Who went to the shows?
The audience for minstrelsy, especially after the 1830s and into the 1840s was a quite localized and specific working class, lower middle-class, mostly male audience that responded very vocally to the kinds of syncopated, pre-rock-and-roll sounds that were put forward on the minstrel stage. There were aesthetic components of this response as well as racial components, as well as class components of this response. But I think that the rousing nature of the event -- I mean, this is a moment in theater history when it was typical and more or less sanctioned for men to rush the stage. For everyone to kind of be collecting in a rowdy way, right in front of the footlights, be spitting tobacco on the floor in the theater. It was a kind of madhouse. People congregated around the footlights. Dancing was done in the theater, people called for their favorites and booed things they didn't want to hear. They spit upon the stage, they threw peanut shells on the stage, and the kind of jumpy quality that the music exemplified was right up their alley.
Much more so than today, audiences controlled what went on the stage. And they felt that they had a right to have someone do the dance again if they particularly liked it or the song. If they didn't like the song, they would cut it off. And so an audience, a common-class audience in New York City felt a direct alliance with what was going on in that stage, much more so than we can even begin to imagine today in a real way.
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