Vaudeville is a type of theatrical performance which consists of a series of separate, unrelated acts grouped together on one bill. It was the dominant form of entertainment before radio and movies became popular in the late 1920s. Singing, dancing, and acrobatic acts toured the nation appearing in small concert halls and "museums". They grew in popularity and became known as variety shows. By 1860 there were theaters devoted to such programs in most major cities. Many noted legitimate actors first appeared in variety, most notably Will Rogers.
It was late in the 19th century that the French word vaudeville came into use to describe these programs—the British called them music halls. B. F. Keith, who began managing a music hall in Boston in 1883, acquired a number of vaudeville theaters. Combining with rival F. F. Proctor in 1906, he became the leading figure within the vaudeville community. Marcus Loew, Alexander Pantages, and the firm Sullivan, Considine, and Orpheum were also operating large vaudeville circuits at that time.
Between 1910 and 1930, motion pictures so supplanted stage shows in popular patronage that after 1930 vaudeville acts were rarely seen except as parts of the program at the larger motion picture theaters.
- Robert M. Lewis. From Traveling Show to Vaudeville: Theatrical Spectacle in America, 1830--1910 (2007) excerpt and text search