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).
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).
The Who & The What of Vaudeville
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 Death of Vaudeville
|The Palace Theatre 1920|
|The Palace Theatre 2008|
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. 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