Photo of present-day Cowles and Shubert Theater in Minneapolis, MN. (photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Photo of J.J. and Lee Shubert (Jacob left, Levi, right, Sam in portrait) Sam died in 1905 in a train accident (Photo credit: Onanadaga Historical Association_
Do you still have the remnants of a Shubert theater where you live? The Shubert Brothers took on the Theatrical Syndicate (Klaw & Erlanger), accusing them of “bullying tactics.” They set out to wrest power from The Syndicate. From the 1890s until the Depression, the Shuberts owned, operated, managed, or booked close to a thousand houses across the United States. Today, the Shubert Organization still runs 21 theaters (17 of which are on Broadway) and The Shubert Foundation supports not-for-profit theatre and dance companies throughout the United States.
On PBS, “The Shubert Brothers,” part of a document, “Broadway: The American Musical”
From The Shubert Organization, a thorough history
What do Charlie Chaplin, Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, Bob Hope, Ma Rainey, Mae West, Fred Astaire, and Gingers Rogers have in common with Liza Ketchum’s great-grandparents? They all started out in vaudeville!
While Liza’s ancestors never became famous, the story of her great-grandparents’ elopement—and its consequences—inspired her most recent book, The Life Fantastic: A Novel in Three Acts. The story takes place in 1913, when vaudeville was America’s most popular form of entertainment and Teresa LeClair, a singer with “a voice like a nightingale,” dreams of stardom on Broadway’s “Great White Way.”
Join Liza at the Dorset Village Library as she shares the story behind the novel and its connection to issues that resonate today. All ages welcome!
Dorset Village Library: Rte 30, Dorset, VT: Saturday, July 8 at 3:00 PM
As Teresa and Maeve and Pietro set out on a road tour, vaudeville theater owners were trying to fill theaters across the country with good acts to meet demand. They needed talented people.
Klaw & Erlanger, an early syndicate, was responsible for this “stupendous production.” The six-act show premiered in 1899 and played around the world for the next 21 years. Can you imagine the number of actors and animals needed for each show?
How many acts were needed to fill US vaudeville theaters? There were approximately 8 to 15 acts, each 6 to 15 minutes long, in each theater per day. Some theaters had “continuous” shows from mid-morning to 2:00 am! Every small town had some type of theater and larger towns might have three or four. When Teresa walked out on the stage in 1913, there were more than 2,000 acts needed each day around the USA.
There are several good articles online that talk about the various theater owners, booking agencies, and labor unions. Fervent competition, underhanded blacklisting, and an ongoing struggle to control the market defined the experiences Teresa would have had as a singer. From the Theatrical Syndicate of 1896 to the Orpheum Circuit to the Pantages Circuit and the Western Vaudeville Managers Association, big money was involved and pressure was heavy on individual theater managers and performers. So much so that eventually unions were formed to protect the performers.
About the Theatrical Syndicate
Vaudeville Managers Association
Theater Owners Booking Association for African American performers
“Bob Hope and American Variety,” from the Library of Congress, for specific examples of playbills and a tour map
If you’re interested in doing in-depth research, you may find the Keith-Albee Vaudeville Theater Collection at the University of Iowa to be useful.
By 1908, vaudeville was such a big business that it made news in The New York Times when 75 theatres from Chicago to San Francisco agreed to become a part of the Klaw & Erlanger syndicate in quick succession.
Two views of the article about the growth of The Syndicate here and here.
Here’s more about Marc Klaw and Abraham Lincoln Erlanger.
One of Vaudeville’s biggest syndicates was Klaw & Erlanger, led by Marc Klaw and Abraham Lincoln Erlanger.
SCRIBBLERS THREE: How does being in a writer’s group expand and sustain your work? Eileen Christelow, Karen Hesse, and Liza Ketchum, authors for young readers, have been in a critique group for more than thirty years. They will discuss how their writing changed and developed as the group evolved, and will share their most recent books: Robins! How They Grow Up! (Christelow), My Thumb (Hesse); and The Life Fantastic (Ketchum).
Join the discussion on April 29, 2017, 4:00 pm at the. Northshire Bookstore, Manchester, Vermont.