THEATRE ARTS 126

POPULAR ENTERTAINMENTS: ORIGINS AND FORMS

POPULAR ENTERTAINMENT CHART

Frequent characteristics: Aimed at groups gathered together as spectators (often less formally than in regular theatre); aimed at mass audience (popular taste); produced by professional showmen; use of mask (stereotypic/archetypic) characters; performer rather than actor emphasized; "variety” structure, or scenario, or unimportant plot--script not important; no scenic subtlety; emphasis on performance/production; does not "take itself seriously” as art.

ENVIRONMENTAL
FORMS
TRAVELING SHOWMEN
& PERFORMERS
VARIETY FORMS POPULAR THEATRE MECHANICAL &
OPTICAL
Emphasis on an entertainment
environment instead of a theatre;
very mobile audience)
(Essentially lone performers
or small companies)
(Depend on "variety” or
"compartmented structure”)
(Uses loosely mainstream theatre
structures and techniques)
(Refers to various kinds
of exhibitions)
  • Fairs
  • Carnivals
  • Pleasure Gardens
  • Amusement Parks
  • Piers and Board Walks
  • Penny Arcades
  • Dime Museums
  • Waxworks
  • Cultural & trade exhibitions
  • Modern theme parks and
    related venues
  • Greek mimes
  • Roman mimes
  • Minstrel tradition
  • Mountebank
  • Commedia dell'arte troupes
  • Street entertainers, buskers,
    exhibitors such as:

    • Peep Shows
    • Punch & Judy
    • Strong Men
    • Magicians
    • Wire walkers
    • Animal trainers
    • Pitchmen, etc.
  • Circus
  • Wild West show
  • Equestrian show
  • Medicine show
  • Variety
  • Vaudeville
  • Burlesque
  • Striptease
  • Minstrel show
  • Lyceum & Chatauqua
  • Revue
  • Much of Radio & TV programming
  • Freak shows
  • Literary mimes
  • Commedia dell' arte
  • Tom Show
  • Toby & Suzy show
  • Hippodrama
  • Burlesque (early)
  • Aquatic drama
  • "cheap” (10,20,30) theatre
  • Fairbooth theatre
  • Musical comedy
  • Popular film
  • Agitprop & workers plays & pageants
  • Much of radio & TV
  • Melodrama
  • Farce
  • Diorama
    • Panorama
  • Peep Shows
    • Nickleodeons
    • Mechanical toys
    • Automata, etc.

The order of items in the various lists is more or less arbitrary and does not attempt to create a chronology or to represent lines of influence. Several items have been used in more than one list There are other methods, just as valid, for organizing this material; other items could be added as well.

OTHER THEATRICAL FORMS

FOLK AND MAINSTREAM: Folk forms have many of the same qualities as popular entertainments, although productions are in usually in the hands of amateurs and are not for profit. The street parade is similar in intent and production. Mainstream theatre influences and is influenced by popular entertainments, although mainstream theatre seems to borrow content rather than form from popular entertainment (e.g., circus, Wild West, and carnival have been frequently used as themes or backgrounds for regular plays, films, etc., but do not change the form of those forms).

AVANT-GARDE: Interest in both form and content of popular entertainment which avant-garde transforms for its own purpose. Examples: (20th c. theatres, movements, companies, etc.)--Meyerhold (Russian), Bauhaus (Germany), Marinetti (Italy), Bread & Puppet, Magic Circus, Street theatre, Ridiculous Theatre, San Francisco Mime Troupe, many contemporary performance artists, etc.

DBW 1/2002

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