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In the early days there were the troubadours and the singing minstrels, then came the medicine

shows to the towns of America...then the tent Shows, rag operas, tent reps barnstormed, and

took entertainment on the road.  Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show begins to roll, and we hear

the music "there's no business like show business", then vaudeville, Broadway and the flickers...

In 1913, Cecil B. DeMille rents a barn in Hollywood near the corner of Hollywood and Vine, and

makes the movie "The Squaw Man"...the wireless, the talking machine, and on to TV, and  Video,

Buddy Holly in a plane, some music dies, and Kristofferson and Willie Nelson load up and are...

"On The Road Again"...while the Internet streams a Wild West Digital Film Festival to the world,

from an ancient hot springs town that Jessie James' uncle built here in cowboy wine country...

Enlarge thy tents, Strengthen thy stakes.   Isaiah 54:2



















Tent Reps...Rag Operas...


Tent rep theatre gave the public access to simple, understandable entertainment...

The tent rep shows were important to rural America for they were "...the grass

roots theatre of the country."  The shows seldom played big towns, instead

delivering their "...rough-hewn drama to the doorsteps of the rural citizens."  The

tent show circuit, with the actors and "repsters", the tent theatre troupe, these

canvas playhouses was how most of rural American were entertained in the

early part of the century.


Tent Repertoire theatre as a form of American popular entertainment established

a firm base for development in the late nineteenth century, steadily growing to

enjoy a heyday in the 1920s.  At the height of tent show activity, Billboard

Magazine offered statistical evidence in the New York Times concluding that

"the canvas playhouses of the country constitute a more extensive business than

Broadway and all the rest of the legitimate theatre industry put together."




In 1823, the first steam ship travels up the Mississippi River.  It is said that the first circus 

was performed in a tent around this time and Stephen Austin establishes the first American

settlement in Tejas (Texas).


In 1867, P.T. Barnum formed his first traveling circus, and later came up with the idea
of the three ring circus.   He thought of it in trying to design a way to get more people
under the big top to see the show. He coined terms like: "Rain or shine" "Jumbo" "Lets

get the show on the road." "Grand Standing"  In 1872, P.T. Barnum coined the phrase

"Greatest show on Earth," describing his "show.


After the 1860s, when touring circuits of entertainers used the railway system,


As movies replaced vaudeville, the better tent shows attracted many a headline act. 

Dime Melodramas were passing...


The large cities had theatres, but the rural areas had to rely on the small touring groups

and tents shows as the barnstormed the roads of the country.  These "wildcat companies"

would even steal a play from the cities and ,pirated the script, change the name of the play

and hit the road...



1883, was an important year in the evolution of the entertainment business,  when Buffalo Bill Cody creates his Wild  West Show and prepares to create an entire new realm of entertainment. 

When his show opens in Omaha, NE. and on another front

Thomas Edison pioneers the radio tube.





We are looking now at how the tent can be used

as a playback video and screen for movies



Traveling shows were the means by which people in the rural areas of the country during
the 1800's were able to hear the music and entertainment that was originating in the cities
of the Northeast.  The MEDICINE SHOW  is the most common.  These "physick" wagon
with its shuck and jive "medicine man" or "doctor," if you will, was the order of the day.
The "carnie" types were a interesting lot themselves and became  some of the first
"promoters" of the business known as Entertainment.


The doctor usually sold a bottled liniment, which was called sometimes "snake oil."  Or,

he sold congo oils, liniments, home remedies and elixirs.  The shows usually had a
"blackface" entertainer to sing and draw a crowd so that the "doc" could come out and

do his deed on the rural crowd.


Jimmie Rodgers, Gene Autry, Buck Page, Hank Williams, and other country singers
had their first gigs with Medicine Shows. Jimmie Rodgers ran off with a Medicine Show
when he was only 13.  Later on he would sign on as a "blackface" singer with the medicine
show circut.  Many of the singers would play a banjo, fiddle or a guitar and paint their face


These traveling gypsy shows were cutting the trail that would years in the future be followed
by Willie Nelson singing "On The Road Again" in his Honeysuckle Rose.