Monday, August 2, 2010

Vaudeville Lingo

Compiled by Wayne Keyser. Source.



A
Alley-Oop — An acrobatic or gymnastic act. The performers (often European) were often heard to cue their team members (in French) "allez" ("everybody") and then either "up" in English, or a simple vocalization like "hup" to coordinate timing.

All Washed Up — A performer was "all washed up" when he could no longer get a booking anywhere.

Ankle — Verb coined by Variety to indicate that a performer has quit or been dismissed from a job, without necessarily specifying which. It suggests "walking".

Apron — The part of the stage projecting out past the proscenium.

B
Baggy Pants Comic — A performer (often a fulltime employee of a single theater) whose act consisted of coarse, slapstick humor.

Banana — Burlesque term for a house comic, probably derived from the description of anything crazy as "bananas." Never used by itself … the "top banana" was the head comic, the "second banana" would fill in where needed, the "third banana" would be assigned to stooge duty, taking falls and getting pies in the face.

Bastard — Adjective used in stagecraft to describe nonstandard items or facilities. For instance, the prompt (stage manager's) desk is described as "bastard prompt" when it is stage right instead of, as expected, stage left.

Beat — A short pause (measured intuitively, about one second) used for comic effect or dramatic emphasis. "It would be even better if you heard my line, and then waited a beat before doing your spit-take."

Belting — Describes singing done in a vivid "chest voice" rather than a more classical "head voice" or "legit voice". Some singers, like Ethel Merman, belted all the time, while others used the technique selectively as a tool to produce dramatic emphasis.

Big Time — The "big leagues" of vaudeville. The best circuits offered first-rate programs with the best available performers including big-name stars. "Big time" vaudeville meant high salaries, first-class theaters, and only two shows a day.

(the) Bill — The program or list of acts, in order of performance. As in "who else is on the bill?"

Billing — The names of performers as displayed on a theater's marquee and in its advertising. A performer's status is indicated by the size and placement of their name (who is higher or more prominently billed).

Bit — A sketch, routine, trick, any segment of an act.

(to) Black Up — To put on blackface makeup (even done by black performers.) The original method for applying such a makeup was to hold an ordinary cork (if you were poor, the cork gasket from inside a bottle-cap) over a candle until it was charred. The resulting powdery blacking was then rubbed on the face.

Blackout — A brief comedy routine ending with the quick closing of the curtain or a quick blackout of the lights at the punchline. Often used when the writers have a joke that's good for a big laugh but there's nothing to follow it with, no way to make it a part of a more elaborate routine.

Blue Material — Crude jokes or other material using graphic sexual or toilet references or profanity.
(the) Boards — The stage. To "hit the boards" was to take up a career in the theater, or for a show to move from rehearsal to performance. To "tread the boards" is to have a stage career.

Boffo — Outstanding (coined by the entertainment-industry newspaper Variety.).

Bomb — To perform an act that gets embarrassingly little audience response.

Booner — A talent scout (from Daniel Boone, a frontiersman who scouted the American west).

Border Lights — The crudest type of general stage illumination. Basically a metal box the width of the stage, hung just behind each border, containing a row of electric lamps - each lamp is covered with a glass color filter, alternating red, blue and green. The lighting board could only control the intensity of each general color group.

Borscht Belt — The resorts in the Catskills, largely frequented by Jewish audiences and known for entertainment reflecting the audience's background. Ethnic and dialect humor were expected, and were not considered offensive because the performers and the audience shared a common ethnicity.

Boston Version — A "cleaned-up" version of a routine, so called because Boston censors were very strict.

Break a Leg — The traditional backhanded expression wishing other performers a good performance.
Break-in — The three-week period during which a new act was polished and perfected before an audience in "out-of-town" venues before metropolitan critics would see it.

Break Up — To lose your concentration so severely (often by being carried away with laughter) that you have to pause to recover. It is considered unprofessional, though it can be indulged in (even feigned) by comic performers to give the impression that the proceedings are funnier than they really are.

