Not long ago, I put out a call over the internet seeking “variety artists”. I thought I was pretty specific in seeking performing artists of diverse types. Nevertheless, I cannot tell you the flood of responses I got from painters, sculptors, video artists and the like. Some at least had the presence of mind to at least ask what the variety arts were before dashing their resume out into the ether. But the idea that this large number of people had no idea, and could not even glean from the CONTEXT, would be disheartening to anyone who hopes the human race will not exterminate itself by, I don’t know, repeatedly hitting itself in the head with a spoon.
At any rate, the variety arts refer to all those forms of theatre which (as opposed to a full length play) present a chain of diverse, self-contained entertainment units known as “acts”. To clarify, the variety forms include: vaudeville, music hall, burlesque, circus, sideshow, medicine show,minstrel show, revue and cabaret. Sometimes the type of show goes along with a certain type of venue, so in this series I will also talk about some of those such as dime museums, saloons, showboats, night clubs, chautauquas, “presentation houses” and possibly some others. In many ways, vaudeville is the culmination of all the other forms, indeed, includes and incorporates all the others, so a little squib on that will come last. But if you can’t wait for that, feel free to go right out and buy my book No Applause, or simply click through this blog!
Tomorrow’s post: burlesque.
To find out more about the variety arts and the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.