The Bill

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Vaudeville theater managers would arrange the “bill” for each show, deciding the order in which performers would take the stage. A vaudeville show might include anywhere from two to twenty-two acts; a typical show would have eight to ten. The audience would be taking their seats during the opening act, so the first performance was usually a “dumb act,” something that was visually interesting but not dependent on music or dialogue—perhaps a juggler, tightrope walker, magician, or a trained animal act.

The second act might be a singing duo or song-and-dance team. The third act, called by vaudeville performers the “three-spot,” could be a short play, a comedy skit, or a group of dancers. The three-spot was typically followed by either a famous performer who was not quite famous enough to be the headliner, or something elaborate and eye-catching—perhaps a large dance troupe—to thrill the audience just before intermission. The best act on the bill would appear next to last, followed by the closing spot, called “the chaser” or “playing to the haircuts” because most of the audience would leave after seeing the headlining act.