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Dead medium: the theatrophone; the electrophone
From: bruces@well.com Bruce Sterling
Source(s): WHEN OLD TECHNOLOGIES WERE NEW: Thinking About Electric Communication in the Late Nineteenth Century by

Carolyn Marvin
Oxford University Press 1988 ISBN 0-19-504468-1

pages 209-210

"The most popular feature of the Paris Exposition

Internationale d'Electricite of 1881 was such an

arrangement, variously described as the theatrophone and

the electrophone. From August to November crowds queued

up three evenings a week before two rooms, each containing

ten pairs of headsets, in the Palais d'Industrie. In one,

listeners heard live performances of the Opera transmitted

through microphones arranged on either side of the

prompter's box. In the other, they heard plays from the

Theatre Francais through ten microphones placed at the

front of the stage near the footlights. Not only were the

voices of the actors, actresses, and singers heard in this

hammer, but also the instruments of the orchestra, the

applause and laughter of the the audience == 'and, alas!

the voice of the prompter too.'

"Efforts to reeach extended audiences by telephone

required elaborate logistical preparations. Its

application to entertainment, therefore, remained

experimental and occasional. In Europe entertainment uses

of the telephone were often an aristocratic prerogative.

The president of the French Republic was so pleased with

the theatrophone exhibit at the Paris Exposition that he

inaugurated a series of telephonic soirees with

theatrophonic connections from the Elysee Palace to the

Opera, the Theatre Francais, and the Odeon Theatre.

"The King and Queen of Portugal, in mourning for the

Princess of Saxony in 1884 and unable to attend the

premiere of a new Lisbon opera, were provided with a

special transmission to the palace through six microphones

mounted at the front of the opera stage. The same year

the manager of a theatre in Munich installed a telephone

line to his villa at Tutzingen on the Starnberger Sea in

order to monitor every performance and to hear for himself

how enthusiastically the audience applauded. The office

of the Berlin Philharmonic Society was similarly connected

to its own distant opera house. In Brussels, the

Minister of Railways, Posts and Telegraphs and other high

public officials listened to live opera thirty miles away

at Antwerp.

"Beginning in 1890, individual subscribers to the

Theatrophone Company of Paris were offered special hookups

to five Paris theatres for live performances. The annual

subscription fee was a steep 180 francs, and 15 francs

more was charged to subscribers on each occasion of use.

"In London in 1891, the Universal Telephone Company

placed fifty telephones in the Royal Italian Opera House

in Covent Garden, and another fifty in the Theatre Royal,

Drury Lane. All transmittted exclusively to the estate of

Sir Augustus Harris at St. John's Wood, with an extension

to his stables. By 1896 the affluent could secure private

connections to a variety of London entertainments for an

inclusive annual rent of ten pounds sterling in addition

to an installation fee of five pounds. The queen was one

of these clients. In addition to having special lines

from her sitting room to the Foreign Office, the Home

Office, the Board of Green cloth, and Marlborough House,

Her Majesty enjoyed direct connections to her favorite

entertainments."