A Vaudeville Retrospective:

Illustrated Lecture, Performance, & Exhibition

The story of Vaudeville is in many ways the story of America between 1880 and 1930, and a fascinating story it is. Heroes & villains, big business, technological & social change --- the story of Vaudeville has it all. And the influence of Vaudeville is still with us.

But today, eight decades since the decline of Vaudeville, misconceptions abound. Many people confuse Vaudeville with burlesque or minstrelsy. Understandably, many have only the haziest notion of Vaudeville based on warped depictions in old movies. But taking a fresh look back, Vaudeville was a simple concept: a respectable general audience variety show consisting of a dozen "acts" unconnected by plot. Yet it grew into a dominant form of leisure in America, a giant coast-to-coast industry that flourished for 50 years. The 1880-1930 period was one of rapid change on many fronts, and "A Vaudeville Retrospective" places the story of Vaudeville within the context of the times.

The illustrated lecture --- conceived for museums, historical societies, college theatre departments, and libraries, tells engaging stories of (1) the technological & social forces that set the stage for Vaudeville, (2) the leadership that built the genre into a big business, (3) the forces of individual talent and personality that held mass interest, and (4) the economics --- and backroom machinations --- of Vaudeville's decline.

Performance segments interspersed throughout by "The Last Living Vaudevillian" reprise the virtuosity and spirit of the touring artists who "packed 'em in" at theatres across the U.S. Selected audio and video clips help convey the flavor of the Vaudeville era.

"A Vaudeville Retrospective" is a fascinating program of "under-the-radar" history that illuminates a nearly forgotten institution in early 20th-century American life.

Call or e-mail today about a presentation for your museum. Program content complements virtually any late 19th- or early 20th-century topic, and programs can be customized to dovetail with relevant programs or exhibitions. For the next decade at least, presentations in conjunction with "centennial" exhibitions are welcome --- and will be most relevant. "A Vaudeville Retrospective" is ideal as a member event, staff event, fund-raiser, educational session --- or simply as a literate, informative, & fun public program.

The Program (2 hr. & 1 hr. programs available):

Interspersed with performance segments
by R.W. Bacon as "The Last Living Vaudevillian"

(1) Introduction: Vaudeville --- What was it? And how did it get so BIG?
Vaudeville defined; current misconceptions; survivors to the 1950s TV era; a typical Vaudeville show; and Vaudeville theatres from big-time to small-time.

(2) Setting the Scene: 19th Century Beginnings
Early 19th-century circus & variety, the mid-19th-century "concert saloon", and the late-19th-century entrepreneurs. Industrialization, urbanization, immigration, advances in communication & transportation --- and a middle-class backlash against aristocratic cultural tastemakers.

(3) The Peak Years: The Growth of an Industry
Competing masterminds, moguls, and monopolists build a nationwide industry: Over 2000 theatres, 2000 miscellaneous venues, 30,000-50,000 performers. Talent aiming to please --- tycoons aiming to profit. Vaudeville prospered in tandem with the popular music industry --- and the fledgling motion picture business.

(4) People of Vaudeville: The Famous & the Forgotten
Human stories of big-timers and small-timers. Names may be forgotten, but their influence is with is today, sometimes in unlikely places!

(5) The Decline of Vaudeville: Internal & External Forces
The novelty of sound movies drew audiences away from Vaudeville, but it does not tell the whole story --- multiple internal forces played a role as well.
Surprising twists illustrate that in history, things are so often not as they seem!

(6) Then What Happened?
To the people, to the places, to the ideas, to the influences?
The better Vaudevillians moved into nightclub, revue, film, or radio work, while lesser talents moved to "small-time" work or left showbusiness. Post-WWII nightclub variety, 1950s-60s TV variety, and late 20th-century "New Vaudeville."

(7) 21st Century Manifestations --- The Spirit Remains
A new amalgam of circus, cabaret, "new burlesque", and the growth of Las Vegas as a show capital provides new venues for today's variety acts. The presentation and "packaging" may have changed, but today's variety performers carry on.

Attendees receive informative program notes that include a bibliography and resource information useful for further exploration of the topic.

A companion lobby exhibition is available that amplifies on material covered in the illustrated lecture presentation.

Related Programs:

Program Brochure ... & A Curator's Primer on American Vaudeville:

Sample Graphics, Audio, & Video: