samedi 17 décembre 2011

deux ou trois choses que je sais sur le vaudeville ...

sammy davis, six ans, dans une époustouflante imitation de bill "bojangles" robinson

Vaudeville was a theatrical genre of variety entertainment in the United States and Canada from the early 1880s until the early 1930s. Each performance was made up of a series of separate, unrelated acts grouped together on a common bill. Types of acts included popular and classical musicians, 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. Vaudeville developed from many sources, including the concert saloon, minstrelsy, freak shows, dime museums, and literary burlesque. Called "the heart of American show business," vaudeville was one of the most popular types of entertainment in North America for several decades.
Leavitt's and Sargent's shows differed little from the coarser material presented in earlier itinerant entertainments, although their use of the term to provide a veneer of respectability points to an early effort to cater variety amusements to the growing middle class. Though vaudeville had been used in the United States as early as the 1830s, most variety theatres adopted the term in the late 1880s and early 1890s for two reasons. First, seeking middle class patrons, they wished to distance themselves from the earlier rowdy, working-class variety halls. Second, the French or pseudo-French term lent an air of sophistication, and perhaps made the institution seem more consistent with the Progressive Era's interests in education and self-betterment. Some, however, preferred the earlier term "variety" to what manager Tony Pastor called its "sissy and Frenchified" successor. Thus, vaudeville was marketed as "variety" well into the twentieth century ...

From newspaper promotional for vaudeville character actor Charles Grapewin
A descendant of variety, (c. 1860s–1881), vaudeville was distinguished from the earlier form by its mixed-gender audience, usually alcohol-free halls, and often slavish devotion to inculcating favor among members of the middle class.[clarification needed] The form gradually evolved from the concert saloon and variety hall into its mature form throughout the 1870s and 1880s. This more genteel form was known as "Polite Vaudeville."
In the years before the American Civil War, entertainment existed on a different scale. Certainly, variety theatre existed before 1860 in Europe and elsewhere. In the United States, as early as the first decades of the 19th century, theatregoers could enjoy a performance consisting of Shakespeare plays, acrobatics, singing, dancing, and comedy. As the years progressed, people seeking diversified amusement found an increasing number of ways to be entertained. A handful of circuses regularly toured the country; dime museums appealed to the curious; amusement parks, riverboats, and town halls often featured "cleaner" presentations of variety entertainment; and saloons, music halls and burlesque houses catered to those with a taste for the risqué. In the 1840s, minstrel shows, another type of variety performance, and "the first emanation of a pervasive and purely American mass culture," grew to enormous popularity and formed what Nick Tosches called "the heart of 19th-century show business."

professor bone is a well meaning medicine man who shows up in dodge city, selling an elixir with potentially deadly side effects ... (great early western tv series, gunsmoke)

Medicine shows traveled the countryside offering programs of comedy, music, jugglers and other novelties along with displays of tonics, salves, and miracle elixirs, while "Wild West" shows provided romantic vistas of the disappearing frontier, complete with trick riding, music and drama. Vaudeville incorporated these various itinerant amusements into a stable, institutionalized form centered in America's growing urban hubs.
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, 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.

Performance bill for Temple Theatre, Detroit, December 1, 1902.
The manager's comments, sent back to the circuit's central office weekly, follow each act's description. The bill illustrates the typical pattern of opening the show with a "dumb" act to allow patrons to find their seats, placing strong acts in second and penultimate positions, and leaving the weakest act for the end, to clear the house.
As well, note that in this bill, as in many vaudeville shows, acts often associated with "lowbrow" or popular entertainment (acrobats, a trained mule) shared a stage with acts more usually regarded as "highbrow" or classical entertainment (opera vocalists, classical musicians).
(1) Burt Jordan and Rosa Crouch. "Sensational, grotesque and 'buck' dancers. A good act..."
(2) The White Tscherkess Trio. "A man and two women who do a singing turn of the operatic order. They carry special scenery which is very artistic and their costumes are original and neat. Their voices are good and blend exceedingly well. The act goes big with the audience."
(3) Sarah Midgely and Gertie Carlisle. "Presenting the sketch 'After School.' ... they are a 'knockout.'"
(4) Theodor F. Smith and Jenny St. George-Fuller. "Refined instrumentalists."
(5) Milly Capell. "European equestrienne. This is her second week. On account of the very pretty picture that she makes she goes as strong as she did last week."
(6) R. J. Jose. "Tenor singer. The very best of them all."
(7) The Nelson Family of Acrobats. "This act is composed of three men, two young women, three boys and two small girls. The greatest acrobatic act extant."
(8) James Thornton. "Monologist and vocalist. He goes like a cyclone. It is a case of continuous laughter from his entrance to his exit."
(9) Burk and Andrus and Their Trained Mule. "This act, if it can be so classed, was closed after the evening performance."

