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Old 09-16-03, 11:27 PM   #1
Byron Bertram
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Apple The History of Street Theatre

Does anyone know the real history of people doing shows on the street? All I really know about the history of it is that Fakirs did stuff thousands of years ago, and then people were doing shows in the renaissance era (like Punch and Judy shows at Covent Garden) but after that the only history of street theatre I know about is when guys like Butterfly Man, Jeff Sheritan, and Gazzo emerged. I think there's a pretty big window of time from the 1600's to the 1970's. Anyone care to add their knowledge? For example who was doing street shows at the turn of the 20th Century, during the depression, or even in the 1950's (America's golden era) you think that would've been a great time to make some cash on the street? I'm very curious about this relatively untapped topic.
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Old 09-17-03, 10:58 AM   #2
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I think a lot of street theater can be seen in the turn of the century vaudville.. That was in the early 1900's - you should investigate this.

I would go more indepth- but - well - but.


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Old 09-17-03, 01:26 PM   #3
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Check out Pantomime, Diorama and such, which lead up to the Vaudvillian era. These were in exsistence in the 1800's and qualified as street theater. Also, once upon an era, sideshow performers would venture into the streets before shows to drum up business...but that was more in the UK than in the US. Geographically speaking, I think it is a bit different evolution everywhere. And let's face it in the Victorian era the whole singing in the streets, especially at holidays, became a real big thing. Hell..."we won't go until we get some.." from We Wish You a Merry Christmas was not kidding. They sang it until people gave them food. If that isn't street performing, I don't know what is! [img]smile.gif[/img]

I was in a Dickens Victorian Festival and had to research the relevance of street performers, which is how I found all this out, though where those sites and books are now I do not know...

Hope this helps a tad.
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Old 09-17-03, 04:38 PM   #4
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Two books (only one of which I can identify today) may help -- Patty Campbell's 1980 "Passing the Hat" was an extensive description of busking in America twenty years ago and had, if I remember correctly, some historical perspective, too.

Two young street performers in the 70's and 80's in Britain wrote a book, I believe was called simply, "The Buskers," published in England, I believe in 1980. I remember it included an exhaustive survey of the history of street performance in England and references to the thousand-year history of busking in that and other parts of the world. The only specific thing I remember from that book is a few lines of poetry by an English busker named Alan Young:

"A bird sang in the forest and flew from tree to tree,
Curious songs on nothing, high and low and free.
Over hills and down by streams and following the breeze,
In summer he would warm himself, in winter he would freeze.

But as the seasons come and go, and the songs went high and low,
He sang them as he pleased."

Therein lay my inspiration -- it just took me a few years to get up enough courage to do it!

[ 09-17-2003: Message edited by: GlassHarper ]</p>
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Old 09-17-03, 11:00 PM   #5
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I'm a real old timer, and I remember when I was doing Variety Theaters in England in 1953, there were many buskers in London. The act that made the biggest impression were 2 cockney guys who were dubbed "The Gully Gully Men" They used to work the theater "queues" (lines)in Leicester Square area. They each wore a fez and long blue and white striped "Jebellas" (Egyptian robes like nightshirts)

They mostly just fooled around, making jokes in broken English as though they were Arabs. They also did a bit of adagio type lifting and a bit of foot rolling.

For some history you could try Samuel Pepys Diary. Here is a link that may help some. It tells us that there were street fairs at that time, and plenty of buskers later on during the reign of Charles ll after the dreary time of Oliver Cromwell in England..

Right at the bottom of the page is a list of books thay may also help.

Hhere is a quote from the page---"so tickled the fancy of that prominent citizen Samuel Pepys that he is mentioned a number of times in his celebrated diary. The first of these was on May 9th, 1662, recording that he had been 'mighty pleased' by an Italian puppet show near St. Paul's Church in London's Covent Garden", and it is from this entry that Mr. Punch's 'birthday' is now traditionally calculated by today's Punch and Judy community. It is quite feasible, of course, that Pulcinella was in the country sone time before that date but until any written evidence of an earlier sighting comes to light it is Pepys who will be popularly credited as the man who discovered Mr. Punch'.

It is on record that 14 February 1679 King Louis X1V received a report that a group of buskers had caused a commotion and were sent to the Bastille. Please forgive me if I mention that it was at this period here that our company, "The Royal Marionettes" got started. No, I am not quite that old! We are several generations removed! And it was not our family who was sent to the Bastille.
The most common types of street entertainment at that time were acrobats, tightrope walkers, marionette shows and street theater.
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