Spreading the Sand: Understanding the Economic and Creative Impetus for the Black Vaudeville Industry

 

in Continuum: The Journal of African Diaspora Drama, Theatre and Performance, 1.1

Black Theatre Network

June 2014

 

Abstract

 

This article argues that the beginning of the twentieth century contained a perfect storm of influences and motivations to create the Black vaudeville industry. Artists combined the aesthetics of many genres and businessmen saw the opportunity to serve a population wanting more respectable and professional entertainment. The creation of Toby may not have been ideal for all involved but it was an important early step in the organization and institutionalization of African American performance. It provided an invaluable platform for talent to develop both as performers and as entrepreneurs. Attention to this moment in history reveals not only a revaluation of aesthetics but also a burgeoning Black economic system based on the wants and needs of a population ready to move beyond subsistence-level livelihood into a larger political economy of leisure. At the heart, what was deemed “valuable” and the “stakes” of performance in Black vaudeville helped define an era. The professionalization of Black vaudeville signals a crucial shift in American history.

 

© 2020 Nadine George-Graves – All Rights Reserved.

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