Typical provincial venue on the circuit: "The Opera" in Kirksville, Missouri
B. F. Keith took the next step, starting in Boston, where he built an empire of theatres and brought vaudeville to the United States and Canada. 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.
Albee also gave national prominence to vaudeville's trumpeting "polite" entertainment, a commitment to entertainment equally inoffensive to men, women and children. Acts that violated this ethos (e.g., those that used words such as "hell") were admonished and threatened with expulsion from the week's remaining performances or were canceled altogether. In spite of such threats, performers routinely flouted this censorship, often to the delight of the very audience members whose sensibilities were supposedly endangered.

This 1913 how-to booklet for would-be vaudevillians was recently republished.
By the late 1890s, vaudeville had large circuits, houses (small and large) in almost every sizable location, standardized booking, broad pools of skilled acts, and a loyal national following. One of the biggest circuits was Martin Beck's Orpheum Circuit. It incorporated in 1919 and brought together 45 vaudeville theaters in 36 cities throughout the United States and Canada and a large interest in two vaudeville circuits. Another major circuit was that of Alexander Pantages. At his hey-day Pantages owned more than 30 vaudeville theaters and controlled, through management contracts, perhaps 60 more in both the United States and Canada.
At its height, vaudeville played across multiple strata of economic class and auditorium size. On the vaudeville circuit, it was said that if an act would succeed in Peoria, Illinois, it would work anywhere. The question "Will it play in Peoria?" has now become a metaphor for whether something appeals to the American mainstream public. The three most common levels were the “small time” (lower-paying contracts for more frequent performances in rougher, often converted theatres), the “medium time” (moderate wages for two performances each day in purpose-built theatres), and the “big time” (possible remuneration of several thousand dollars per week in large, urban theatres largely patronized by the middle and upper-middle classes). As performers rose in renown and established regional and national followings, they worked their way into the less arduous working conditions and better pay of the big time. The capitol of the big time was New York City's Palace Theatre (or just “The Palace” in the slang of vaudevillians), built by Martin Beck in 1913 and operated by Keith. Featuring a bill stocked with inventive novelty acts, national celebrities, and acknowledged masters of vaudeville performance (such as comedian and trick roper Will Rogers), the Palace provided what many vaudevillians considered the apotheoses of remarkable careers.
While the neighborhood character of vaudeville attendance had always promoted a tendency to tailor fare to specific audiences, mature vaudeville grew to feature houses and circuits specifically aimed at certain demographic groups. African-American patrons, often segregated into the rear of the second gallery in white-oriented theatres, had their own smaller circuits, as did speakers of Italian and Yiddish. (For a brief discussion of Black vaudeville, see Theater Owners Booking Association.) White-oriented regional circuits, such as New England's "Peanut Circuit", also provided essential training grounds for new artists while allowing established acts to experiment with and polish new material. At its height, vaudeville was rivaled only by churches and public schools among the nation's premiere public gathering places.
The songs of northern composer Stephen Foster figured prominently in blackface minstrel shows of the period. Though written in dialect and certainly politically incorrect by today's standards, his later songs were free of the ridicule and blatantly racist caricatures that typified other songs of the genre. Foster's works treated slaves and the South in general with an often cloying sentimentality that appealed to audiences of the day.

deanna durbin chante stephen foster

White minstrel shows featured white performers pretending to be blacks, playing their versions of black music and speaking ersatz black dialects. Minstrel shows dominated popular show business in the U.S. from that time through into the 1890s, also enjoying massive popularity in the UK and in other parts of Europe. As the minstrel show went into decline, blackface returned to its novelty act roots and became part of vaudeville. Blackface featured prominently in film at least into the 1930s, and the "aural blackface" of the Amos 'n' Andy radio show lasted into the 1950s. Meanwhile, amateur blackface minstrel shows continued to be common at least into the 1950s.
As a result, the genre played an important role in shaping perceptions of and prejudices about blacks generally and African Americans in particular. Some social commentators have stated that blackface provided an outlet for whites' fear of the unknown and the unfamiliar, and a socially acceptable way of expressing their feelings and fears about race and control. Writes Eric Lott in Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class, "The black mask offered a way to play with the collective fears of a degraded and threatening—and male—Other while at the same time maintaining some symbolic control over them."
Through the 1930s, many well-known entertainers of stage and screen also performed in blackface. Whites who performed in blackface in film included Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, Shirley Temple and Judy Garland.

