Category Archives: Music hall contracts

Music Hall War – success or folly

 

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Florrie Forde

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Living Statuary

 

Following on from the previous blog we find the music hall artistes determined to stand their ground and the music hall managers refusing to recognise the Variety Artists’ Federation as the mouthpiece of the industry. In late January 1907 it was announced that a group of artistes had signed a twenty-one year lease of the Scala Theatre.

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Annie Purcell

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Jane May

 

The theatre would be run as a music hall with one house a night and the programme ‘comprising the cream of star talent’  with the ancillary buildings being used as the headquarters for music hall associations and as a music hall exchange. The performers hoped to control their own destinies but the trade paper The Era was of the opinion that the VAF had taken a very daring step.

The ‘housewarming’ at the Scala for artistes was fairly well attended but many performers were absent on picket duty. As proprietors they would act fairly and were sure that the theatre would be packed to the doors every night. On the opening night there was mention of Mr Oswald Stoll who had barred an artiste  from appearing at Crouch End for two and a half years and also had sent a representative to ask performers the question, ‘Are you in favour of a strike?’ It was assumed that an affirmative answer would mean the artist would not be employed by his syndicate. This was considered mean and despicable.

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Gertie Gitana

Despite the excitement and enthusiasm both sides were suffering financially in the dispute and there was a feeling that the executive committee had rushed into action without sufficient consultation. The ‘stars’ had a meeting with the managers and announced they had made headway with their demands but the VAF felt sidelined and were not in favour of a settlement. Eventually the dispute went to arbitration, chaired by Mr Askwith from the Board of Trade. The strikers were not to perform at the Scala or to picket the halls and the managers were to drop any legal proceedings against individual performers. The Alliance closed the Scala, having leased the premises for four weeks at a cost of £1,200. There were three interim awards and a final award, made more complicated by the fact that musicians and stagehands had joined the strike and employment needed to be found for them.

Improvements were made to the hated barring clause, each matinée would be paid for and artistes would have definite appearance times so that low paid performers could rely on appearing in two halls a night rather than the manager changing the order of the bill on a whim. Both sides agreed to abide by the points of the arbitration agreement but later it was suggested that some managers were trying to go back to their old ways. In fact in 1908 Oswald Stoll threatened a lock-out of performers over a dispute with the VAF over charity matinées but it was pointed out this went against the terms of the arbitration award. Again in 1914 the same owner/manager dismissed members of some London music hall orchestras who refused to sign an eighteen month no strike contract. The orchestras of two Manchester music halls walked out in sympathy leaving only the conductor and a harpist. A court case ensued with the judgement going in Mr Stoll’s favour and the musicians paid damages and costs with Oswald Stoll agreeing to accept payments of five shillings a month. In the London halls he said that as many of the men would shortly be joining the army he had made arrangements for women’s orchestras to take their place. The newspaper headline reads ‘STRIKE OF MUSIC HALL MUSICIANS? Places to be taken by women.’  Hmmm.

I haven’t been able to find a full list of strike supporters but the artistes in the above postcards were performing at the time, may have supported the strike or been affected by the picketing of the halls.

 

Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive

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Adelaide Stoll and the music hall contracts

20160712_165258 Adelaide Gray came to this country  from Australia with her son, Oswald, after the death of her husband. She married John Stoll who was the owner of the Parthenon Rooms in Liverpool and took over the venue shortly after John’s death in 1880. The Parthenon Music Hall was born. Adelaide was helped by fourteen year old Oswald who looked after the artistes backstage, eventually putting together the programme and booking the acts.

I have an original contract of employment from the Parthenon Music Hall and we can see the tough conditions put on the artistes. The contract is dated December 17th 1888 and is for six nights. At the top of the contract, and heavily underlined, appear the words that you do not appear at any other Place of Amusement in or within Five Miles of this City. This meant that the artistes could not play at several halls a night as had previously been the case. They struggled financially as they had to pay for board and lodging and travel expenses out of the one engagement. Mrs Stoll expected damages of five times the performer’s salary if they broke this clause. There is also a warning that all artistes must submit details of their act for the programme two weeks before the start of the engagement or risk the contract being cancelled or remain good at Mrs Stoll’s option.

There are twelve rules on the back of the contract and from them we learn that any artiste who received from incompetency or any other cause, the entire disapproval of the audience, will be dismissed, only receiving salary for that portion of of the engagement which may have been fulfilled. Hoping to shake off the old image of music halls as not quite nice, Mrs Stoll insists in rule eight that every Artiste must stringently avoid introducing any obscene Song, Saying or Gesture and upon being requested to cease performing any indecorous item which may be deemed nauseous to the public taste, or opposed to respectability, must do so without demur. One wonders how the Stolls dealt with very popular performers who bent the rules. An inebriated artiste arriving for work could be dismissed or fined. In later life Oswald Stoll put up signs backstage prohibiting his employees from using coarse language.

Fire was a constant worry in places of entertainment and there are reports of many music hall fires. Mrs Stoll covers this in her rules, disclaiming any responsibility in connection with artistes property and if in the event of fire the hall is closed, engagements must terminate therewith. The performers had to agree to taking the place of the preceding artiste on the programme if they did not appear, so giving a performance that was twice as long – but for the same money. Each infringement of the rules could mean a fine of ten shillings which would be deducted from the offender’s salary.imageThe contract I have is for two artistes and the weekly salary is four pounds ten shillings between them so any fine would severely damage them financially. The contract is signed by Adelaide and Oswald Stoll.

 

The Stolls went on to open other music halls and Oswald became one of the most successful owners in the business. His crowning glory was the building of the London Coliseum in 1904 and Adelaide Stoll would sit in the box office and take the money. After her death Oswald installed a bust of his mother in the foyer of the Coliseum where it can still be seen. 20160712_165556