Bundle Actor — A performer whose act did not require trunks or crates full of props, costumes or rigging, since vaudeville performers were independent contractors responsible for the expense of carting everything their act required (including specialized scenery in the case of "flash acts" [q.v.]). Modern magicians call the principle "packs small, plays big."

Business — Any physical action a performer includes in his routine. Script directions like "walks upstage" or "lights a cigarette" are describing bits of stage business.

Buster — A broadly-performed comic stage fall.

C
Call — The time a performer is expected to be at the theater.

Callback — A joke that gets extra energy by referring to another joke performed earlier in the show. A joke with more than one callback is a "running gag."

Capper — The last in a series of jokes (usually a series of three) on the same subject matter which ends the series with the biggest laugh.

Catch Phrase — A common phrase said in a extraordinary manner which becomes the trademark of a particular comedian. Steve Martin's "Excuuuuuuse me!" or Fonzie's "Aaaay!" are modern examples; vaudeville audiences were more familiar with Joe Penner's "Wanna buy a duck?", Joe de Rita's "I'm a baaaaaad boy!" or Pigmeat Markham's "Here come de Judge!"

Chalk Talk - A lecture given humor by chalkboard illustrations done and changed on the spot (a sort of "living cartoon").

Chapeaugraphy — An act in which the performer uses a large stiffened circle of felt with a hole in the center to bend and twist into various hats, depicting various characters.

Chasers — Performers playing last on the bill, named as if they were so bad they chased audience stragglers out.

Chewing the Scenery — Performing in a hammy, over-the-top manner.

Chooser — A performer who "researches" his act by viewing other acts for the specific purpose of stealing material.

Circuit — A multi-city chain of theaters joined by the same ownership and booked as a block.

Civilians — People outside show business.

Claque — A group of audence members paid to respond enthusiastically to an act, and sometimes to boo a performer's competitors.

(to) Close — To give the final performance of a show ("the show closed on April 3"), or to perform the last act after a star's performance ("I closed for Sophie Tucker in Peoria").

Cold — A "cold" audience is in a bad mood and shows it by responding poorly to even the best entertainment.

Combination House — A theater playing both vaudeville and the then-short motion pictures. A theater might advertise "Houdini, the King of Cards, plus five motion pictures."

Corny, Cornball — Sentimental, obvious, overly broad and old-fashioned material presumed to appeal to unsophisticated country audiences.

Counting the House — Looking out into the house surreptitiously, to estimate the boxoffice success of the show.

Cover — To make up dialog and/or business to keep an act's continuity despite a mistake or accident onstage without breaking character or letting the audience become aware of the error.

Crossover — A stock comedy routine, easy to put together because it needed no involved setup. Two performers enter from opposite sides of the stage, meet in the middle for a bit of comic dialogue, then each exits in the direction he was going. For instance, one guy has a suitcase … "Where are you going?" "I'm taking my case to court." (They meet again, the guy now has a ladder.) "Where are you going now?" "I'm taking my case to a higher court." In another, one guy has a black eye … "What happened to you?" "I was living the life of Riley." (Slang for 'the easy life') "So what happened?" "Riley came home!"

Crow's Roost — The rear section of the upper balcony, the only place black patrons were allowed in many
theaters. "

Cut House — A theater that paid lower salaries.

D
(the) Death Trail — Different circuits were characterized according to their most notable qualities. The "Death Trail," for example, was a string of small, cheap theaters extending from Chicago to Southern California.

Detracting — One comic kindly acting as stooge for another.

Deuce Spot — Second act on the bill. Considered to be the worst spot in the program (the usual opening "dumb act" not even being worthy of consideration by a self-respecting artiste.)

Deucing — Playing the deuce (second) spot. A performer might be deucing if he was not yet (or was no longer) worthy of a better position.

Dialect Act — An act (usually comedy) using dialect material (a broad accent and ethnic humor, usually Italian, Jewish, Irish or Negro). This brand of humor seems crude by today's standards, but it went over far better in a time when most of the audience had just gotten off the boat from somewhere else.

Died — Played to perfunctory applause or none at all.