eddie cantor in busby berkeley's yes, yes(1931)
bing crosby, in full blackface, introduces johnny mercer's accentuate the positive (1943)

In the early years of film, black characters were routinely played by whites in blackface. In the first known film of Uncle Tom's Cabin (1903) all of the major black roles were whites in blackface. Even the 1914 Uncle Tom starring African American actor Sam Lucas in the title role had a white male in blackface as Topsy. D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915) used whites in blackface to represent all of its major black characters, but reaction against the film's racism largely put an end to this practice in dramatic film roles. Thereafter, whites in blackface would appear almost exclusively in broad comedies or "ventriloquizing" blackness in the context of a vaudeville or minstrel performance within a film. This stands in contrast to made-up whites routinely playing Native Americans, Asians, Arabs, and so forth, for several more decades.
Blackface makeup was largely eliminated even from live film comedy in the U.S. after the end of the 1930s, when public sensibilities regarding race began to change and blackface became increasingly associated with racism and bigotry. Still, the tradition did not end all at once. The radio program Amos 'n' Andy (1928–1960) constituted a type of "aural blackface", in that the black characters were portrayed by whites and conformed to stage blackface stereotypes. The conventions of blackface also lived on unmodified at least into the 1950s in animated theatrical cartoons. Strausbaugh estimates that roughly one-third of late 1940s MGM cartoons "included a blackface, coon, or mammy figure." Bugs Bunny appeared in blackface at least as late as Southern Fried Rabbit in 1953.

Bert Williams was the only black member of the Ziegfeld Follies when he joined them in 1910. Shown here in blackface, he was the highest-paid African American entertainer of his day.
By 1840, Black performers also were performing in blackface makeup. Frederick Douglass generally abhorred blackface and was one of the first people to write against the institution of blackface minstrelsy, condemning it as racist in nature, with inauthentic, northern, white origins. Douglass did, however, maintain that, "It is something to be gained when the colored man in any form can appear before a white audience."
When all-black minstrel shows began to proliferate in the 1860s, they often were billed as "authentic" and "the real thing". These "colored minstrels" always claimed to be recently-freed slaves (doubtlessly many were, but most were not) and were widely seen as authentic. This presumption of authenticity could be a bit of a trap, with white audiences seeing them more like "animals in a zoo" than skilled performers. Despite often smaller budgets and smaller venues, their public appeal sometimes rivalled that of white minstrel troupes. In March 1866, Booker and Clayton's Georgia Minstrels may have been the country's most popular troupe, and were certainly among the most critically acclaimed.

fisk jubliee singers

These "colored" troupes—many using the name "Georgia Minstrels"—focused on "plantation" material, rather than the more explicit social commentary (and more nastily racist stereotyping) found in portrayals of northern blacks. In the execution of authentic black music and the percussive, polyrhythmic tradition of pattin' Juba, when the only instruments performers used were their hands and feet, clapping and slapping their bodies and shuffling and stomping their feet, black troupes particularly excelled. One of the most successful black minstrel companies was Sam Hague's Slave Troupe of Georgia Minstrels, managed by Charles Hicks. This company eventually was taken over by Charles Callendar. The Georgia Minstrels toured the United States and abroad and later became Haverly's Colored Minstrels.
From the mid-1870s, as white blackface minstrelsy became increasingly lavish and moved away from "Negro subjects", black troupes took the opposite tack. The popularity of the Fisk Jubilee Singers and other jubilee singers had demonstrated northern white interest in white religious music as sung by blacks, especially spirituals. Some jubilee troupes pitched themselves as quasi-minstrels and even incorporated minstrel songs; meanwhile, blackface troupes began to adopt first jubilee material and then a broader range of southern black religious material. Within a few years, the word "jubilee", originally used by the Fisk Jubilee Singers to set themselves apart from blackface minstrels and to emphasize the religious character of their music, became little more than a synonym for "plantation" material. Where the jubilee singers tried to "clean up" Southern black religion for white consumption, blackface performers exaggerated its more exotic aspects.

2 commentaires:

f-louise a dit…

et ben didon c'est plus une tartine c'est carrément la baguette de moi qui ne comprends rien à l' vais quand même lire...petit bout par petit bout.

skorecki a dit…

y'a beaucoup beaucoup plus à dire et à écouter ... c'est là que la musique pop (folk, country, rock....) commence ... et finit ...

" invraisemblable ou pas, crois-moi, c'est la vérité -et il n'y en a pas deux ..."