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Street Scenes

Street Scenes: Staging the Self in Immigrant New York, 1880–1924

Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Street Scenes
    Book Description:

    Street Scenes focuses on the intersection of modern city life and stage performance. From street life and slumming to vaudeville and early cinema, to Yiddish theater and blackface comedy, Esther Romeyn discloses racial comedy, passing, and masquerade as gestures of cultural translation. Ultimately, she demonstrates how these diverse and potent immigrant works influenced the emergence of a modern metropolitan culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6626-3
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-vii)
    (pp. ix-xxxii)

    In 1941, Claude Lévi-Strauss, living as a refugee in New York and developing the ideas that would lay the foundation for structural anthropology, found himself enchanted by his urban surroundings. The monumental modernist architecture that dominated the metropolis, he realized, imposed only a superficial layer of order on the landscape. Wandering down “miles of Manhattan avenues” and cross streets like a latter-day flâneur, he found the “physiognomy” of the urban landscape changing “from one block to the next: sometimes poverty-stricken, sometimes middle class or provincial, and most often chaotic.” New York appeared an “immense vertical and horizontal disorder attributable to...

  5. Part i The City as Theater: Performativity and Urban Space

    • Chapter 1 The Epistemology of the City
      (pp. 3-25)

      New York City at the turn of the nineteenth century was the visual embodiment of the contradictions of modernity. Within the span of the previous two decades, mechanization, improvements in transportation, and a general rise in the standard of living had stimulated a rapid industrial expansion. To cater to the demands of the expanding markets, factories gradually replaced the small-scale artisan workshops that up to that point had been the backbone of industrial production. The growth of the manufacturing system propelled New York City, and other urban centers such as Chicago, to the forefront of economic production. By the end...

    • Chapter 2 Detecting, Acting, and the Hierarchy of the Social Body
      (pp. 27-51)

      Darkness and Daylightcan be considered indicative of a paradigm shift that started to overtake dominant bourgeois attitudes toward the “problem” of the inner city and the poor in the late nineteenth century. The explosive growth of late nineteenth-century New York City and other major cities lent a new urgency to the efforts to lay bare the inner workings of the city, and bridge a social chasm that was widely perceived as a source of social and political unrest. Moreover, the teeming populations of the inner city, made up of racially inferior Jews, Italians, Negroes, Slavs, and Orientals, also seemed...

    • Chapter 3 Crossing the Bowery: Female Slumming and the Theater of Urban Space
      (pp. 53-79)

      In 1897, in an article inHarper’s Weeklyentitled “East Side Considerations,” E. S. Martin described the difference between the Lower East and the Upper East Side. For Martin, as for many middle-class observers, what distinguished the lower classes from gentility was the absence of a distinction between private and public domains:

      The East Side is especially convenient for the observation of people because there are such shoals of them in sight, and because their habits of life are frank, and favorable to a certain degree of intimacy at sight. Where each family has a whole house to itself and...

    • Chapter 4 Eros and Americanization: The Rise of David Levinsky, or the Etiquette of Race and Sex
      (pp. 81-98)

      By the turn of the nineteenth century, heavy Jewish immigration from eastern Europe had transformed the neighborhood from the Bowery to the East River and from Market Street to Fourteenth Street (and pressing east of Second Avenue) into a center of Jewish life. In the nation’s popular press, the Lower East Side, overcrowded, foreign, predominantly working class, yielded images of a “foreign country of whose habits [the average New Yorker] probably knows less, and with whose inhabitants he certainly has much less in common, than if he had crossed the Atlantic and found himself in Piccadilly or Pall Mall. ....

  6. Part ii Stages of Identity: Performing Ethnic Subjects

    • Chapter 5 Juggling Identities: The Case of an Italian American Clown
      (pp. 101-123)

      In 1919, Carl Van Vechten, journalist and expert slummer, visited the Old Bowery Theatre to attend a performance of Eduardo Migliaccio, or “Farfariello,” one of the most popular and successful Italian American entertainers of the early decades of the twentieth century. He found the theater “filled with all sorts and conditions of men and women, working men in their shirt-sleeves . . . women with their oval olive faces suckling their babies, or with half-nude infants lying over their knees.”

      When the orchestra strikes up a tune, Farfariello appears in evening clothes and announces his first song,Femmene-Fe, a trifle...

    • Chapter 6 My Other/My Self: Impersonation and the Rehearsal of Otherness
      (pp. 125-157)

      “The vaudeville theatre,” Edward Royle observed in 1899, “belongs to the era of the department store and the short story. It may be a kind of lunch-counter art, but then the art is so vague and the lunch is so real.”¹ With the department store and the short story, vaudeville was perhaps the most eloquent expression of the complexities of turn-of-the-nineteenth-century American metropolitan culture. Vaudeville’s roots in urban life were reflected in the term “vaudeville,” which originally derived from the French expressionvoix de ville, or voice of the city, the term for urban folk songs.² But city culture also...

    • Chapter 7 The Truth of Racial Signs: Civilizing the Jewish Comic
      (pp. 159-185)

      For a casual observer like Edwin Royle, what was remarkable (and a little melancholy) about vaudeville was the seriousness with which it banned seriousness. The program, in his words, was “from the artist who balances a set of parlor furniture on his nose to the academic baboon . . . one concentrated, strenuous struggle for a laugh. No artist can do without it. It hangs like a solid and awful obligation over everything.”¹

      The formula for a successful vaudeville lineup was simple. The vaudeville bill required one or two headliners, some attention grabbers, some dramatic contrast, and a “climax.” As...

    • Chapter 8 Blackface, Jewface, Whiteface: Racial Impersonation Revisited
      (pp. 187-212)

      On April 22, 1922, a month after the death of Bert Williams, Eddie Cantor paid tribute to the colleague with whom he had shared the stage of the Ziegfeld Follies. “He had the advantage of belonging to the race which we all more or less imitate when we put on burnt cork,” Cantor began. “He knew each mental attitude of his own race and its humorous reaction to every situation. He had the ability to stand off and affectionately analyze the attributes of his race. As a natural blackface comedian he was far superior to any of us who put...

  7. NOTES
    (pp. 213-262)
  8. INDEX
    (pp. 263-274)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 275-275)