fairground entertainment



  • European fairs featured entertainers such as acrobats, jugglers,dancers, freaks, and trained animals from the 16th century onwards.In late 17th-century Paris a stronger link began to develop betweenfairs and dramatic entertainment with the presentation of commediadell'arte plays. After the expulsion of Italian actors from Parisin 1697 (see Comédie-Italienne) more permanenttheaters were established at the fairs of Saint-Germain and Saint-Laurentin the early 18th century.

    To avoid the licensing laws, which forbade them to use spokendialogue, the fair companies created new dramatic forms involvingmusic. By 1714, the Paris Opéra was in such dire financialstraits that it agreed to allow fair companies to produce comic operafor a fee. Fairground troupes were suppressed in 1718 but resumedperformances after the young Louis XV attended a play. In 1762 theComédie-Italienne gained a monopoly on comic opera, so fairgroundperformers returned to using songs set to popular tunes, a form theyrenamed comédies-en-vaudevilles or vaudeville.By the 18th century, the fairground playhouses remained open whenthe fairs were closed. The Théâtre de la Foire Saint-Laurent,built in 1721, was later demolished for the construction of the Opéra-Comiquetheater in 1761. see also Boulevard theaters.

    In England, fairs never played such an important role in theearly theater, although there were notable exceptions. In the early18th century Bartholomew Fair in London includedMrs Minn's booth, where the well-known dramatist ElkanahSettle (1648 - 1724) performed as "a dragon in green leather".The fairs at Smithfield and Southwark offered everything from puppetshows to theatrical plays.

    In Germany, the fair at Leipzig presented performances bythe influential Caroline Neuber (1697 - 1760) while one at Frankfurtbecame the virtual home of the English Comedians.