According to a popular adage, good theatre can be made with just “two boards and a passion.” The saying is often also given as “three boards and a passion,” “four boards and a passion” and “bare boards and a passion.” The saying “two boards and a passion” dates to at least 1892.
William Ernest Henley (1849-1903), writing about Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870) for the Saturday Review in 1883, stated:
“‘All I want,’ he said in a memorable comparison between himself and Victor Hugo, ‘is four trestles, four boards, two actors, and a passion’; and his good plays are a proof that in this he spoke no more than the truth.”
Good Literature (see below) uses “two boards” in this citation. The “two boards and a passion” adage is a condensation of Henley’s Dumas quote.
Wikipedia: Alexandre Dumas
Alexandre Dumas, pronounced: [a.lɛk.sɑ̃dʁ dy.ma], born Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie ([dy.ma da.vi də pa.jət.ʁi]) (24 July 1802 – 5 December 1870) was a French writer, best known for his historical novels of high adventure which have made him one of the most widely read French authors in the world. Many of his novels, including The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After, and The Vicomte de Bragelonne were originally serialized. He also wrote plays and magazine articles and was a prolific correspondent. Born in poverty, Dumas was the grandson of a French nobleman and a Haitian slave.
VIEWS AND REVIEWS
By W. E. HENLEY
Published by DAVID NUTT
in the Strand
Pg. 37 (Alexandre Dumas):
The theory of Dumas is the very antipodes of this. ‘All I want,’ he said in a memorable comparison between himself and Victor Hugo, ‘is four trestles, four boards, two actors, and a passion’; and his good plays are a proof that in this he spoke no more than the truth.
8 December 1883, Good Literature, pg. 270, col. 1:
[From the Saturday Review.]
The theory of Dumas is the very reverse of all this. “All that I want,” he said in a memorable comparison between himself and Hugo, “is four trestles, two boards, two actors, and a passion”; and his good plays are a proof that in this he spoke no more than the truth.
The Life of Gustavus Vaughan Brooke, Tragedian
By William J. Lawrence
Belfast: W. & G. Baird
Charles Kean’s series of sumptuous archaeological revivals at the Princess’s Theatre had effectually stamped out the traditions of the old two-boards-and-a-passion school to which our hero certainly belonged.
28 April 1894, To-Day (London), pg. 373, col. 2:
Ten Minutes with Mr. Bernard Shaw.
“But if you ask what my choice would be between ‘four boards and a passion’ and a sumptuous mise-en-scene without the passion, I am for the four boards. There is no rule that applies to all plays except the rule that no play should look shabby.”
21 December 1895, The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, pg. 832, col. 2:
I do not say that the stage drawing-rooms of the old Court and the St. James’s were better than “four boards and a passion”; but they were worlds above flats, wings, sky borders and no passion, which was the practical alternative.
(Review written by “G. B. S.,” George Bernard Shaw—ed.)
19 March 1898, Black and White (London), pg. 388, col. 2:
Mr. Warden, as a two-boards-and-a-passion man, was never weary of deriding the modern school of mumbling colloquialism, and always took occasion to point out that the old Belfast stock company, under his care, had produced such actors as Edward Terry, E. S. Willard, and Osmond Tearle.
Google News Archive
14 October 1898, Milwaukee (WI) Journal, “The Drama and the Devil,” pg. 4, col. 4:
Scenery that appeals to the mob, he (Israel Zangwill—ed.) continued, is a necessity. In the great old days two boards and a passion sufficed to make a drama. Today it needs two sticks and a wardrobe.
November 1898, The Bookman, pg. 199, col. 2:
The Greek stage asked only two boards and a passion; the English stage wants two sticks and a wardrobe.
“All I wanted,” said the elder Dumas, speaking of himself as a playwright, “was four boards and a passion.”
November 1904, Scribner’s Magazine, “Such stuff as dreams are made of” by John Corbin, pg. 513, col. 1:
“GIVE me three boards and a passion,” said the elder Dumas, “and I will give you a play!”
OCLC WorldCat record
Bare boards and a passion : a dramatic recital
Author: Hugh Miller; Gertrude Clarke Whittall Poetry and Literature Fund.; Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature (Library of Congress)
Edition/Format: Audiobook : Reel-to-reel tape : English
Grove New American Theater
Edited by Michael Feingold
New York, NY: Grove Press
“Two boards and a passion” — the old recipe — is all the theater needs.
Jason Robards Remembered:
Essays and recollections
By Stephen A. Black, et al.
Jefferson, NC: McFarland
The success of Off Broadway theatre at that time epitomized the cliché, “two boards and a passion.”
Posted: Mon., Feb. 23, 2009, 6:30pm PT
By Marilyn Stasio
If it’s true that all you really need to put on a great show is two boards and a passion, then Theater for a New Audience proves the dictum with its austere production of “Othello.”
A Different Direction:
7 Possibilities for Saving the (Barely) Living Theater
By John Ahart
Langdon Steet Press
For centuries one of the simplest images for a theatre was “two boards and a passion”—a platform set up in the public square.
New York City • Music/Dance/Theatre/Film • (1) Comments • Saturday, January 28, 2012 • Permalink
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