|Alright then, you may well ask yourself, what is this site? Well, rather an opinionated selection of books on a variety of theatre forms that have fallen from grace and off the screen of all except historians, students, the rare practitioners of each form, and the curious avocational. Such as myself. These books are linked, where possible, to amazon.com (or, for our UK visitors, please search for them at amazon.co.uk) to facilitate their purchase as expeditiously as possible, because we here at 214b.com fervently believe in two-business-day, if not immediate, gratification.|
So, what's on the bill of fare chez 214b?
Commedia dell'arte, where wearing leather masks isn't limited to politicians on their nights off. (ba-da-boom.)
Panto, that quintessentially British of forms and the commedia's blushing stepchild.
Drag, now I'm not dumb but I can't understand/why she walked like a woman and talked like a man, to quote Ray Davies.
Music hall, born somewhere between Covent Garden and Lambeth, but peopled by the leather-lunged sons and daughters of hamlets from Baltimore to Melbourne.
Minstrelsy, ebony, ivory, living in perfect harmony. Or not.
Vaudeville and Burlesque. Or "vaude and burley-cue" if you were beaten with a rolled-up copy of Variety as a child.
And, hey, while you're here, visit Sounds of the Music Hall, an annotated discography of music hall recordings on CD. Because, as the man said, writing about music is like dancing about architecture. And dancing about architecture, particularly at lunch hour, is what mimes all too often do.
Improvisation and the Theatre, Keith
Johnstone, Routledge, 1992.
Italian Comedy, Pierre Louis Duchartre, Dover, 1966.
Mel Gordon, Performing Arts Journal Publications, 1992.
Triumph of Pierrot, The Commedia dell'Arte and the Modern Imagination,
Martin Green and John Swan, rev.ed. 1993, Penn State Press.
Italian Popular Comedy, Kathleen M. Lea, Russell & Russell,
Masks, Mimes, and Miracles, Allardyce Nicoll,
Cooper Square Publishers, 1963.
'The World of Harlequin' builds on the third section of 3M and is a better text for those specifically interested in commedia dell arte with little or no reference to its classical antecedents. The well-illustrated 'Harlequin' focuses on the development and analysis of the characters, specifically what Nicoll calls the 'Four Masks'--Arlecchino, Pantalone, Il Dottore, Scapino--as well as the 'lesser' masks. While some space is dedicated to discussing the various troupes and actors, the emphasis in this valuable work is the relationship and dynamic among the masks, emphasizing Harlequin as the pivotal persona. Essential.
dell'Arte, An Actor's Handbook, John Rudlin, Routledge, 1994.
of the Commedia dell'Arte, Flaminio Scala's Il teatro delle
favole rappresentative, translated and
edited by Henry F. Salerno, NYU Press, 1967.
The History of the Harlequinade, Maurice Sand,
Benjamin Blom, 1958.
From Plautus, it's an easy leapfrog over commedia dell'arte to Goldoni and Moliere. Goldoni's Il Servitore Di Due Padroni openly employed classic commedia characters such as Pantalone, Il Dottore, Brighella, and Truffaldino in a play that sets down the jokes and dueling dialects of the form. Other plays, such as La Locandiera, more consciously transcended what some consider the constraints of the genre. Moliere's "The Miser" takes on (or off) Plautus' "Aulularia", while "The Mischievous Machinations of Scapin"--a reworking of Terence's "Phormio" with a Plautine schmeer--invokes the spirit of the commedia dell'arte; its title, after all, alludes to one of its principal zanni. The preceding lists only the commedia dell'arte literary offshoots that sprang to my mind. There are plenty more out there, so hunt 'em down, collect 'em, trade 'em with your friends!
