Nowadays it is with frequency that we encounter much in the way about multiculturalism, diversity and inclusion. Yet, paradoxically perhaps, it is in the realm of the theatrical firmament that what is offered for exhibition before our collective eyes is circumscribed, in scope delimited.
In yesteryear – but, in fact, actually not too long ago – theatergoers avid for both excellence and novelty had an array of choices for their entertainment pleasure that we today, simply do not have, alas.
For those studying the actual timeline of vaudeville, variety, and ancillary cultural attractions presented in various public venues, we may comprehend, from our distance, the nostalgic, pining away for now once regnant theatrical forms once upon a time loved by the masses, minstrelsy, ‘coon-shouter’ acts, fairground exhibitions of ‘human oddities’, and other novelty acts and performers, all of which audience and spectators valued immeasurably and with enduring sincere thankfulness: this period in our cultural life was a beholder’s paradise, and now superannuated by sensibilities our forebears might not find to be, in fact, of a truly progressive arc.
Comes now, a further, evocative and contextual addition to our imaginative resources by which to re- examine this cultural time of the past, and theatrical glory of a unique sub-set of talented people: the new book, Roses Royal Midgets and Other Little People of Vaudeville, published by Vaudevisuals Press with essays by Trav SD..
In the book’s well written pages, we encounter theatrical heroes and heroines, small in stature by the measuring-stick of biological normies yet obvious cultural giants, whose very existence and talents were recognized as true testament of the transcendency of our in-common human condition.
If PT Barnum’s featured attraction, the diminutive General Tom Thumb ever needed similar dimensioned phalanxes to lead, then these small Vaudevillian troops of midgets might well have become his troops and legatees.
And the new book allows readers to luxuriate in fascinating mini-histories and profiles of the little people and of producers who showcased their marvelous ways and artistry of all sorts, for the pages are replete with extracts from published souvenir-programs, lavish poster lithographic studies, photo ethnographic documentation of this Lilliputian subculture; Bravo to all: Trav SD
essays, Jim Moore, publisher and James Taylor Foreword author and freak-loris
On stage in their specialty-numbers, and their dancing, song, skits, comedy routines, instrumental playing and acrobatics, etc., they regaled spectators with phenomenal virtuosity, similar to that in normal Vaudeville time and in variety circuits across the land.
It’s illuminating to behold, this unique slice of humanity and, as well, since these people are, in photos adorable, one wishes one could pluck them from out of the pages, and cradle them in the crook of one’s elbows!
As the French author La Fountain, compiler of fables, wrote, centuries past, that when you throw the goose out the front door of the house, it waddles back in from the back of your house; so filmmaker Spike Lee in ‘Bamboozle’ felt that minstrelsy had come back this time repurposed as gangsta-rap
Apropos of this, perhaps other past theatrical forms – including those we are reminded of in this book under review here – may. too, be resurrected, but, unlike Mr. Lee’s example, with more salubrious, and of transcendent purpose..
Just as a character on TV, Archie Bunker, said “Those were the days,” and, most probably, those were quite better days culturally, and the currently vogueish shibboleths of the “cultural studies” mavens cannot gainsay the actual cultural excellence displayed by our brassy show-biz inheritance including midgets and all; minstrelsy and all; freaks and all…