What Was “Small Time” Vaudeville?

       Everyone knows the phrase “You’ve made the Big Time.” It originated in vaudeville and was used to distinguish the prestigious circuits like Keith Albee and Orpheum from the lesser ones like Gus Sun Time. Most performers started in Small Time and hoped to move up to Big Time. Few made it.

       But just what was Small Time vaudeville and how did it differ from Big Time?

       Small Time circuits booked performers in the smaller, less prestigious theaters in the cities. They also played in small towns and rural America. As you would expect, Small Time paid less. Gus Sun was a Small Time circuit that booked performers for half a week rather than a whole week or several weeks, meaning performers had to spend two (unpaid) days each week traveling to the next town rather than one. But the distances, or “jumps,” were shorter, so travel cost less. So did small town boarding houses or hotels. And in Small Time, performers could get by with cheaper costumes and scenery since audiences were less sophisticated.

       Small Time was much harder—performers were expected to play three, four, or five shows a day. Big Time theaters usually had two performances a day, which is why Big Time was sometimes called “Two-a-day.”

       Any vaudeville lifestyle was tough, but Small Time life was pretty grim.

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Published in: on February 16, 2010 at 10:25 am  Comments (2)  
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  1. You have a very interesting site. I am trying to find anything on vaudeville performer Marion Worth. She would sing Melancholy Baby on a swing. Any suggestions would be appreciated.


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