Rowdy as they come

21 Aug

Here I was thinking that the modernisation of popular theatre in Australia meant the disappearance of rowdy audience practices. But even in the twentieth century, audiences at Harry Clay’s vaudeville shows were rowdy as they come. ‘Should the audience react unfavourably – usually by roaring their disgust until the whole building shook’, a performer recalled, ‘the artist was given his pay and sent on his way’. There were brickies at North Sydney’s Coliseum who spent the whole time ‘bellowing or shouting their disapproval and delight’, and coalmining audiences on the Hunter Valley circuit who did much the same. Audiences at the Newtown Bridge Theatre were fiercer yet. ‘There would scarcely be a night when our strong-arm squad would not have to quell a fracas’, remembered a regular cast member. ‘Many are the teeth I’ve seen splattered around the floor in the old days’.

(This material comes from Clay Djubal’s evocative work on Harry Clay, in this case his paper ‘From minstrel tenor to vaudeville showman: Harry Clay, “a friend of the Australian perfomer”, Australasian Drama Studies, 34 (April 1999): 10-24).

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