Disappointment Act — An act substituted for an advertised performer who could not appear.

Doing an Eddie Leonard — Spontaneously doing additional material after your act is over, in response to applause from the audience. "Ad-libbing" an unscheduled (and usually unapproved) encore.

Drop — Lateral curtains extending the full width and height of the stage are called "drops."

Ducats — tickets.

Dumb Act (or Sight Act) — An act that did not involve speech, usually performed to music, such as an acrobatic act or a juggler. A dumb act was often first and/or last on the bill because the audience was still entering (or leaving) noisily.

"Dumb Dora" — 1920s slang for a comically mindless female. The name was applied to a standard two-person vaudeville act in which the man (playing 'straight') would try to communicate with the woman, whose odd logic defeated all attempts to make sense. George Burns and Gracie Allen elevated this scenario to its highest form (see "Straight Man" below). The precursor of "dumb blonde" humor.

Dumps — The smallest, cheapest, shabbiest theaters. "The last I heard of him, he was playing the dumps around Chicago."

Effect Finish — A finish getting its impact from the use of props or special effects (think of a baton twirler finishing with a bombastic display of flags, sparklers and lights.)

E
Excess Baggage — A vaudevillian's spouse who tours with the performer but does not perform.

F
Feature Spot — The top-billed act, the major advertised attraction.

Feeder — The straight man, whose function was mostly to "feed" the comic opportunities for humor.

Fighting the Agents — Looking for work, often in vain.

Finish — The finale of an act, especially when it contrasts with the rest of the act (the performers in a comedy act might break into a song and dance, or finish with a pie in the face or some other effect.)

Fish — A poor act ("Stinks like a three-day-old fish.")

Five — "The five" is the stage manager's warning that 'places' will be called in 5 minutes.

Five-Percenter — A theatrical agent or broker. 5% was the usual percentage of a performer's fee retained as commission by an agent (Later, "ten-percenter.")

Flash Act — A generic act, usually a solo number like a tap-dancer; something that could be booked on little notice and fit anywhere into the program without rehearsal, often as an emergency replacement.


Flashback (or comeback) — When the line after a laugh line elicits an even bigger laugh.


Flirtation Act — An act (sometimes comic) based on flirtatious banter between a man and a woman, and perhaps a romantic song and dance.

Floor Pockets — Boxes set into the floor, fitted with sturdy hinged covers, containing electric sockets connected to the dimmer board, to supply electricity to nearby stage lighting instruments.

Flop — An act or show that utterly fails.

Flop Sweat — The physical manifestation of the realization that your act is flopping or is doomed to flop.


Fly Gallery (or "the Flies") — The area above the stage, ideally an additional 1½ times the height of the proscenium arch, where a system of ropes and counterweights allows lights, drops and other pieces of scenery to be lowered to the stage.

Footlights — A row of lights at floor level extending the width of the front edge of the stage. Used in the days of gaslight (or inefficient electric lighting) to illuminate performers working very close to the front.


Freak Act — An act notable for the unique nature of the performer, who might not be a freak in the carny sense, but could be a famed celebrity or notorious person. The "freak act" might lecture or recount their experiences. Some "freak acts" were "human oddities" like the Hilton Sisters (conjoined twin musicians and subjects of the Broadway musical "Sideshow") but another example was the notorious Evelyn Nesbit, whose love affair ended in a murder dubbed "The Crime of the Century" in 1906. Not necessarily a lowbrow act (Helen Keller, Babe Ruth). Carl Denham's introduction of the giant gorilla in the Broadway theater, in the classic movie King Kong, is a perfect example of the lead-in to a freak act (though the story rushes the appearance of the big star, leaving out any indication of what else might fill out the show).

From Dixie — Attributing a "good enough for the rubes" quality to a performer who wasn't considered able to perform well.

G
G-string — A narrow strip of fabric that covers a stripper's pubic area, the remainder supported by nearly-invisible strings, designed to circumvent narrowly-defined anti-nudity laws.

