Teacher Talk: MCS 7th Graders are The Ghosts of Vaudeville

December 18, 2015

Each year, the 7th grade students look forward to the 7th Grade Literature Drama Performance. The classroom is transformed into a Broadway stage complete with lights, curtain, music and fantastic performances. Over the years, students have performed Macbeth, 1930’s & 1940’s classic radio comedy routines, the Creepy Corpse of Cal Capone, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and many more.

This year, the students performed The Ghosts of Vaudeville. The idea of this play occurred to me over the summer. What we wanted to do was create a play within a play, with the beginning taking place in a supposedly abandoned and haunted vaudeville theater. The theater’s caretaker arrives and chides the audience for waiting for a rumored “midnight show put on by ghosts and spooks… a lot of nonsense”. The caretaker leaves and, of course, the haunted theater comes alive with a vaudeville show.

When the show ends, the “ghosts” depart and the caretaker comes back to tease the audience that they wasted their time in an abandoned theater. Of course the “ghosts” have the last laugh by scaring the caretaker into a dead faint. This was an original production written by the 7th graders and myself. The acts were taken from actual vaudeville performances past and present. They include skits and dances from Abbott and Costello, The Andrews Sisters, Burns and Allen, Frank Sinatra, The Three Stooges, Fergie, and Lowe, Hite and Stanley. Some of these particular ghosts chose not to stay in the past, and they brought a more modern performance to the audience. So it does teach the lesson that you can teach an old ghosts new tricks.

About Vaudeville
Vaudeville was a type of entertainment that included comedy, song, dance, magic, juggling – all in one theatrical production. It was a very different type of art for its day. Usually people would attend a play or an opera, but this was a new type of art form was a variety show.

Vaudeville spread across France and the United States through the late 1800’s all the way through the middle of the 20th century. It was one of the most popular live entertainment art forms of all time. However, by the middle of the 20th century, vaudeville began to fade and then eventually ‘died.’  By the middle of the 1950’s, television was a huge entertainment medium in American homes. People didn’t have to go out and pay money in a theater to see a vaudeville show. In fact, most of the early television shows were imitations of vaudeville. Another factor that lead to the demise was many of the great “lights” of vaudeville including actors, actresses, comedians, dancers, and entertainers went on to become stars on to pursue TV, radio, and Broadway. As these “lights” of vaudeville flew away, the lights that stayed began to dim and eventually went out.

Lastly, the theaters themselves contributed to the fall of vaudeville. Many were located in urban centers such as Pittsburgh, New York, Chicago, Boston, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. By the middle of the 1950’s, many of these urban centers were these theaters were had become victims to neglect and decay. People no longer wanted to travel downtown to go to these great shows. Little by little these theaters closed, were torn down, or like this one – became empty and vacant. And some say, haunted.

Allan Whayland
Middle School Literature Teacher

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