Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

The flash act

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I had no money before the Depression. I had no money then. So I wasn’t aware of anything affecting my life. I was a dancer. I worked up in the rehearsal hall every day, looked for jobs, and auditioned. In ’33, we were performing on what was known as half-salary—breaking in. Whenever we got through with the break-in period, this manager would replace somebody in the act—make up another name for the act, and it would become another break-in. So we always worked on half-salary. I wasn’t aware of it for a long time. I worked on half-salary for years.

Vaudeville was still alive. We used to do five shows a day at movie houses. You did thirty-five shows a week. I was always being hired for 19/35 of one week’s work. Some act would get sick, and they’d say: Who can come in without rehearsal? I was at the time a flash act soloist. I used to work on a marble table top and had one number, “Bye Bye Blues.” I was not hard to place in a show. A flash act goes on and off. It is without personality in any way. It is only the act. A juggler or acrobats. A dancer was, at that time, a flash act. It was only the exhibition of one’s physical skills. You could always be fitted into a show without interfering with anything else.

Paul Draper, quoted by Studs Terkel in Hard Times

Written by nevalalee

June 3, 2018 at 7:30 am

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