Early History (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
From the 1880’s to the 1930’s, the most popular form of entertainment in the United States was the live variety show known as vaudeville. It has been estimated that vaudeville employed approximately twenty-five thousand performers during its span of popularity, and during its peak in the 1910’s and 1920’s, two thousand vaudeville theaters existed across the United States and Canada. In spite of its great popularity, however, by the 1950’s vaudeville as mass entertainment had been replaced by television, film, and radio.
Although its origins and meaning are debated, the word “vaudeville” might have come from the French phrase “val de Vire,” referring to regional folk songs sung in the Vire River valley. “Vaudeville” may also have derived from the French “voix de ville” or “voice of the city,” a reference to folk music performed in urban areas of France.
Vaudeville evolved as a mixture of several types of early theater. Many of vaudeville’s classic acts had their origins in ancient forms of entertainment enacted by street performers, jesters, and clowns. As far back as the sixteenth century, “music halls” in England presented stage shows (called “pantos,” an abbreviated form of “pantomime”) that presented a variety of different acts in one show. A single performance might include slapstick physical comedy, humorous songs, and humorous short plays or skits. Immigrants brought elements of the English...
(The entire section is 883 words.)
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