Before television and radio, there was vaudeville.
With stars like Charlie Chaplin, the Marks Brothers and Mary Pickford, the theatrical genre was the most popular form of entertainment in North America during the late 1800s and early 1900s, featuring fast-paced variety sketches, comedy routines, songs, dancing, acrobatics, amazing feats and stunts.
The Brant Historical Society is celebrating vaudeville history with Voices of the Town – Vaudeville in Canada, a travelling exhibit by the Peterborough Museum and Archives on display at Museum in the Square until Nov. 23.
“Look at the comedians we have these days,” said exhibit curator Chelsea Cass. “Physical humour is becoming extremely popular again with Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis.
“These are their predecessors…It’s entertainment history.”
The exhibit explores the history of vaudeville through a series of photographs from the Balsillie Collection taken during the early 20th century by the Roy Studio in Peterborough.
Visitors are greeted with a reproduction vaudevillian ticket booth before being led on a journey through Canadian vaudeville.
Through photographs and educational text, Voices of the Town flows chronologically through the genre’s history, including an overview of vaudeville in Canada, the rise of vaudeville in Canada, as well as a look at Canada’s smalltime acts and it’s biggest Vaudevillian success, the Marks Brothers.
Included in the exhibit are a series of artifacts from vaudevillian shows, including a working kinetoscope, a playbill-lined trunk and an authentic Oklahoma Jack costume.
A panel reflecting on the stereotypes in vaudeville opens up a discussion on how the world has changed, Carss said.
“History goes through phases,” she said. “All the panels are interesting, but this one you can learn something from it and it’s always good to have that discussion.”
The exhibit is an appropriate one for the city, with the Sanderson Centre for the Performing Arts’ history as a vaudevillian theatre. The theatre is bringing back some of that history with the Les Coquettes Cabaret Burlesque show on Dec. 1.
“Because the Sanderson Centre has the vaudeville show coming up, the exhibit is meant to tie in with that,” Carss said. “It inspires people to support other cultural institutions in town.”
Museum in the Square is open Monday to Friday from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. inside the Market Square Mall. Visit www.brantmuseum.ca for more information.