medicine shows

Definition

Theater

  • Formerly, a type of entertainment presented from the wagonsof itinerant pedlars of patent medicines in America. "Step rightup," was the characteristic cry of travelling medicine men,who used a variety of short acts, from card tricks to banjo playing,to lure their rural customers. As vaudeville expanded, sodid the medicine shows, which began to make more money from providingentertainment than from the sales of their dubious medicinal products.The presentations, interspersed with brief sales-pitches, usuallylasted about two hours and offered up to a dozen acts, including burlesquecomics, ventriloquists, banjo pickers, and blackfaced comedians usuallynamed Sambo or Jake (see minstrel show). The afterpiecewas usually a farce, often involving a ghost. A few medicine shows,such as those run by Fred Foster Bloodgood and Tommy Scott, have continuedinto the late 20th century, but have had to abandon the preposterousmedical claims, which would now breach consumer-protection legislation.A reconstructed performance, The Vi-Ton-Ka Medicine Show, wasgiven in 1983 in New York's American Place Theatre.
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