Another commedia dell'arte theatrical spinoff is the Punch-and-Judy show. These performances, apparently no longer as popular and widespread even in their native England as was once the case, preserve a good bit of the knockabout and pointedly-unsweetened humor of the commedia dell'arte in the savage antics of Mr. Punch. I know of no books currently available in the U.S. on the history of Punch-and-Judy shows, but some excellent texts have been written in the last quarter-century, including George Speaight's Punch & Judy, A History, Peter Fraser's hands-on (pun narrowly averted) puppetry text Punch and Judy, and the 1971 reprint of George Cruikshank's Punch and Judy. There's also a brilliant book, from which I photocopied great bits--except, of course, the title page (there's a clever lad!)--which has a good assortment of P'n'J texts from the 18th-century proto-Punch play "The Song of Zeza" through late-19th and early-20th century scripts, up to a 1966 performance transcript. Be sure to look for Conversations With Punch, compiled and edited by Geoff Felix. It's an entertaining and very informative set of interviews with Punchmen of two generations. Highly recommended. And, while we're on the topic, read Mr. Punch by Sandman author Neil Gaiman and artist Dave McKean. It's beautifully written and illustrated and can't be recommended highly enough. For more information on modern-day Punch-related activities and research, check out Punch and Judy on the Web and The Worldwide Friends of Punch and Judy. And, transition-hopping as we are, is it that far a conceptual jump from Mister Punch to old Pere Ubu? I think not. Start with the Collège de 'Pataphysique and then hop around the Web, as there isn't a single centralized site for Ubu or his genius creator, Alfred Jarry, absinthe-sucking, ether-huffing ink monkey.
The definitive, copiously-illustrated, thick-enough-to-stun-a-bull-in-mid-charge, coffee-table history of panto remains to be written. Theatre historians, the gauntlet she has been flung. That said, even more modest histories and analyses of the form are extremely few and far between. Run 'panto' through the Search at amazon.co.uk and one's little boat of research is swamped by eighteen scripts for 'Aladdin' and eleven for 'Puss in Boots' and ten for 'Babes in the Woods', not to mention such non-enduring novelties as 'Dracula, the Panto', a charming bit of sanguinary psychosexuality destined to make Boxing Day just that extra bit more special. But little like a true history in print. So, we make do.
A History of Pantomime, R.J.Broadbent, Citadel
Press, 1965 edition.
The Pantomime Book, Paul Harris, Peter Owen Publishers,
Pantomime, A Story In Pictures, Raymond Mander
and Joe Mitchenson, Taplinger, 1973.
Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi,
Charles Dickens, edited, annoted, and introduction by Richard Findlater,
Stein and Day.
Harlequin in His Element,
The English Pantomime, 1806-1836, David Mayer III, Harvard
University Press, 1969.
And then there's Brandreth. Gyles Daubeney Brandreth. Noted raconteur, radio and stage personality, Tory politico, author of that childhood classic, "The Bedside Book of Great Sexual Disasters" among many, many, many other immediately-disposable make-work volumes of riddles, puzzles, and Rainy-Day Fun, and, according to anagramgenius.com, a "seedy grubby neanderthal" (oh, work it out if you don't believe me; I mean, ghod, the internet doesn't lie!). GDB, in those spare moments between devising practicable cold fusion and scaling Everest blindfolded, has penned a number of volumes germane to our interests. Like what, you ask, Tonstant Weader? Well, there's
The Funniest Man on Earth: The Story of Dan Leno,
Hamish Hamilton, 1977.
Shire Publications Ltd., 1973.
I Scream For Ice Cream,
Eyre Methuen, 1974.
Dan Leno's Drury Lane Pantomime of 1902 by J. Hickory Wood, adapted
and introduced by Gyles Brandreth, Macmillan, 1973.
And from the world of Panto Dames and Principal Boys--neither of whom were--it's a quick stumble in these size eleven Jimmy Choos to a magical world where men hide their candy and women slap their thighs inordinately. Now, there are two schools of books about drag, three maybe. Like the sexes. There's the "My First Picture Book of Transvestism" approach which is all pretty snaps of Julian Eltinge and RuPaul in fetching gowns. There's the "Lacanian Ontologies in His-and-Heuristical Gender Studies" style of crushing, relentless, wall-to-wall prose thick enough to stand rebar in, and about as close to the spirit of drag as Dubya is to Thomas Jefferson. Which, children, is vewwy vewwy faw away indeed. And finally there's the infrequent first-person "My Left Foot (In A Strappy Sandal)" narrative. Fascinatingly, most of the books I list below are some hybrid of two or more of these, so my too-clever construct isn't too-terribly-useful. But it was fun to write, so bear with me.
