‘Vaudeville!’ exhibit shows origins of contemporary entertainment

Maysa Mustafa

“Vaudeville!,” an exhibit on what could be described as the foundation of American entertainment, is now open to the public at the Harry Ransom Center until July 15.

The exhibit, which opened Monday, follows the evolution of vaudeville, touring talent shows in the early 20th century. It traces the beginning of vaudeville history with puppets to its transformation into modern theater, radio, film, television and the internet. It’s separated into six sections, each explaining a different aspect of the touring show. One section, “Life on the Circuit,” outlined the daily lives of the performers. 

“Seeing what they did when they were off the circuit and not performing was really insightful,” undeclared freshman Cole Carter said. “Just seeing what they were doing in their everyday lives — in dressing rooms communicating with each other, trying to make a living and spending their money on their children.”

The exhibit caters to those who are interested in the history of entertainment as well as those who are just interested in this American pastime. Among the performers featured in the exhibit is world-famous magician Harry Houdini.

“My favorite part was seeing Houdini,” petroleum engineering freshman Grant Hall said. “Seeing pictures of some of his first performances was really interesting to me.”

The exhibit holds more than 200 artifacts from the vaudeville shows, including various photographs and props that were used during performances.

“I personally love looking at old things, so I enjoyed seeing the old TV and radio,” Asian cultures and languages junior Geneva Castaneda said.

The exhibit ends with the section “The Show Must Go On,” connecting performers in the vaudeville days to entertainers today. According to the exhibit, the film industry and shows such as  “America’s Got Talent,” where performers have the chance to show their talents, would have no basis without vaudeville.

“Film is such a big part of our society now, so it was cool to see the origin of that,” business freshman Jacob Posten said. “A lot of the stuff shown is actual props and artifacts from the past. It’s not just telling you boring stuff — it’s actually showing you real things that they managed to save.”

Correction: One of the sources in this story was referring to artifacts in a separate exhibit, so her quotes have been updated to reflect the Vaudeville! exhibit. The Texan regrets this error.