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Vaudeville has for a long time included among it mass of mongrel terms the phrase, "Three a day". And to both actor and audience it means that labor of love which sends the embryonic Eddie Cantor out in front for fifteen minutes three successive times between luncheon and the final visit to his particular cafeteria for coffee, a Western, and the "Billboard". To the faculty and student body of Harvard College it probably means little or nothing. The three a week is alone vital to them.
For between Sunday and Sunday about every lecturer faces an audience three successive times and in fifty three minutes condemns them to dullness or leads them to light. To call him an actor is perhaps to flatter, perhaps to foil. Yet after all, higher learning is amusement--or it is dead. So the lecturer and the vaudeville artist have something in common, more than either would willingly grant.
But the vaudeville artist knows that a successive series of unsuccessful appearances will send him either to the wilds of the wastelands or to a job in a store; the college lecturer knows that his pittance is like the poor, always with him. This does not keep all lecturers from playing to their audience. Indeed it makes some of them play too hard. But it does keep them from remembering that youth is a careless audience, that it cannot see vitality in matter unless the matter is presented in a vital form. And too often tradition alone keeps the mythical second balcony from booing.
Robert Benchley in the current "Harper's" never suspected he was to be used as a text for a sermon. Yet his article can well be thus employed. He suggests the necessity for a certain rapport between audience and actor too often completely lacking. Could he not suggest the necessity of such a rapport between lecturer and student?
A man who has spent his life in a certain work naturally loves that work, and he often fails to remember that to those who have not spent their lives in it, it may have its duller moments. So when he goes out front for his three a week, he must remember that he is in the position of an actor playing to a hostile stand. And the audience should come in early and give him every opportunity to make a hit.
These terms are perhaps a bit unusual. The college lecturer is not a charlatan. Neither was Socrates. But his lectures were apparently interesting, his audience attentive. And college audiences are not filled with sour critics, but with boys who have come definitely for the inspiration and high amusement which education should afford. When a lecturer months his lines, when he forgets his part and fills up the gap with decadent verbiage, he is "strutting his hour" rather ill. And the man in the front of the orchestra who coughs and clacks at the wrong time is equally at fault. The three a week is a hard life for all concerned. Yet improvement is not impossible.
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