Vaudeville houses existed long before nickelodeons and movie theaters. The main idea behind a vaudeville house was to display live acts, each lasting between five to ten minutes to an audience. While the upper class wouldn’t venture into these houses, by the late 1800’s they were the dominant form of mass entertainment. The acts often showed the unusual, or comedic acts, and various other entertaining acts such as magician performances. Their success was probably due to the very cheap admission price, between five to ten cents. There was also a weekly change of acts and this worked out perfectly because performers would travel from all over the country to perform their acts to different audiences in different states. That way there was always something new to the audience and the performers were constantly in employment. This method was called the interstate vaudeville circuit and was one of the main reasons why people were drawn to these houses week after week.
However, the significance of vaudeville houses to motion picture history can be traced back to when the Lumiere brothers arrived to the US. Once there, they would hook their cinematograph to the magic lantern and project their short films to a live audience in vaudeville houses. Edison naturally felt that they were a threat to his growing empire of film business since prior to their arrival people could only watch these short films individually through a kinetoscope. People were getting tired of these single film presentations and the idea of watching a short film with a large audience seemed a lot more appealing and therefore Edison imitated the Lumiere brothers and projected his short films in vaudeville houses across the nation as well. One can clearly see how vaudeville houses triggered the idea of a modern theater. The friendly atmosphere and crowded audience lead to nickelodeons. Nickelodeons would then coexist with vaudeville houses but primarily focused on short films instead of acts. Later on deluxe theaters were built and they became the go to place for film fans, yet it all started with these old fashioned vaudeville houses that introduced the simple idea of an audience sitting together to enjoy some sort of entertainment for a low admission price. This helped the film industry find its target audience, everyone.
The deluxe theater plays a very significant role in establishing the early development of film. The reason for that being is because prior to these theaters being built, nickelodeons and vaudeville houses would only play short films. One may very well claim that the rise of deluxe theaters lead to the decline to both vaudeville houses and nickelodeons. While nickelodeons and vaudeville houses co-existed often playing short films and acts with nickelodeons playing more fictional short films than having acts performed and vaudeville houses vice versa, both were the public’s main source of entertainment. However by 1915 and the success of feature films, everything changed. Deluxe theaters were newly constructed and built unlike nickelodeons which evolved from vaudeville houses. These theaters were not a conversion of any sort, for feature films could not play on nickelodeons and so they had to build deluxe theaters.
Now that the film industry was booming, the deluxe theater offered a lot more than the old fashion entertainment houses. Firstly, they were a lot larger having the ability to hold a capacity of up to 6000 seats. There was the casual weekly change of program and each week the decorative exterior would light up a new movie title in colorful light bulbs. They also offered a better service for a lot of labor was required to operate a deluxe theater from ticket sales to ushers walking customers to their assigned seats, etc. Naturally with better service and a cleaner environment, the prices went up. Instead of paying five or ten cents, tickets cost between one and two dollars. Therefore films were no longer for the lower class only, and eventually the middle and upper class would consider films as an appropriate form of entertainment. S.L. Rothafel can be credited with making deluxe theaters such a pleasant environment, for his motto was to treat the audience like kings and queens. He later added a cooling system and theaters were air conditioned for the first time in history. However with all these special services such as printed programs, and air conditioned theaters, the film industry never lost its audience for everyone could afford to attend these theaters every once in a while. In fact, these deluxe theaters only made motion pictures the dominant form of entertainment.