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THE HISTORY OF VAUDEVILLE! So, your teachers have told you you’re going to a Vaudeville show. But what exactly is “Vaudeville”? And what does it take to put on a show? And when is the bell going to ring so I don’t have to think about this anymore? Wait, and does Vaudeville even exist anymore? The truth is, the influences of Vaudeville are all around you. Most modernday comedy you see in movies, television and of course, live on stage, has its roots in Vaudeville. Have you ever heard of “I Love Lucy?” or better yet, “The Simpsons?” The people who created those shows definitely knew Vaudeville. Why should you care? That’s easy. Vaudeville is one of only a few uniquely American art forms. A lot of our other creative accomplishments were borrowed from other countries, cultures and religions (they were around first, what can we say?). But Vaudeville was born in America, kept many of our towns alive after the gold rush/saloon years, and managed to stay alive for over 100 years! Now, to get started, here are a few Fun Facts about Vaudeville. Pay attention-teachers have a way of quizzing their students on these things. 1. No one knows what “Vaudeville” means! Some historians think it comes from “Voix de Ville” (“Voice of the city”) or “Val de Vire” (Valley of the River Vire). Still others believe the name was created by venue owners to make the shows, which were known as “variety,” sound more sophisticated and exotic. 2. The first “Vaudeville” acts were created to clean up the Wild West saloons and make mining and frontier towns seem more “family-friendly”. 3. Vaudeville shows were also known as “variety” and featured a number of different acts throughout the night. in a single evening, an audience member could expect to see an animal act, a juggling act, a tap dancer, a sword swallower, a contortionist and definitely some clowns. 4. Vaudeville preceded Talking Motion Pictures and Television. 5. At its peak, Vaudeville was the largest entertainment market around. Lavish, huge auditoriums were built specifically for Vaudeville, and entrepreneurs created circuits of theatres in all the major cities. The most well-known of these circuits were The Orpheum, The Paramount and the Pantages.


EXPLORING VAUDEVILLE This section may require you to do some research. If you don’t know a word or a concept, look it up! 5) Vaudeville employed a mixture of several different styles of entertainment, match the act with its definition below: Melodrama



Musician or singer


Fancy word for magician


A person who can throw their voice


A play acted with a lot of exaggeration


Provocative stage show


Physical comedy


A person able to twist into unusual positions


Skilled gymnastics

In addition to singers, dancers, and comedians, Vaudeville was known for its unusual novelty acts and circus-styled performances. The circus had a rich history in America as well, and it was only natural that some of the circus acts would spill over into Vaudeville. Which of the following are examples of real circuses throughout history? a)Circus Maximus in ancient Rome, featuring chariot races and 150,000 spectators. b) John Bill Rickett’s Philadelphia Circus, attended by George Washington in 1793

THE HISTORY OF VAUDEVILLE! c)P.T. Barnum’s “Greatest Show on Earth” d) Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Circus in 1913 e)all of the above

By the time that talking motion pictures became popular in the 1930s, America was in a Depression. Although Vaudeville offered an affordable form of live entertainment, it was no competition for the low cost of a movie. Many of the Vaudeville theatres were turned into movie houses, and soon Vaudeville itself had become a novelty. ESSAY or DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How do new technologies like the internet, the iPod, and the latest software affect the business of entertainment now? Are there any forms of entertainment or information that may be threatened by new technology?


Will Rogers, George Burns, Lucille Ball and the 3 Stooges all started in Vaudeville before going into movies. Name one reason a Vaudevillian would choose to go into movies, and one reason they may prefer to stay on the live stage?

1380141621 historyofvaudeville  
1380141621 historyofvaudeville