Gagbook — Jokebook published as a resource for both amateur and professional performers, primarily between the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. A typical one might have chapters like "monologues," "acts for two males," "acts for male and female," "sidewalk patter," "parodies," "minstrel first-parts" and "afterpieces." The books usually contained a mix of original material and scripts gleaned from older sources - the authors may have claimed to be the originators of the material, but a study of several examples will show items common to many books. Joe Miller's Joke Book, a famous example, was published in 1739 and republished endlessly.

Gagging — Adding "ad lib" remarks or other business into an act unexpectedly during performance. A performer might "gag" in the same sense he could "upstage" someone, aggressively drawing attention or throwing the other performer into confusion.

Gallery — Synonymous with 'balcony.' The gallery seats were the cheapest. In turn-of-the-century New York, lower gallery seats were 50¢, while upper gallery seats cost 25¢.

Get Back Your Pictures — To be canceled or fired (your promo photos were removed from the lobby displays and returned to you).

Get Shut — To be fired after an unsatisfactory first performance.

Get the Hook — To be such a bad performer that you were dragged offstage mid-performance by the stage manager, using a long hook like a shepherd's crook (ostensibly to avoid having a stagehand be seen by the audience). “The hook” was reportedly introduced in 1903 at Harry Miner’s Bowery Theater in New York, when novice performers could try their skill in "amateur night" competitions, exposing themselves to harsh judgment by the audience. Often the management knew that some of the acts were terrible, and booked them for no other purpose than to bring the “hook” into play and get a laugh from the audience.

Ghost Light — A single bare bulb on a head-high stand, left lit on the stage overnight for safety.

Girl Act — A one-act musical comedy. In one writer's words, “all I remember is a lot of pretty girls who changed their clothes every few minutes, two lovers who sang about the moon, a funny couple and a whole lot of music.”

Go Up — To lose your concentration suddenly and completely onstage, forgetting your next line, possibly the line you're speaking at the moment, and even how you can possibly cover for your error.

Gods — Or "Gallery Gods," the occupants of the cheap upper-circle seats who commonly made their approval or disapproval known in very rowdy and noisy ways.

Green Room — Not often available in vaudeville theaters (where performers usually awaited their call in their dressing rooms), the "green room" is a quiet parlor (traditionally painted a restful shade of green) adjoining the stage where performers ready to go on await their calls to the stage.

Grouch Bag — A small bag or purse worn under the clothing, carrying the performer's valuables (which are likely to be stolen from an unattended dressing room).

Gutenberg — Your wardrobe trunk (from "press," the antique term for a standing wardrobe trunk fitted with rail and hangers as a traveling closet.)

H
Half-hour — The first of several calls (backstage announcements to performers in their dressing rooms or the green room) by the stage manager, culminating in "places" at showtime. All performers were required to sign in by half-hour or face penalties.

Headliner — Star of the show whose named appeared most prominently on the bill and in the advertising, perhaps even "name above the title."

Heckler — An audience member who taunts the performer. Performers often trade "heckler stopper" rejoinders, but many find more success by ignoring the heckler.

Hemp — Scenery and lights were originally hung from pipes suspended by hemp ropes.

High Hat — To be very classy, or perhaps to have an overinflated opinion of yourself (referring to the top hat which traditionally accompanied a full dress tuxedo).

Hokum — Corny, old-fashioned material. Clich├ęd sentimentality, kneejerk patriotism and old-wheeze jokes.

Hoofer — Dancer.

House — The audience seating area. Also, may refer to the theater as a whole: "The Orpheum is a high-class house," or "I don't bring my own, I just use the house scenery."

House Manager — Responsible for coordinating activity in the house area.

I
In-and-Outer — A performer equally at home on the legitimate stage and the vaudeville circuit.

Insurance — A surefire joke or bit that could be relied upon to spark better response to material a performer didn't trust.

Intermission — Beside the dictionary meaning, a joking (well, usually joking) title for a performer so unengaging that he might as well not be onstage: "How are ya, you intermission?"

Ingenue — An actress playing, or a role depicting, a young woman.