Cross-Dressing & Cultural Anxiety,
Marjorie Garber, Routledge, 1992.
A History of Female and Male Impersonation in the Performing Arts, Anthony Slide, Wallace-Homestead,
Chermayeff, David, Richardson, Chronicle Books, 1995.
Female Impersonators in America,
Esther Newton, University of Chicago Press, 1979.
Transvestism and Drag: The History of an Obsession, Peter Ackroyd,
Simon and Schuster, 1979.
The Changing Room,
Sex, Drag and Theatre, Laurence Senelick, Routledge, 2000.
and Female Impersonators on Stage, Screen and Television, F. Michael Moore, McFarland & Co.,
It used to be that finding anything in print in the U.S. on the Music Hall and Panto was nigh unto impossible, unless you happened to live near a very well-stocked specialty theatrical bookstore. Almost every book I own or have read on the topic has come to me courtesy of second-hand bookstores and public libraries. That said, with the advent of the on-line Amazons, pickings are considerably less slim. To speak litotically. Then neologistically.
Brief Aside: The Music Hall on CD
It's A Book, It's A CD, It's Two, Two Media In One!: Before launching into the bibliography proper, a recent issue from the completist's friends over at Bear Family in Germany merits its own discussion. Round The Town: Following Grandfather's Footsteps is a four-CD set that combines familiar and obscure recordings and garnishes the music with a lavishly-illustrated 132-page hardbound book. With lyrics for every song yet! And generous samples of label art, artists photos, and sheet-music illos! While the cognoscenti can argue as to which 106 recordings they would've included in their four-CD dream box, this is currently the set to beat.
Us One of the Old Songs, A Guide to Popular Song 1860-1920,
Michael Kilgarriff, Oxford Univ. Press, 1999
It Gives Me Great Pleasure,
The Complete Vade Mecum for The Old Time Music Hall Chairman,
Michael Kilgarriff, Samuel French, 1972.
Grace, Beauty & Banjos,
Peculiar Lives and Strange Times of Music Hall and Variety Artistes, Michael Kilgarriff,
Oberon Books, 1999.
Hudd's Cavalcade of Variety Acts,
Roy Hudd with Philip Hindin, Robson Books, 1998.
The Last Empires, A Music Hall Companion, Benny
Greed (ed.), Pavilion Books, 1986.
Music Hall In Britain, D.F. Cheshire, Fairleigh
Dickinson University Press, 1974.
Songs of the British Music Hall, Peter Davison,
Oak Publications, 1971.
Bawdy Songs of the Early Music Hall, George
Speaight, Pan Books, 1975.
Working the Halls, Peter Honri, 1973.
British Music Hall, A Story In Pictures, Raymond
Mander and Joe Mitchenson, London House, 1965.
They Were Singing, Christopher Pulling, Harrap & Co.,
The Early Doors, Origins of the Music Hall,
Harold Scott, Nicholson & Watson, 1946.
The Crazy Gang, A Personal Reminiscence, Maureen
Owen, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1986.
