Music Hall - Speciality Acts

Speciality Acts

The vocal content of the music hall bills, was, from the beginning, accompanied by many other kinds of act, some of them quite weird and wonderful. These were known collectively as speciality acts (abbreviated to 'spesh'), which, over time, have included:

  • Aerial acts, of the sort usually seen at the Circus
  • Adagio: essentially a sort of cross between a dance act and a juggling act, consisting usually of a male dancer who threw a slim, pretty young girl around. Some aspects of modern dance choreography evolved from Adagio acts.
  • Magic acts and escapologists, such as Harry Houdini.
  • Cycling acts: again, a development of a Circus act, consisting of either a solo or a troupe of trick cyclists. There was even seven-piece a cycling band called Seven Musical Savonas, who played fifty instruments between them, and Kaufmann's Cycling Beauties, a troupe of girls in Victorian swim wear.
  • Ventriloquists, or Vent acts as they were called in the business.
  • Electric acts, using the newly discovered phenomena of static electricity to produce tricks such as lighting gas jets and setting fire to handkerchiefs through the performers fingertips.
  • Drag artists. Female entertainers dressed as men, such as Vesta Tilley. Or male entertainers dressed as women, such as impressionist, Danny La Rue, or comedian, Rex Jameson, in the character of Mrs Shufflewick
  • Knife throwing and sword swallowing. The most spectacular of its time was the Victorina Troupe, who swallowed a sword fired from a rifle.
  • Juggling and plate spinning acts. Another variation was the Diabolo.
  • Feats of strength by both strongmen and strongwomen.
  • Fire eaters and other eating acts, such as eating glass, razor blades, goldfish etc.
  • Wrestling and jujitsu exhibitions were both popular speciality acts, forming the basis of modern professional wrestling.
  • Mentalism acts. Commonly a male mentalist, blindfolded on stage, and an attractive female assistant passing among the audience. The assistant would collect objects from the audience, and the mentalist would identify each by 'reading' the assistants mind. This was usually accomplished by a clever system of codes and clues from the assistant.
  • Mime artists and impressionists.
  • Trampoline acts.
  • Animal acts: Talking dogs, Flea circuses, and all manner of animals doing tricks.
  • Stilt walkers.
  • Puppet acts, including human puppets and living doll acts.
  • Comic pianists, such as John Orlando Parry and George Grossmith.
  • Cowboy/Wild West acts.
  • Shadow puppet acts.

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Famous quotes containing the word acts:

    Whoso will seeken acts of sundry realms
    May read of dreames many a wonder thing.
    Geoffrey Chaucer (1340?–1400)