Vaudeville: Mass Entertainment at the Turn of the 20th Century

Vaudeville: Mass Entertainment at the Turn of the 20th Century
Frances Cleveland: Sports and Popular Culture

Skill: High School/College
Time Required: One week


One of the characteristics of the years in which the Clevelands' were in the White House was a growing emphasis on mass entertainment.  But “mass entertainment” looked a good deal different then than it does today.  By and large, “mass” meant that entertainment in a theatre or on a showboat was seen by very large numbers of people, because it traveled to where the people were. By the turn of the 20th century, one leading kind of entertainment was vaudeville, and people on the vaudeville circuits traveled all over the country, performing in cities and small towns—wherever there was a theatre or hall.


The purpose of this lesson is to introduce students to one form of popular entertainment at the turn of the 20th century—vaudeville—and give them the opportunity to compare it to various forms of popular entertainment at the turn of the 21st century.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet Access to print materials Paper and pens, pencils, or word processing programs


1.  Begin the lesson by asking students if they have attended a rock concert or other kind of large concert.  Ask those that have to describe the experience—Who were the artists? How many people were there? How long did it last? Did you have to travel to attend? How far?etc.
2.  Then, divide the class into four groups, assigning each group to explore one of the vaudeville websites below.  As they explore, they should be taking notes on as many aspects of vaudeville as they can find.  Students can, of course, use additional websites and print materials.  When that research is completed, students should be brought together to share their findings, coming to agreement on the most important characteristics of vaudeville.

3.  Re-divide the class into five groups, assigning each group to explore one of the 21st century entertainment websites, below.  Again, students should be encouraged to use additional websites or print materials.  And again, student should take good notes on what they find. When that is done, student groups should share their findings. 
4.  To conclude the lesson, each students should write a 4-5 page paper comparing vaudeville with one (or more) of the 21st century kinds of entertainment, paying particular attention to similarities and differences, and ending with some speculation about the future of these forms of entertainment.

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson could be extended by staging a “History of Popular Culture” festival in which the whole school participates.

Sources & Resources:


History of Vaudeville 
The American Vaudeville Museum 
Musicals -- Vaudeville
Vaudeville on Wikipedia 
21st Century Entertainment

Video Game Concerts 

This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.