A white man with a black face. For most of the 19th century and well into the 20th, this was as close to a guaranteed rib-tickler as, well, a white man in a dress. For similar reasons, I think; most of which have to do with the incongruity of the Massa of Western Civilization in the garb of his putative inferiors, both racial and sexual. (Imagine, then, the laff-riot combo of a white man dressed as a black woman. Radio audiences did, every week when they tuned that cat whisker to hear Marlin Hurt as "Beulah" on Fibber McGee and Molly.) After 1950, scholarly and generalist writing on minstrelsy or "blackface" mirrored the sea changes in attitude toward the issue of race in America, from early and mid-century celebrations of the all-American fun of Caucasians corking up to whitewash the lives of rural African-Americans, through the peak years of the civil rights struggle and polemical denunciations of America's once-favorite mass entertainment as racist and reactionary, to a fin de siecle wave of new criticism and analysis. Yet, over a century-and-a-half after the first flowering of American minstrelsy, Spike Lee's film "Bamboozled"--a blackface satire in a modern-day setting--still generated controversy and division among theatre-goers undecided whether to praise the filmmaker's courage or damn his exploitation of a shameful episode in American culture.
Gentlemen, Be Seated, Dailey Paskman, Clarkson
Potter, Inc., 1976
Tambo and Bones, A History of the American
Minstrel Stage, Carl Wittke, Ph.D., Duke University Press, 1930
This Grotesque Essence,
Plays from the American Minstrel Stage, Gary D. Engle, Louisiana State University Press, 1978
Dan Emmett and the Rise of Early Negro Minstrelsy,
Hans Nathan, Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1962.
Blacking Up, The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth-Century
America, Robert Toll, Oxford Univ. Press, 1974.
Cain, W. T. Lhamon, Jr., Harvard Univ. Press, 1998.
Love & Theft,
Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class, Eric Lott, Oxford
University Press, 1995.
Early Blackface Minstrels and Their World,
Dale Cockrell, Cambridge University Press, 1997.
the Burnt Cork Mask, William J. Mahar, Univ. of Illinois Press,
White Noise, Michael Rogin, Univ. of California Press, 1996.
The Ghost Walks: a chronological history of blacks
in show business, 1865-1910, Henry T. Sampson, The Scarecrow
Press, Inc., 1988.
Cakewalks to Concert Halls, An Illustrated History of African
American Popular Music from 1895 to 1930,
Thomas Morgan, William Barlow, Elliott & Clark Publishing,
The Minstrel Mask, Bean, Hatch, McNamara, eds., Wesleyan Univ.
The Real Side, Mel Watkins, Simon & Schuster,
There are, gratefully, a number of books in print or otherwise readily available on our own home-grown entertainments. The ones I list are simply favorites. Or I may have forgotten the titles, authors, and publishers of some books I've enjoyed. I leave it to the discerning reader to ascertain which, in fact, is the case.
The Entertainers, Clive Unger-Hamilton, ed., St. Martin's Press, 1980.
Glossary of Terms Used in Variety, Vaudeville, Revue & Pantomime, Valantyne Napier, ed., The Badger Press, 1996.
Dance of the Sleepwalkers: The Dance Marathon Fad, Frank Calabria, Bowling Green State Univ. Popular Press, 1993.
Encyclopedia of Vaudeville, Anthony Slide, Greenwood Press,
The Greatest Tap Dance Stars and their Stories, 1900-1955,
Rusty Frank, Da Capo, 1994.
Dance, The Story of American Vernacular Dance, Marshall and
Jean Stearns, Da Capo, 1994.
Pigs & Fireproof Women, Ricky Jay, Warner Books, 1986.
Journal of Anomalies, Ricky Jay, Farrar Straus Giroux, 2001
Prettiness: Burlesque and American Culture, Robert C. Allen,
Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1991.
Best Burlesque Sketches, Ralph Allen, Applause Books, 1995.
Comedy Stars at 78 RPM, Ronald L. Smith, McFarland
and Co., 1998.
Revue, Robert Baral, Fleet, 1962.
Show Biz, From Vaude To Video, Abel Green and
Joe Laurie, Jr., Doubleday Permabook, 1953
Vaudeville: From the Honky Tonks to the Palace,
Joe Laurie Jr., Holt and Company, 1953
The preceding, including but not limited to content(s), design(s), and concept(s), is entirely the intellectual property of Jose Garriga, © 1998-2006 unless explicitly stated otherwise, and may not be copied or reproduced without his express permission.
Last revised: 17 October2006.
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