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Ask Chicagoist: Signs of Vaudeville?

By Thales Exoo in Miscellaneous on Mar 1, 2006 3:18PM

There is construction/repair work in progress on the facade of the Shubert theater. When I was walking by yesterday, I saw a sign I never saw before "Ladies Welcome" in gold lettering. I'm wondering why such a sign was necessary at one point. Did they used to have burlesque or vaudeville there?

2006_03_askladies.jpgBack in the day, Chicagoist used to travel the vaudeville circuit. Why, the stories we could tell! Everything was going great for us until the day the manager kicked us out on the street, penniless, with nothing but a "see here kids, your act just ain't good enough for this town."

Chicagoist took a stroll past the theater yesterday to check out the renovation and the sign, which officially says "Ladies Invited." That's a much more active notion, we think, then just being "welcome" somewhere. We didn't feel too invited, however, as when peering into the scaffolding we were welcomed with a spray of welding sparks shooting over the sidewalk.

The Shubert Theatre at 22 W Monroe St -- which now joins the ranks of most 21st century cultural institutions with its new corporate name the LaSalle Bank Theatre -- opened New Years Day in 1906 as the Majestic Theatre. The Majestic was the largest theater in Chicago at the time, and was renowned for its vaudeville acts. It closed during the depression, and reopened in 1945 when it was bought by the Shuberts. The newly renamed Sam Shubert Theatre (one of many across the country named for the Shubert brother who died in a train accident) was primarily used as a venue for stage shows, with a focus on musicals. Currently (and, we must add, thanks to LaSalle Bank's financial backing), the theater is undergoing a multi-million dollar restoration to bring the theater back to, and probably to exceed, its former glory. The theater is slated to reopen in May.

So, yes, the theater was used for vaudeville, and that is most likely the reason the signs inviting the ladies inside were posted. The first traveling variety acts that surfaced in this country in the 1800s were known for their bawdy and coarse humor (which, incidentally, sounds right up Chicagoist's alley). When vaudeville came along, it was responding to a desire for family-friendly entertainment, and performers were told to clean up their acts. Most vaudeville circuits had strict regulations about what could and could not be said, and performers who broke the rules were thrown out -- unless they were the headliners, of course. Based on the recent history of variety shows it was initially assumed by women that attending the performances would be improper. As a result, owners would post signs to encourage women to see the shows. The sign was a sort of unwritten promise that what they'd find inside would not offend.

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