the characters of the
Bible brought to life on the stage. But I think there is
a distinct line to be drawn at the kind of play which a
young girl-I mean the girl who is in her teens-should
be allowed to see. The case is not altered because she
goes to a matinbe. That simply does away with late
hours: not with the principle of whether she should be
there at all. Nor does it alter the case one iota that she
is chaperoned. If she is, it makes the mistake the more
flagrant. A young girl, before she reaches years of
discretion, should have her amusements carefully
selected for her. Of course she will resent this, but the
independence of the American girl does not mean that
she has license to go where she will, see what she
chooses to see, or listen to what she should not listen.
At sixteen she must be denied what she does not under-
stand, but what at twenty-six she will understand.
THE girls must not be blamed for their presence at
these matindes.  We cannot expect discretionary
judgment from them. But we can and have a right to
expect it from their parents. It is begging the question
to say, as parents have said, that they were ignorant of
the class of play to which they had taken their daughter
or chaperoned some other parents' daughter. There is
always a way to find out the character of a play before-
hand, and if the mother cannot ascertain this the father
always can. Nor is it excusing the offense to say that
our girls must learn certain truths for themselves, and to
ask, " Is not the theatre a better school than the street ? "
In nowise. Neither place is a fit school for such lessons.
It is a cowardly trait in a parent that leaves to the
theatre, a girl's companions, or any other outside in-
fluence to teach what is the duty of that parent herself
to teach. If the play is to be used as a makeshift for
parents to teach the great moral lessons of life to young
girls, then, indeed, has parenthood come to a sorry pass!
Nor is it meeting the question to say, with resignation,
Well, then, we must keep our young daughters from
the play altogether, for all our modern plays have the
problem note in them." That is not true. Despite the
croakings of the pessimists that the 'modern drama is
declining in character, there are as many clean, sweet
and refreshing plays on the American stage to-day as
there ever were. I believe it does a moral, healthy girl
no harm to occasionally see a good play. On the con-
trary, it does her good. The extreme measure of for-
bidding young girls to go to the theatre is, to my mind,
just as dangerous and mistaken as the other extreme of
letting  them  go without restriction. The medium
ground is ever the common-sense ground. The mimic
life as depicted on the boards of the theatre is attractive
to every young girl. To deny it to her altogether is to
make a mistake, unless she is likely to be foolishly
carried away by what she sees. A rightful, healthy
pleasure to which youth is entitled should not be made
prohibitive. That merely results in sowing the seed of
discontent and making the pleasure denied the more
attractive and the more desired. But to let our young
girls attend the niatindes, as apparently they do nowadays,
without any discrimination, is sowing mighty dangerous
seed. It is absolutely amazing and distressing to see the
army of young girls coming out of the matinde perform-
ance of a play which many an adult hesitates to see-in
fact, which thousands of mature men of healthy taste
absolutely refuse to witness. It does not make these
plays more permissible to young girls because they invari-
ably have strong moral lessons. No young girl needs to
have her mind soiled by having it dragged through real-
istic dirt and mire for two or three hours to learn a
moral lesson which her mother should have taught her
at home. There is no legitimate excuse on the part of
any mother for allowing her young daughter to see any
portrayal of life that makes light of the marriage tie or
sets the married relation at defiance. Absolutely no
good comes to any girl from seeing such a portrayal.
The only excuse for going to the theatre is that we may
be cleanly amused or intellectually refreshed or strength-
ened, and when a play fails to serve either one of those
ends it fails to serve its legitimate purpose.
N OR have we any right to condemn either actor or
manager because such plays are put upon the stage.
If we so condemn we would condemn Shakespeare and
all the great dramatic masters. The mission of the stage
is to hold the mirror up to human nature, and to show
the different phases of life, the passionate as well as the
passive. But it is not compulsory upon us to attend these
plays. If we choose to attend them when we have reached
years of understanding and discretion, that is for us to
settle with our own consciences. But it is not for a
young girl in her teens to assume the right to witness
such performances, and no parent is justified or safe in
allowing her to attend them. Until a girl knows what
she is about, until she understands what she sees, until
she has the judgment to intelligently select for herself,
she should be guided by those to whom years of expe-
rience are supposed to have brought wisdom. The
modern " problem play "-that is, the play which con-
cerns itself with the graver and deeper problems of
human passions-is not put upon the stage for the
young girl. It has a rightful place on the stage. But it
has no place in the life of a young girl. It has no mes-
sage to her ; it either means nothing to her, or it means
the wrong thing. Instead of intelligently understand-
ing what she hears and sees, she hears and sees but
misunderstands, and in that immature misconstruc-
tion lies the grave danger for her. There is a happy
medium ground between the bloodless cut-and-dried
and wishy-washy pastoral play and the " problem
play," throbbing with human passions. Such plays
there are, and in sufficient number, to entertain the
young girl. There are, perhaps, not as many of this
kind as of the others, but in that very fact lies the
significant truth that it is not necessary for the young
girl to be constantly in the theatre.  Those of us
who are older use the theatre for purposes of refresh-
ment after a day of weary battle with the problems of
living, which the young girl knows not of. To her the
theatre is simply a temple of amusement, and she has
not such a crying need of pleasure that she should be a
weekly habitue of the matinde.
