Virtual Vaudeville Title

Gallery

And there is the gallery, if you don't mind, which demands things writ large and plain, and which is moved to enthusiasm by elemental matters that weary highly developed intelligences. The manager minds the gallery very much; in fact he has more respect for its critical judgment than for that of the orchestra.

Hartley Davis, "In Vaudeville," Everybody's Magazine, 1905

B.F. Keith's Union Square Theatre, like many major theatres, had two levels of galleries, or balconies. In Keith's theatres during this period, lower gallery seats cost 50¢, and the upper gallery seats only 25¢ (while parterre seats cost 75¢, and box seats, cost $1 - $1.50). The galleries held working class spectators, many of whom were immigrants from countries such as Ireland, Germany and Italy. The second gallery was notorious for attracting the rowdiest spectators, referred to as the "gallery gods." These spectators could respond with tremendous enthusiasm, but also with open hostility. Many vaudeville performers played specifically to the gallery gods to win them to the performer's side.

Typically, the galleries would contain a large number of working-class spectators, who were among the most demonstrative. Frank Bush's ethnic humor would have appealed most strongly to these spectators. Indeed there are newspaper reports about Bush that describe approval for him starting in the galleries and gradually spreading to the lower sections of the theatre as the act progressed. The Irish spectators in the galleries in particular would have responded warmly to Bush's Irish character, Mike, taking sides with him against the Jewish character.

In many of the largest theatres during the 1890's, the back section of the top gallery was a segregated area for African American spectators, who were forced to use a separate entrance and box office. (Smaller theatres with no segregated section were entirely segregated, either for all white or all African Americans spectators.) We have modeled and animated the spectators of the Union Square Theatre following the supposition that it had such a segregated section. Though there is no hard evidence that this was the case, there is evidence that Keith and Albee, the theatre's managers, provided segregated sections in the theatre they operated in Boston.


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