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Vaudeville MelodiesPopular Musicians and Mass Entertainment in American Culture, 1870-1929$
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Nicholas Gebhardt

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780226448558

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226448725.001.0001

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In Search of an Audience

In Search of an Audience

(p.89) Chapter Seven In Search of an Audience
Vaudeville Melodies

Nicholas Gebhardt

University of Chicago Press

More than in any other form of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century popular entertainment, vaudeville performers consistently reached out to make their audience feel like part of the show, appealing to them beyond the footlights with every technique they had at their disposal. Their sense of artistic legitimacy was derived from their understanding that an act depended on the audience’s approval; it was not something they achieved separately or even gained from rejecting or ignoring the audience’s response. Moreover, continuous vaudeville produced a highly self-consciousness and self-critical relationship between artist and audience, in which the success of an act was never fixed or given in advance, but emerged through constant revision and refinement. Thus, even the most successful of acts was always under review. Or to put it another way, an act was always to some degree incomplete or unfinished, because no performance was ever definitive. This chapter focuses on the central problems of vaudeville performance, especially those relating to a performer’s ability to respond to the changing tastes and expectations of his audience.

Keywords:   audiences, Eddie Cantor, continuous vaudeville, personality, Nora Bayes

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