J
Joe Miller — An old, stale and/or corny joke. Named for the ancient and seemingly eternal Joe Miller's Joke Book. Miller (1684-1738) was a popular comic actor whose name was attached to a "book of jest" containing 247 quips ostensibly uttered (but probably not authored) by Miller. The book was published in 1739 and re-published, pirated and rewritten endlessly into the 19th century. Referred to in Dickens' A Christmas Carol when Scrooge mutters, "Joe Miller never made such a joke as sending [the turkey] to Bob's will be!" Since the contents were endlessly recycled, performers often referred to any joke that saw wide and repeated use as "a Joe Miller."

Juvenile — An adolescent performer, or a role depicting a youth.

K
(to) Kill — To be a complete success with the audience.

Knockabout Comedy — Exaggerated physical comedy like pratfalls and mock violence (the Three Stooges might be a good example).

A Knockout — Greatly successful with the audience.

L
Lard Actor — A performer who can't make enough money to remove his makeup with cold cream, but uses lard instead. Lard being "ham fat," after a while the term matured into "ham," an untalented performer with a broad and unskilled style.

Lazzo — From commedia del'arte, a recurring bit (running gag) that builds comic impact by repetition.

Lecturing the Skull — When the straight man talks while, supposedly unknown to the straight, the comic mugs. Probably from the iconic "Alas, poor Yorick" speech in Hamlet, which was likely to be spoofed with the addition of mugging behind 'Hamlet's' back.

Legit — "Legitimate theater". The term differentiates serious drama from mere entertainments like vaudeville or burlesque.

Legitimate Encore — An encore demanded by the audience without "milking."

Limelight — An early (pre-electric) stage light, using a hydrogen/oxygen flame to heat a cylinder of lime, raising it to white-hot incandescence. The term is still used to mean "being in the public eye".

M
M.C. or Emcee — Master of Ceremonies; the person who introduces the performers.

Milking — Inducing (by body language or just continuing to stand on stage and "accept" applause) an audience to continue applauding long after they would ordinarily have ceased. Usually becomes obvious rather quickly, to the detriment of the performer's reputation. Sometimes called "stealing an extra bow."

Milkman — A performer with a reputation for milking.

Monologist — A performer whose one-person act consists entirely of talk. Probably the origin of modern "stand-up comedy," the vaudeville monologist's act might also be serious (a patriotic or poetic recitation), and the material might be rendered straight or in dialect.

Morgue — A house that is not doing much business, or an audience that resolutely refuses to applaud.

Mountaineer — An alumnus of the Borscht Belt, the resorts in the Catskills catering largely to Jewish audiences and known for their affinity for Jewish ethnic material.

N
Nut Act — Comic(s) using an excessive style, usually mugging or simply acting goofy.

Nut House — Vaudeville theater known for comic acts. Also, the title of a standard burlesque routine encompassing numerous zany walk-ons framed by its setting in an insane asylum (often titled "Crazy House").

O
Olio Acts — Smaller numbers or acts performed "in one" during set changes for the major acts of the show.

One-Liner — A joke made up of only one or two sentences.

(to) Open — To give the first performance of a show ("the show opened Saturday in Boston"), or to perform the warmup act before a star's performance ("I opened for Durante in Vegas").

Out of Town — Anyplace that isn't New York City (is there anywhere else?).

P
Paper — Complimentary tickets given out ("Papering the House") to give the impression that the show was drawing large crowds and to ensure a crowd of sufficient size to keep them from nervously "sitting on their hands." Often done on opening night when critics were in attendance.

Parterre — We now think of the 'orchestra' seating area as a premium section. But until the 1860's, this area was called the 'parterre,' and had no fixed seats; like the theaters in Shakespeare's day, it was a standing-room area for budget-minded patrons. However, it was not the cheapest audience area. Admission to the parterre was about 75¢, while gallery seats cost 25-50¢. The term survives today to indicate the rear half of the floor-level seating, the area under the balconies.

Pasties — Decorative patches just the size of a stripper's areola, applied with adhesive, designed to barely circumvent anti-nudity laws forbidding showing nipples.

