ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Vaudeville, What is that?!

Updated on February 24, 2017

Box office

Source

Many people are most likely to know about the Victorian Era of theatre due to Shakespeare or a little bit about Broadway due to today's celebrities, but if you were to mention Vaudeville and you will most likely get questions. Vaudeville for the most part is often a forgotten section of theatre history, so what is it?

Tony Pastor

Source

Origin

We have the term vaudeville, but what does it mean or refer to, it is defined as a farce with music (Vaudeville,2014). The term is believed to have been adopted in the United States from the Parisian boulevard theatre, upon which the term vaux-de-vire, satirical songs in couplets sung in the fifteenth century in Normandy, France, was corrupted into vaudeville (Vaudeville,2014). Rozieres headed a theatrical company that left the Comedie Italien and opened a Theatre du Vaudeville in 1792 in Paris, and they were frequently in trouble for their tropical allusions and often had to fall back on semi-historical pieces (Sobel,1961). During the eighteenth century vaudeville bloomed in England into what was called music halls and tavern annexes that offered a wide variety of programs including acrobatic acts, comic songs and conjuring (Sobel,1961).

The term refers to a light entertainment form that was popular during the mid-1890s through the early 1930s; which is the counterpart to the English music halls, in the United States (Vaudeville,2014). In the beginning to put it broadly there were only two types of variety show one for men only and one for mixed audiences (Sobel,1961). Descending from variety shows and the lyceum circuit, which prospered in the United States from the 1830s to the 1870s, came the American version of vaudeville (Mroczka,2013). It also grew from America's love for variety of entertainment (Mroczka,2013).

When it started it was more associated with variety than lyceum and it had a bad reputation to attract drunks, prostitutes, and the "common rabble" to their houses (Mroczka,2013). Variety entertainment became popular in the urban centers and the frontier settlements during the 1850s and 60s (Vaudeville: About Vaudeville,1999). In the United States and Canada vaudeville's life span started in the 1880s and ended in the 1930s, some fifty odd years (Mroczka,2013). In the late 1840s in New York the first "vaudeville house" was built by William Valentine (Sobel,1961). The shows had usually twelve or fifteen acts, with the last half of the show lasting until daylight (Soble,1961). Prior to 1881 vaudeville shows were for men only as they were seen as "indecent" for other audience members; that changed when Tony Pastor, a ballad and minstrel singer, cleaned up variety acts for families (Vaudeville: About Vaudeville,1999). Seeing that wider audiences meant more money other managers started to follow his lead (Vaudeville: About Vaudeville,1999).

Vaudeville Introduction

Stage Bill

Source

The Palace Theater 1920

Source

The Who & The What of Vaudeville

In the theatre world where would we be without our managers there to make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible, nowhere is where we would be. It would be a little more than chaotic without the managers to help keep the flow of a show going. A few all-powerful moguls manipulated the major vaudeville circuits leaving the smaller affiliated circuits to cooperate with them by means of the central metropolitan booking offices and their protective association of vaudeville managers (Sobel,1961). Some of these important managers were: Tony Pastor, Martin Beck, F.F. Proctor, B.F. Keith and E.F. Albee; all of whom started out as performers and became managers and were remembered by their attitudes towards the performers and the public (Sobel,1961). Vaudeville chains, a group of houses controlled by one manager, was a firmly established era by the end of the nineteenth century (Vaudeville,2014). The largest of these chains were United Booking Office, controlling 400 theaters in the East and Midwest, and Martin Beck's Orpheum Circuit, which controlled houses from Chicago to California (Vaudeville,2014). Motion pictures were added to vaudeville shows as an attraction and as a way to clear the house between shows in 1896 (Vaudeville,2014). Slowly motion pictures took more and more time, and after "talkies" were introduced around 1927 and the bills started to show full-length motion pictures with acts of vaudeville (Vaudeville,2014). Beck built The Palace Theatre in New York which became the most outstanding vaudeville house in the United States from 1913 to 1932 (Vaudeville,2014).

During the height of vaudeville's popularity, it was the dream of any vaudeville performer to play at The Palace, by playing there it meant that you had made it (Mroczka,2013). Though the Palace is still around it is now a Broadway theatre instead of a vaudeville theatre (Mroczka,2013). Vaudeville was composed of a wide variety of different show stiles, they had shows like comedians, plate-spinners, animal trainers and singers just to name a few acts (Vaudeville: About Vaudeville,1999). With the shows they would start and end with the weakest, and the performances ranged from truly talented to very quirky (Vaudeville: About Vaudeville,1999).

It wasn't just that vaudeville was a series of entertaining sketches; it was symbolic of all the cultural diversities in the early twentieth century America; through it wasn't free of the day's prejudices it still crossed class and racial boundaries and was the first exposure to the cultures of the people down the street for many people (Vaudeville: About Vaudeville,1999). Some of the biggest stars of the mid-twentieth century like Judy Garland, Bob Hope and James Cagney got their start in vaudeville; but not all of the vaudeville stars were able to make it big elsewhere (Mroczka,2013).

The Palace Theatre 2008

Source

The Death of Vaudeville

The Great Depression hit everyone hard including the patrons, performers and the managers of vaudeville. The effects weren't very obvious until the early 1930s, when the big vaudeville circuits were tightened to the point of strangulation because there were fewer coins in the rainy day funds (Sobel,1961). The radio played its part in vaudeville's fall, it offered the ex-patrons the chance to listen to vaudeville stars for free and from the comfort of their own sitting rooms (Sobel,1961). A rumored cause was that Albee was trying to monopolize it, and in the end killed it instead (Sobel,1961).

Not all vaudeville performers were able to gain back their popularity back but those that did made the jump to other venues like Broadway or television (Sobel,1961). Oddly enough with movies and the TV industry is where vaudeville left its biggest mark with performers like Charlie Chaplin, who incorporated the physical comedy that he learned on vaudeville into his silent films (Vaudeville: About Vaudeville,1999). Even with its decline vaudeville still survives in bits and pieces in different shows throughout the decades; like The Ed Sullivan Show, The Hollywood Palace and even the late night shows of today, like Letterman where each has some form of the vaudeville comedic sketches (Mroczka,2013).

So even though in large part vaudeville is gone it is most definitely still around in new mediums. The comedy sketches on many late night talk shows are one piece of vaudeville that will continue holding up the legacy of vaudeville for years to come.

Vaudeville on The Ed Sullivan Show

Sources Cited

Vaudeville. In (2014). Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/624129/vaudeville

Morczka, P. (2013, November 13). Vaudeville: America's vibrant art form with a short lifetime. Retrieved from http://broadwayscene.com/vaudeville-americas-vibrant-art-form-with-a-short-lifetime/

Vaudeville: About Vaudeville. (1999, October 08). Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/vaudeville/about-vaudeville/721/

Sobel, B. (1961). A pictorial history of vaudeville. New York: The Citadel Press

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Jennifer Garrett profile imageAUTHOR

      Jennifer Garrett 

      2 years ago from Harlan, IN

      Thank you, and that is pretty cool about your grandfather. You are very welcome.

    • Laura335 profile image

      Laura Smith 

      2 years ago from Pittsburgh, PA

      Really intersting. I just found out recently that my grandfaather was in vaudeville. I don't know if he was a performer or what he did, but I have been meaning to research it further, and your links might help. Thanks!

    • Jennifer Garrett profile imageAUTHOR

      Jennifer Garrett 

      3 years ago from Harlan, IN

      You're welcome. Thank you.

    • jtrader profile image

      jtrader 

      3 years ago

      Thanks for sharing the history. Voted up.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)