From Vau de Vire through Voix de Ville to Vaudeville

The name derives from the 15th century and is supposed to refer to the valley of Vire (Middle French vau de Vire), the reputed origin of a type of satirical or humorous drinking song. By the 18th century the name had become voix de ville (street voices) and depicted those songs frequently inserted in spoken or pantomimed dramas.

Itinerant European acts would visit America to play on its stages. Many came from a circus background rather than the theatre. The European acts brought a blend of music, comedy, dance and acrobatics that raised the bar for native performers.

In 1840, in what may been its first appearance under the term, vaudeville played a summer season in Boston at Boylston Hall. Rechristened the Vaudeville Saloon, it established Boston’s claim as being the birthplace of American vaudeville.

In the 19th century, the term vaudeville came to refer to a stage entertainment made up of several individual acts or presentations by a single or group of entertainers - acrobats, family acts, musicians, comedians etc. that appeared on a single bill. By 1885, theatre owners like B.F. Keith were offering a daylong repeating cycle of variety acts that came to be known as continuous vaudeville. This popular form of entertainment thrived in places like Atlantic City from the 1880s until the Wall Street Crash of 1929 contributed to the genre's demise in the early 1930s.

NB: Summarised from Encarta and Frank Cullen's Vaudeville Old & New.