Patter Act — An act based on rapid, clever dialog (Abbott and Costello's famed "Who's On First?" is an example.)

Pit — The sunken area immediately between the edge of the stage and the first row of the house, in which the house musicians play.

Places — The last in a series of timed calls from the stage manager. They begin with "half hour" and culminate in "places," the signal for those in the show's first minutes to make their way to the stage.

Playing to the Haircuts — Playing last on the bill (in other words, playing to the backs of the audience members as they left.) In its worst construction, performing so badly that the audience walked out in boredom and disgust.

Pro-Am — Professional amateur entertainers. Many famous performers gained notoriety (and experience) in frequent "amateur night" competitions.

Prop — Short for "property", any item onstage other than scenery.

Protean Act — A quick-change act (from Proteus, a Greek god who could change shape).

Q
Quarter — The stage manager's announcement that "places" will be called in 15 minutes.

Quick Change Act — An act in which a performer entertains by lightning-fast onstage costume changes.

R
Revue — Like a vaudeville show, a revue consists of sketches, songs, and comedians. However, instead of changing its acts weekly, a revue has a longer run, and the acts might be tied together with a central concept. Ziegfeld's Follies and Lou Leslie's Blackbirds of 1928 were some of the many revues.

Running Gag — A joke or physical bit which appears several times throughout the show, gaining momentum each time through its familiarity and through its appearance in a new context.

S
Schmaltz — Yiddish for "chicken fat." Schmaltzy material is broad, sentimental material like weepy songs about your poor old mother back in the old country.

Schtick — Yiddish for a "bit." Exaggerated, stylized business or clowning.

Sight Gag — A joke which conveys its humor visually.

Show Stopper — An bit or act that earns such wild applause that the performers must pause until the ovation quiets. Often prompts a brief reprise of the material or an encore number.

Sidewalk Comedy — Comic act in front of the olio, the setting often being "two guys meet on a sidewalk."

Sight Act — See "dumb act," above.

Silo Circuit — Small towns and rural areas (referring, of course, to the feed silos.) The equivalent of the circus term "mud show." Also, summer stock.

Single — An act by a single performer.

Sitting on their Hands — An audience resolutely refusing to applaud.

Skull — A doubletake or mug.

Slapstick — Knockabout physical comedy, named for the "slapstick," a bat-like paddle with a flap that emits a huge "slap" sound when struck.

Sleeper Jump — The top-floor dressing room, assigned to the smaller acts. The higher in status an act was, the closer to the stage they had their dressing room. The old theaters had dressing rooms stacked all the way to the fly loft (and that could be four or five storeys.) And, of course, you got there by backstage stairs all the way up. The top floor dressing room was the farthest, the hottest, the least-well maintained, and performers had to carry their wardrobe trunk up all of those narrow metal stairs. Called a "sleeper jump" because it was so far from the stage that it took an overnight railway trip to get up there.

Small Time — The circuits playing more than three shows a day.

Song Pluggers — Men who demonstrated new songs to entice performers to use the material in their acts. If a performer could be induced to put a new song in his act, it would increase sales of the sheet music (which, when a tune was made famous by a star performer, could hit the million copy mark or higher.) The song pluggers made the rounds of agents' offices, providing promotional copies of the latest songs complete with orchestrations (printed on inexpensive paper and marked "ADVANCE ARTIST COPY"), and even rehearsed and coached performers. Alfred O. Phillipp wrote for the Federal Writers' Project in the late 1930s, "Performers of all types, in every rank and category, walked into these offices all day for their free copies. Not all of them were singers. Aerialists requested the latest waltz numbers for their incidental music while swinging on a trapeze. Perhaps Archie Onri, one of America's great jugglers, would drop in to try out a snappy number in 'two-four' with which he could keep time while manipulating his famous 'devil sticks.' Perhaps Jack Norworth, while starring at the Majestic Theatre, gets a wire from Ted Snyder asserting 'great new number just out, just your style. Please drop in at our Chicago office', so Jack Norworth (a $2,000 a week star) drops in just as an ivory tickler finishes demonstrating a number for the $20 a week strip dancer of a South State Street honky-tonk."

