Using the tradition of vaudeville comedy as a starting pointing, this activity asks the students to think about comedy skits, based on family or domestic situations, and stage one of their own.
The activity is divided into several parts: 1) observing their family to come up with material for the skit, 2) writing a script for the skit, and 3) staging the skit.
4 to 8
social studies, cultural history, creative writing, dramatic arts
Begin by having the students read the appropriate Web pages: Episode 4, Topic 9 (The Crossroads of the World, From Vaudeville to Broadway, Outsiders on Stage, America’s First Stars).
Once they have read this material, you might want to discuss what old-time vaudeville was like. What kind of shows were popular? Who were the performers? Who went to see the shows? How did the audiences behave? Why did vaudeville die out?
Ethnic humor was particularly popular on vaudeville. You may want to explore this sensitive topic with your students. Why was it popular? And why is it considered racist today? You could point out the basic difference between ethnic humor then and now–laughing at one’s own ethnic group is acceptable today, but laughing at others is seen as nasty and racist.
You could also compare the old-time theater with today’s theater and even with the movies and TV. What are some of the differences between vaudeville and modern theater? What are the differences between live theater and the movies? How have audiences changed? Does vaudeville comedy live on in TV sitcoms?
Finally, you might want to go over ideas about comedy. Why are some things funny, and others not? What kinds of humor do students like? Ask them to tell you what they think is funny. We have offered a few tips to comedy writing in Step 2 of the Activity Web page.