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The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts > Vaudeville Nation

Circus Techniques


Acrobats and balancing acts, and acts involving trained horses, dogs, and other animals worked in vaudeville with their rigging and stands adapted to the proscenium theater, rather than the circus ring.  Most were family troupes that split the year between vaudeville and one of the traveling circuses.  Jugglers were also very popular in vaudeville, especially the Agoust Family, known for their juggling skits based on social situations.  One featured the company setting the table and eating dinner, all while juggling. 

The model for strong men was Eugen Sandow, at least partially because Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. was his press agent at the Columbia Exposition of 1893 and on tour.  Charmion combined muscle displays with a trapeze act.  Secrets of strong men acts were collected by Lyceum magician George De Mott.

Magicians found it easy to adapt their acts to vaudeville, realizing that audience mis-direction was even simpler in a proscenium setting.  Houdini staged his escape acts at the Hippodrome Theater, but most magicians traveled with portable equipment.   

Annette Kellermann was perhaps the most famous vaudevillian who spanned categories.  A ballet-trained exhibition diver, she became a star at the Hippdrome Theater and on the summer resport circuit.  She maintained her popularity as a dancer and actress in vaudeville and in a series of feature films for William Fox.  Kellermann, billed as ideal woman, used her fame to promote women's health and her own line of shockingly unadorned bathing suits.

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