Spotted Week — A week in which an act was not fully booked. Similar to "Split Week," in which an act was not booked for a full week in one theater but played part of the week in another house.

Stage Door — The entrance from the street to backstage. A bulletin board located here holds a daily sign-in sheet, information about nearby hotels and restaurants for the benefit of traveling artists, and rules particular to that theater. There might also be a set of mailboxes for the performers to receive mail or notes from the producer.

Stealing a Bow — Reappearing on stage for another bow (tending to keep the audience politely applauding) when the volume of applause does not really warrant it. One way of "milking" applause.

Stick Act — A gymnastic act on the horizontal bar.

(the) Sticks — Out-of-town (out of New York) venues, especially really out-of-town venues.

Stooge — A comic aide to a comedian, often a performer who appears to a "volunteer" called up to help from out of the audience. A magician may also employ a stooge to give the appearance of performing miraculous effects on a randomly-chosen audience member (the stooge).

Straight Man — Half of a comic team, the performer in a routine who plays the "average Joe on the street," the person the audience can identify with, who meets or converses with someone odd, resulting in comical situations. George Burns was the straight man in tandem with wife Gracie Allen. He always explained "I just stand there and ask Gracie a question, she answers it in her way, the audience applauds and thinks I'm a great comedian."

Stubholders — The audience.

Suitcasing — Travelling on tour with very light or minimal baggage. Performers were required to pay their own expenses between engagements, including the expense of shipping the props and scenery their act required.

T
Tab — A bit longer (45 to 60 minutes) than the usual 35-minute one-act musical or drama included as a part of most vaudeville bills, the tab was a condensed "tabloid" version of what would be a full-evening show, were it presented alone. The tab might have several scenes and several sets, and is designed to impress.

Tag Line — An additional punch line to a joke; gives a second laugh without a new setup.

Take — A comedic facial reaction. A "double-take" is a "take" (usually depicting simply noticing something and starting to move on) followed by a quick return to the sight and a broad, shocked reaction to what you've just seen. A "spit take" is a reaction of such shock that the performer sprays out whatever he had been drinking or eating when the stimulus was received.

Teaser - The short drop just behind the proscenium arch, adjusting the visual height of the stage.

Terp Team — Ballroom or other paired dancers, from "Terpsichore," the Greek muse of dance.

Three-sheeting — Hanging around in front of the theater trying to date a town gal or impress people that you are a performer. Named after the 44"x84" posters (made of three standard-size printed sheets) used on the side of the theater. Managers discouraged the practice because it looked seedy and detracted from the mystique of the stage.

Tin Pan Alley — West 28th Street in New York City, where many music composers and publishers had their offices at the turn of the century, and the sound of multiple instruments playing different tunes was described as "like banging on a thousand tin pans." It came to represent the whole burgeoning popular music business of the day. Tin Pan Alley publishers mass-produced songs and promoted them as merchandise.

Took the Veil — Retired from professional life. From the Catholic term for becoming a nun.

Topper — A joke that amplifies and gets extra energy from the previous joke.

Trap — An opening in the stage floor enabling performers to go down, fitted with a secure covering to make the area just another part of the stage floor when not in use.

U
(to) Upstage — Before the twentieth century stages were often "raked" or slanted, higher in the back than in the front. Anything done upstage would be behind the back of the star, who would be downstage and facing the audience, and a misbehaving cast member could easily steal attention from the performer who should be the focus of attention. Also, to take on a superior and patronizing attitude: "George is getting upstage lately."

W
Walking off Cold — Flopping, leaving the stage at the end of your act while leaving the audience unimpressed.

Work Lights — General utility illumination for the stage during non-performance times. Work lights for the house were called "cleaners."

Wowed the Audience — Was a huge success, synonymous with a dozen other expressions like "laid 'em in the aisles," "knocked 'em dead," etc.

Y
Yock — A really big laugh from the audience.

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