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A university lecture on American social history

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Listen to audio recording and answer the questions.

Narrator
Listen to part of a university lecture on American social history.

Professor: Before we examine the modern American entertainment industry- Broadway shows, Hollywood movies, rock concerts, television,and all that- let's take a short look at the beginnings of organized entertainment in America.

Almost since the very beginning of the country, Americans had been able to enjoy itinerant performances of one kind or another, shows that travelled around to find their audiences, in towns and villages across the continent. Travelling medicine shows, offering jugglers and music along with their snake oil and miracle tonics, were popular. Then there were Buffalo Bill Cody's 'Wild West Shows', with trick riders and dramatic re-enactments, which toured the country, as did several circuses like Barnum and Bailey's. And there were the showboats- paddle-wheelers carried music and comedy up and down our river systems, up and down the Mississippi River and the Missouri River, and the Ohio River. Meanwhile, town halls, saloons and music halls, dime museums and burlesque houses, all sprang up across the country, wherever people had some money to burn and were looking for a little fun.

But then, after the Civil War, after 1865, America's social structure began to change, change radically. The country began to grow economically, and its cities began to grow, and an American middle class began to develop, with increased spending power and leisure time. This was also a time of industrial growth, and transportation and communication technologies improved rapidly. Businesses became large and national in scope.

And it was at this same time that entertainment became an industry- with the appearance of Vaudeville. Vaudeville was something new- the first mass entertainment, in that it no longer catered just to the gullible or to those looking for the risque. From its inception, it was geared toward middle-class men and women and families and it very quickly spread nationwide. Its performance halls were alcohol-free and its hall managers demanded decorum- no spitting on the floor or jeering the acts- and its performers were denied the use of bawdy material. Vaudeville was the first family entertainment.

Theatre historians usually date Vaudeville's beginning at October 24th, 1881, when a former circus ringmaster, Tony Pastor, first offered 'polite' variety programs in his New York City theatres. Pastor hoped to draw his audiences from the uptown shopping traffic, from the salaried workers and their wives and children. He barred alcohol sales and risque material from his theatres, and he offered luxurious facilities, and he gave out door prizes like hams and coal to his patrons- and his idea proved so successful that other theatre managers soon followed suit. Incredibly, by the 1890s, Vaudeville has already developed into regional and national chains of theatres, with sophisticated booking and contract systems.

Professor: At its height, Vaudeville performed before a broad range of theatre sizes and economic classes- the so-called 'small time', and 'medium time', and 'big time'. And it was the 'big time' that all of its entertainers hoped to rise to: the Big Time, with its palacial urban theatres and its salaries of several thousand dollars a week!

An act could be just about anything that was entertaining and inoffensive- escape artists like the great Houdini, high divers, contortionists, hypnotists, tap dancers, trained animals, every imaginable kind of novelty act. And of course, there were the headliners, the singers and dancers and comedians whose popularity drew the customers. Some of their careers outlasted Vaudeville. WC Fields, Will Rogers, Al Jolsen, Kate Smith, Eddie Cantor, George Burns, Jack Benny- these names you may not recognize now, but they were some of the greatest Vaudevillians, who went on as far as the early years of movies and then television, and set the performance standards in those media as well, who set many of the performance styles we still enjoy today.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, in 1902, the new medium of the motion picture, an early silent movie, was first incorporated into a Vaudeville bill between the live acts. Thirty years later, on November 16th, 1932, New York's Palace Theatre- the capital of Vaudeville- offered its first exclusively cinematic presentation, and this is considered Vaudeville's official end- the point in time where movies overtook live performances in the hearts of American audiences. For Vaudeville itself, it was a relatively brief stardom- only about fifty years from start to finish- but actually, the spirit of Vaudeville lived on. Its performers moved into the movies or onto Broadway, and then many of these stars moved on to television. And we'll be looking at these media next.

1

1.What is this lecture about?

2

The professor cites the 'Wild West Shows' as?

3

According to the lecturer, how did Tony Pastor attract his audiences?

4

Judging from the lecture, what is a "headliner"?

5

In October of which year did Vaudeville officially appear?

6

Judging from the lecture, which of the following would probably NOT have contributed to the development of Vaudeville?