What is Vaudeville?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

Vaudeville is a style of entertainment that was popular in America around the turn of the 20th century. It consisted of a number of variety acts, including live music, dance, and comedy. Other forms of entertainment could also be included, such as lectures, one-act plays, circus-style acts involving people or animals, and even short films, though music and comedy were the staples of the genre.

Vaudeville shows often included magicians.
Vaudeville shows often included magicians.

Early vaudeville or variety shows, from the mid-19th century, were associated with the lower classes and could be quite risqué, but performer Antonio Pastor made the form more respectable around the 1880s. Women and children became admitted to the shows, while alcohol was often eliminated; earlier variety shows were often held in beer-halls. Benjamin Franklin Keith contributed to the growing popularity of vaudeville by opening a number of theatres in the Eastern and Midwestern United States and in Canada.

The most prestigious of Keith's projects, called the Big Time, opened in the Palace Theater in New York City in 1913, and it became essential for the most famous stars of vaudeville to perform there. Though vaudeville at the Palace was extremely popular, it did not remain so for long. Vaudeville could not survive the growing popularity of film and radio, and the Palace Theatre was converted to a movie house in 1932, shortly after the Depression hit.

Though the vaudeville craze did not last long, its influences on the world of entertainment persist into the present day. Many of film's earliest stars, including the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges, launched their careers through vaudeville. The aesthetics of vaudeville also prevailed in newer mediums, such as the screwball comedy films of the 1930s and variety shows on radio and television. Slang terms originating in the vaudeville world, such as "small time" and "big time," the "limelight," and "flop" for an unsuccessful show, are now in the vocabulary of most American English speakers.

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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What is the connection Vaudeville has to Pennsylvania?


So I have a question, what influences did vaudeville have from Europe?

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