Origins of the Theater. History of Vaudeville
Background There was a variety of entertainment. Time period was 1880 -1930. The acts included concerts, one-act plays, comedy routines and short movies. There were male and female performers. It was popular in both the United States and Canada.
Beginnings It all started in theaters in New York City. There was a focus to develop cities and towns after the Industrial Revolution. It was geared toward entertaining the middle class citizen. It was a family friendly environment with no alcohol or drugs. It became known as “Polite Vaudeville”. It was affordable entertainment.
Beginnings (con’t) Vaudeville bridges a social gap that divided American citizens and brought them closer together. Before 1880 the shows in the American Theater were too violent for women and children. People were looking for family entertainment. As time went on the industry gave people more of what they were looking for. Started out with simple Shakespearean plays, acrobatics, singing and dancing. People began looking forward to see what was new at theater.
Popularities There were chains of vaudeville houses called Circuits were large money makers. The playhouses ranged in size from large to small. The biggest and most popular was in New York City called “The Palace”. It became the center of vaudeville and was always filled with national celebrities and many job opportunities. Vaudeville show presented by Tony Pastor
The Life of a Vaudevillian Not an easy life with travel tours up to a year at a time. Actors never spent time with family and most preferred to remain unattached. The schedule was demanding with most shows taking place at night leaving the actors with little to no sleep. Women and children with talent were big money makers. At first, theaters were in poor condition, but as revenue started streaming in, improvements were made. Salaries were high and better than the average factory worker.
Famous Names Tony Pastor-Producer (May 28, 1837 – August 26, 1908) was an American impresario, variety performer and theatre owner who became one of the founding forces behind American vaudeville in the mid- to late-nineteenth century. He was sometimes referred to as the "Dean of Vaudeville. "
Famous Names (con’t) Mickey Rooney Walter Brennan James Dunn El Brendal Jelly Roll Morton Uncle Dave Macon Jack Haley Ted Healey Emory Parnell Pert Kelton Nella Walker James Barton Flo Bert George Jessel
Death of Vaudeville Public tastes began to change and become more sophisticated and refined. There were no new improvements in the shows or the routines. People stopped being interested because things were no longer new. Prices had to rise to meet the rising cost and the middle class (the group vaudeville was designed to entertain) could no longer afford to go to theater.
The Final Years People were only going to kill time. By the end, only the little children found it entertaining. The best audience was the late night audience, but they were also the smallest audience. The actors simply grew too tired to care if they were any good. The Palace Theater closed and later reopened as a movie theater. At this closing there was a memorial speech given by vaudeville great, George Jessel. As the days of vaudeville died, people disposed of all the records and nothing was kept for history.
Legacy There have been many attempts to bring vaudeville back. There are still tributes being made to many moments and actors of the era. Many of today’s comedians follow the great talents and have been influenced by the great vaudevillians.