Vaudeville: 25 Fascinating Teaching Resources

The word vaudeville originates from an old French term “Vau de Vire”, referring to the source of satirical songs in the valley of the Vire river, Normandy. A slightly different version of vaudeville arrived in America in the 1880s, becoming a hugely popular form of cultural entertainment for the next fifty years. Vaudeville consisted of a series of short, non-related acts on a single bill, with an eclectic list of variety performances involving anything from live animals, jugglers, magicians and singers to comedians, dancers, clowns, and female and male impersonators. Vaudeville in America differed from burlesque in that it was largely family entertainment. Small-time theatres showed vaudeville on a hectic schedule for a low ticket price, appealing to a largely working-class audience. On the other hand, in its heyday vaudeville became so mainstream that large commercial theatres housed shows consisting of some of America’s best-known performers. The form gradually died out due to the competing medium of motion pictures. – Justin Cash


Vaudeville Resources

American Vaudeville Museum with biographies and photographs of dozens of vaudeville performers from W.C. Fields to Sarah Bernhardt and Sophie Tucker.

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Wikipedia entry including etymology, beginnings, popularity, artists, and eventual decline.

Excellent article from the Library of Congress examining American vaudeville on film, including animal acts, burlesque, comic sketches, dance, acrobatics and dramatic pieces.

A comprehensive history of Vaudeville by John Kenrick in four parts – the early days, typical vaudeville acts, star performers in vaudeville and the final years. Offers photographs, statistics and other useful facts.

David Green's Vaudeville Documentary

The Australian Variety Theatre Archive contains vaudeville theatre resources for those interested in some serious research. A wonderful database of variety and vaudeville performers, entrepreneurs, theatres, scenic artists, directors, composers, stage characters, and more from 1850-1930.

A short history of the movement incorporating its origins, visionaries, stars and eventual decline.

Excellent article outlining vaudeville and its connections to Broadway.

Blacks and Vaudeville: PBS documentary

Article discussing the inequality of the African American vaudeville scene compared to its white counterpart.

Assortment of archival audio recordings of American vaudeville acts on Edison Records from the early 1900s. Includes ragtime songs, comedy dialogue sketches and songs with monologues.

Comprehensive entry from Encyclopedia.com on vaudeville including its early beginnings, content, format, cultural significance, styles, performers, entrepreneurs and theatres.

Large historical collection of theatre programmes (scanned images) from the Library of Congress.

Worthwhile history of the form, including its origins in America.

Vaudeville

Podcast from ABC radio on the history of vaudeville in Australia.

A lengthy review of a vaudeville text gives us a brief history of the form in America, along the way.

Everything I know, I learned in vaudeville.

James Cagney (1899-1986), Academy Award Winner (1943)

Fantastic historical collection from the American Vaudeville Museum digital archive of postcards, sheet music, posters, programmes, magazines, photographs, stage scripts, newspaper clippings, and more. A great assortment of resources.

The Decline of Vaudeville in the 1920s

Compilation of ten of the most influential vaudeville performers, plus an article on the importance of women in vaudeville.

From the collections of Arts Centre Melbourne is a history of the Tivoli Circuit, the home of vaudeville in this country from 1901 to 1966.

A lengthy list of vaudeville performers from Wikipedia.

The History of Vaudeville A Film by Stewart Lippe (excerpt).m4v

Ranker’s list of the best performers in vaudeville.

A short history of vaudeville and its impact on American culture. 


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