The period 1870 to 1920 was a major time of change in the United States. It was started by massive European immigration, including migration from rural to urban centers that led to the dramatic growth of cities. White-collar and blue-collar working people alike benefited from an increase in personal income and leisure time. Tourism developed as an American pastime, annual vacations became a national habit, and city dwellers began taking half-holidays on Saturday.
Popular, live entertainment gained popularity in the late nineteenth century and reached its climax in the first decade of the twentieth. During the fifty-year period covered by this collection, minstrel shows were out-dated by the unexpected success of variety theater and an growing diversity of popular entertainment. Burlesque developed into a full-blown theatrical form and modern amusement parks attracted huge crowds.
The American Variety Stage featured material that illustrated the diverse forms of variety theater that dominated the entertainment world in the United States. Variety stage drew greater audiences than the other theater which presented serious shows like literary works. Compared to the serious theater, which appealed to elite audiences, the variety stage was broad in approach. The variety stage attracted all classes of people from every cultural background by offered varied programs and low ticket prices.
The variety theater provided the American public with a range of live entertainment: comedy, musical presentations, novelty and specialty acts, stage magic, and stage spectacles. American musical comedy was also in its formative stages during the fifty-year. It was symbolic of the cultural diversity of early twentieth century America. Vaudeville was a fusion of centuries-old cultural traditions, including the English Music Hall, minstrel shows of antebellum America, and Yiddish theater. Though certainly not free from the prejudice of the times, vaudeville was the earliest...
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