Media Audience

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The shift from music-hall/variety to early cinema transformed the audience experience: Critically investigate this claim from a primarily Irish perspective.

“Audiences are the same all over the world, and if you entertain them, they'll respond.” (Minnelli, L). This quote doesn’t need any explanation. As audiences, we spend our lives waiting for an experience that will entertain and captivate us, give us something to talk and fascinate about. This isn’t a new trait. Looking back to the mid 19th century, audiences were too awaiting this ‘experience’. However, they didn’t gain it from YouTube or television. Instead, they obtained it from music hall or theatres; which was, at its peak, the television of its day.

“During the 19th century the demand for entertainment was intensified by the rapid growth of urban population.” [Britannica. 2012]

This demand resulted in the creation of Music Halls. They originated in Britain during the mid 19th and early 20th century. Music hall was the entertainment for working-class Londoners. Staged in pubs or small theatres, it was loud, raucous and often rude. Variety theatre represented a more commercialized, 20th-century version of music hall. It took place in lavish, large theatres, built and run by the great theatrical producers.

Looking firstly at music halls. It can be said that they were also created to give people a diversion away from everyday life during and after the War years. According to John Kenrick,

“As Great Britain’s Industrial Revolution created a new urban working class in the mid-1800s, the music halls provided this new audience with inexpensive entertainment. In time, intellectuals and the upper classes took a liking to these unpretentious variety shows.” [Kenrick, J. (2011)]

People not only attended the halls for music and comedy, they went for the food, drink and to socialize. The atmosphere in the music halls was manic. Spectators joined in singing popular songs such as Marie Lloyd’s popular hit, “My Old Man”. They also cheered- on favorite performers, and if an act wasn’t up to the standard of the audience they would be booed off the stage. In 1843, a Theatre Regulations Act permitted drinking and smoking in music halls, even though it was prohibited in legitimate theatres. This meant that Tavern owners often annexed buildings adjoining their premises as music halls because they gained money from the amount of alcohol that they sold. The halls created an experience that people loved to welcome into their mundane lives.

In the 1850s, the halls became more profitable. This meant that smart entrepreneurs like Charles Morton, could build costly theatres. According to writer Simon Callow, these new luxurious music halls,

“Sought to tap into the respectable, especially that holy grail of impresarios, the family audience. In time this would inhibit the free and raucous expression of the early days, but that element was never entirely expunged [Callow, S. (2012)].

These halls were now known as variety halls, which slightly transformed the audience experience. Instead of having to sit on benches in old pubs and drink pints from tankards, spectators were now offered first-class cuisine and fine wines in a safe and opulent atmosphere.

The majority of the music halls were controlled by few or just one manager, which caused problems between the performers and management. 1907, saw its’ first music hall strike called the “Variety Artists’ Federation”. This was because the owners attempted to work their employees to the bone whilst only paying them minimum wage. This affected the audience experience due to the fact that most of their beloved acts refused to preform while they were being paid poorly. So, in effect, they were left with the lesser-adored performers. As stated in Bill Clarks history of music hall,

“In 1912, music hall gained a level of respectability with the first Royal Command Performance. The London County Council, after a...
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