WE SEEM, in some quarters, to have a peculiar idea
about the theatre. We calmly say that the thea-
tre has no right to produce plays which our children
cannot safely see. We refuse the right to the drama-
tist of high motive to approach the grave problems of life.
We say, " No, our children must not see these things."
Of course, they should not. But, pray, is that a good
reason' whv such plays should not be written and
produced ? Where is our responsibility in the matter ?
Must we place every restriction upon the writers and
none upon our children ? Should Shakespeare never
have written" Othello " because it is better that a young
girl in her teens should not see it ? Surely this is carry-
ing the thing pretty far-a bit farther than common-
sense teaches. The grave passions of life must ever
throb and pulsate through our literature, whether in the
form of book or play, if there is to be a literature worthy
of the name. But it does not follow that this literature
should be open to the young before they have reached
years of understanding. The father or mother who
denies the right to an author to deal with the problem
of living in all its phases, when such an author approaches
his task with high ideals and gives publicity to his convic-
tions in the proper place, puts an embargo upon the wrong
shoulders.  It is for the author to write as he feels he is
commanded to write, but it is for us to determine whether
we shall listen to him ornot, or allow ourchildren to listen.
THE tirades against the theatre which periodically
envelop us, and use up valuable white paper in the
public prints, always seem to me to serve so little pur-
pose. They only seek to attract the curious and the
vicious. If a play that reproduces things vile and squalid
and mean is deliberately put upon the boards of a thea-
tre, as is unquestionably done by men of pessimistic
minds, it will thrive in proportion as patronage is given
to it. Just so long as people will go to see it, or direct
attention to it, just so long will it prosper.  But let it be
ignored, and it will die of itself, and quickly, too. No
manager will keep a play on the boards of his theatre
that is acted nightly to empty seats. We can always
depend upon a manager's business acumen if upon
nothing else. What the theatre is in the character of its
plays, and will be, is in our hands to determine. There
is nothing in this world that hurts us quite so much and
so effectively as to be ignored, and that is just as true
of a play, or of a book, as it is of ourselves. The more
we rail against bad plays and bad books, depend upon
it, the more of them we shall have. There is always a
large percentage of a public that can be depended
upon to go where there is a scent of danger or of vice,
and nothing sends them in such a direction in larger
numbers than a public attack. The only effective work
in such a case is individual work. If you cannot approve
of a play don't go to see it. If you cannot approve of
a book don't buy it. It should make no difference to
you whether others go to see the play or buy the book.
What is wrong to you should remain wrong even if you
are the only one in the world to think so.
S 0 IT is with the plays that we should allow our young
to see. We must not seek to shift the responsibility
upon the dramatist or the theatre that rightfully belongs
to us as fathers and mothers.  Let the dramatist write
and the theatre present. We select, and mark you well
that as we select so will we influence the writing and the
presentation. The theatre will give, and only give,
what the public supports. One fact is certain : it is high
time that we see an end to the presence of the young girl
at the "problem play." If it be true, as it is said, that
parents do not know of the presence of their daughters
at these performances, then the crime is even greater,
since a double sin is allowed to be committed. There
is something radically wrong with a mother when she
does not know where her daughter goes, or where she
is when she leaves her home. No state of affairs is
quite so bad as when that is true. It is the most
damning evidence of a mother's neglect or incompetency.
But whatever the reason, the question of the play which
the young American girl shall see cannot be too carefully
looked after or intelligently considered by the American
mother. It is plain that these young girls by the
hundreds attend these " problem   plays."  It is also
plain, or should be, to any man or woman with even the
average regard for the fitness of things, that these young
girls should not be there. And it is still more plain that
not they, but their parents, are to blame for their pres-
ence. Hence, it is a matter that can be brought squarely
up and fairly home to fathers and mothers whether they
will go on and let their young daughters play with
lire and run the risk of being burnil.

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