February 28th, 1883 – American Vaudeville

Today-In-History

Vaudeville is a theatrical genre of variety entertainment. It was especially popular in the United States and Canada from the early 1880s until the early 1930s.

VaudevilleA typical vaudeville performance is made up of a series of separate, unrelated acts grouped together on a common bill. Types of acts have included popular and classical musicians, singers, dancers, comedians, trained animals, magicians, female and male impersonators, acrobats, illustrated songs, jugglers, one-act plays or scenes from plays, athletes, lecturing celebrities, minstrels, and movies. A vaudeville performer is often referred to as a “vaudevillian”.

Vaudeville developed from many sources, including the concert saloon, minstrelsy, freak shows, dime museums, and literary American burlesque. Called “the heart of American show business,” vaudeville was one of the most popular types of entertainment in North America for several decades.

In the early 1880s, impresario Tony Pastor, a circus ringmaster turned theatre manager, capitalized on middle class sensibilities and spending power when he began to feature “polite” variety programs in several of his New York City theatres. The usual date given for the “birth” of vaudeville is October 24, 1881 at New York’s Fourteenth Street Theater, when Pastor famously staged the first bill of self-proclaimed “clean” vaudeville in New York City. Hoping to draw a potential audience from female and family-based shopping traffic uptown, Pastor barred the sale of liquor in his theatres, eliminated bawdy material from his shows, and offered gifts of coal and hams to attendees. Pastor’s experiment proved successful, and other managers soon followed suit.

Benjamin_Franklin_Keith_001

B. F. Keith

B. F. Keith took the next step, starting in Boston, where he built an empire of theatres and brought vaudeville to the US and Canada, by opening the first vaudeville theater in Boston on February 28th, 1883. Later, E. F. Albee, adoptive grandfather of the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Edward Albee, managed the chain to its greatest success. Circuits such as those managed by Keith-Albee provided vaudeville’s greatest economic innovation and the principal source of its industrial strength. They enabled a chain of allied vaudeville houses that remedied the chaos of the single-theatre booking system by contracting acts for regional and national tours. These could easily be lengthened from a few weeks to two years.

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


 

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