Writing for Vaudeville eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 543 pages of information about Writing for Vaudeville.

Slap-stick sidewalk conversation teams often would hire an author to fit them with a ready-made plot, and, pushed back behind the Olio into a centre-door fancy set, would laboriously explain why they were there, then go through their inappropriate antics and finish with a climax that never “climaxed.”  All kinds of two-acts, from the dancing pair to the flirtatious couple, vainly tried to give their offerings dramatic form.  They did their best to make them over into little plays and still retain the individual elements that had won them success.

The futility of such attempts it took years to realize.  It was only when the stock opening, “I expect a new partner to call at the house today in answer to my advertisement (which was read for a laugh) and while I am waiting for him I might as well practice my song,” grew so wearisome that it had to be served with a special notice in many vaudeville theatres, that these groping two-acts returned to the pure forms from which they never should have strayed.  But even today you sometimes see such an act—­with a little less inappropriate opening—­win, because of the extreme cleverness of the performers.


Among the dramatic forms—­by which I mean acts depending on dialogue, plot and “acting” for appeal—­that found more or less success in vaudeville, were sketches and short plays (not playlets) using either comedy, farce, or dramatic plots, and containing either burlesque or extravaganza.  Let us take these dramatic forms in their order of widest difference from the playlet and give to each the explanatory word it deserves.

1.  Extravaganza Acts

Extravaganza is anything out of rule.  It deals comically with the impossible and the unreal, and serves its purpose best when it amazes most.  Relying upon physical surprises, as well as extravagant stage-effects, the extravaganza act may be best explained, perhaps, by naming a famous example—­“Eight Bells.”  The Byrne Brothers took the elements of this entertainment so often into vaudeville and out of it again into road shows that it is difficult to remember where it originated.  The sudden appearances of the acrobatic actors and their amazing dives through seemingly solid doors and floors, held the very essence of extravaganza.  Uncommon nowadays even in its pure form, the extravaganza act that tries to ape the play form is seldom if ever seen.

2.  Burlesque Acts

Burlesque acts, however, are not uncommon today and are of two different kinds.  First, there is the burlesque that is travesty, which takes a well-known and often serious subject and hits off its famous features in ways that are uproariously funny.  “When Caesar Sees Her,” took the famous meeting between Cleopatra and Marc Antony and made even the most impressive moment a scream. [1] And Arthur Denvir’s “The Villain Still Pursued Her” (See Appendix), an exceptionally fine example of the travesty, takes the well-remembered melodrama and extracts laughter from situations that once thrilled.

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Writing for Vaudeville from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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