Vaudeville is a form of variety show and theatrical entertainment which included music and comedy as well as celebrities, impersonators, animal trainers, dancers, magicians, and jugglers. Vaudeville was popular in the theaters of the U.S. and Canada from the late 1800's through the 1930's, around the same time that burlesque theater was in its heyday. Vaudeville evolved by incorporating elements of early burlesque theater, minstrel shows, concert saloons and variety halls. Whereas variety halls and concert saloons were intended for male audiences, vaudeville shows were "cleaned up" versions of the variety shows and saloon shows, and were intended for mixed audiences. Vaudeville was usually presented in alcohol-free theaters, unlike the entertainment in concert saloons, and aimed to provide inexpensive entertainment which would appeal to the middle class.
Tony Pastor is credited with staging the first vaudeville show in New York City in 1881, which he presented as a "clean" variety show, devoid of risqué or bawdy material. Benjamin Franklin Keith and Edward F. Albee followed the example set by Tony Pastor, and built up a chain of theaters that presented vaudeville shows daily across the country. Keith and Albee also strictly maintained the family-friendly nature of the shows that took place in their theaters, expelling any acts that failed to comply to their standards. Other major chains of vaudeville theaters appeared, including Martin Beck's Orpheum Circuit and the theaters of Alexander Pantages and Marcus Loew.
During the height of the popularity of vaudeville, there was a vaudeville theater in almost every urban area in the U.S. These theaters were known as "small time," "medium time" and "big time," with the most renowned vaudeville theater of all being the Palace Theater in New York City (owned by Martin Beck). Vaudeville acts often toured from theater to theater within circuits, and struggled, if they were not part of the "big time" vaudeville shows, to become part of the "big time" or to become a headliner.
Eventually, vaudeville shows incorporated cinema, or movies, into their revue. However, it was the rise of cinema that would eventually cause the demise of the vaudeville shows. Vaudeville slowly declined throughout the 1920's, and in 1932, the Palace Theater held a movie presentation with no other entertainment. Many vaudeville performers and theater owners, such as Pantages and Loews, made their way into the movie business.