Touring Variety in the Asia Pacific Region, 1946–1975

Jonathan Bollen, Touring Variety in the Asia Pacific Region, 1946–1975 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020)

Aviation extended the horizon of international touring across Asia and the Pacific in the 1950s and 1960s. Nightclubs in Hong Kong, Manila, Melbourne, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo, and Taipei presented an international array of touring acts. This book investigates how this happened. It explores the post-war formation of the Asia Pacific region through international touring and the transformation of entertainment during the ‘jet age’ of aviation.

Drawing on archival research across the region, Bollen investigates how touring variety forged new relations between artists, audiences, and nations. Mapping tours and tracing networks by connecting fragments, he reveals how versatile artists translated repertoire in circulation as they toured, and how entrepreneurial endeavours harnessed the production of national distinction to government agendas. He argues that touring variety on commercial circuits diversified the repertoire in regional circulation, anticipating the diversity emerging in state-sanctioned multiculturalisms, and driving the government-construction of national theatres for cultural diplomacy.

  • Introduction
  • Transporting Variety Through the Nightclubs of Hong Kong
  • Translating Repertoire Between Melbourne and Manila
  • The Tourist Trade: Flying in to Singapore
  • Entrepreneurial Diplomacy: The Cherry Blossom Show on Tour from Tokyo
  • Encountering Internationalism on the Circuit Around Sydney
  • Containing Diversity: National Distinction and International Style
  • Conclusion

Book available from Palgrave. | Related posts on Touring Variety.

About the research…

varietyperformance

Ongoing research since 2004: Flinders Research Grants, 2007 and 2010; Research Fellow, National Film and Sound Archive, 2008; research in Hong Kong, Singapore, Manila, Taipei and Tokyo, 2010–2018; UNSW study leave, 2018.

Theatre historians usually record the decline of vaudeville and variety shows by citing the widespread closure of theatre buildings as venues for live entertainment. This was the fate of many theatre buildings in Australian towns and cities during the middle decades of the twentieth century. Yet when theatres closed their doors, burnt down, were demolished or converted into cinemas, the performers and their acts did not just disappear.

In ongoing research, I have been finding out what happened to variety performance in the transition of popular entertainment from travelling tents and theatre circuits to television screens and night clubs over three decades from 1946 to 1975. The research is revealing how practices were transformed, as entertainers adapted acts for presentation on television and international touring. The movement of entertainers between Asia and Australia anticipates government policies promoting Australian artists to the world and cultural diversity at home.

Related publications

Presentations

  • ‘Containing Diversity: Nightclubs and Theatres in the Asia-Pacific Region, 1957–1973’, International Federation for Theatre Research, Shanghai Theatre Academy, China, 8–12 July 2019.
  • ‘Encounter comedy: Les Allen’s photographs of entertainers and their audience at the Central Coast Leagues Club, Gosford, 1964-1976’ Australian Modernism Studies Network, Modernist Comedy & Humour, University of Melbourne, 26 October 2018
  • ‘Visualising the entrepreneurial networks of international entertainment in Hong Kong, 1956–1965: Regional perspectives on performance, data and visualisation’, invited presentation, Annual Conference on Digital Media Studies, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China, 13-14 October 2018.
  • ‘Visualising the entrepreneurial networks of international entertainment: The Dalrays – Touring beyond the Tivoli, 1956-66’, International Federation for Theatre Reseach, University of Arts, Belgrade, Serbia, 9–13 July 2018.
  • ‘Visualising the networks of international entertainment in the nightclubs of Hong Kong, 1958-1962’, Performance Studies international, Daegu Art Factory, Daegu, South Korea, 3–6 July 2018.
  • ‘Transmitting repertoire: Entertainers touring between the Philippines and Australia in the 1950s and 1960s’, Bodies in/and Asian Theatres, IFTR Asia Regional Conference, University of the Phlippines Diliman, Manila, Philippines, 21–23 February 2018.
  • ‘Australian entertainers in Singapore in the 1950s and 1960s’, International Federation for Theatre Research, University of Warwick, England, 28 July 2014.
  • ‘Progress as the future of entertainment – the view from Broken Hill, 1955-1964’, Another World of Popular Entertainments, University of Newcastle, 12-14 June 2013.
  • ‘Cargo-loads of entertainment: touring Hong Kong’s night clubs in the 1950s and 1960s’, International Federation for Theatre Research, Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, Santiago, 22-28 July 2012.
  • ‘As modern as tomorrow, as international as a jet-airliner’: Harry Wren takes Toho’s Cherry Blossom Show on a tour of Australia in 1958, International Federation for Theatre Research, University of Osaka, Japan, 8-12 August 2011.
  • ‘Extra-national entertainment: touring Asian and Australian nightclubs in the 1950s’, Australasian Association for Theatre, Drama and Performance Studies conference, Monash University, Melbourne, 28 June – 1 July 2011.
  • ‘Others from elsewhere: East-West crossover as cosmopolitan entertainment in Hong Kong, Manila and Singapore in the 1950s and 1960s’, Crossovers of East and West Conference, National Taiwan Unviersity, Taipei, 30-31 October 2010.
  • ‘Stripping in the 1960s: theatre, television and clubs’, Beyond Burlesque, La Trobe University, Melbourne, 12 Feb 2010.
  • ‘Erotic performance as historical fiction in Australian variety performance of the 1950s and 1960s’, A World of Popular Entertainments, University of Newcastle, 10-11 Jun 2009.
  • ‘Transforming stage acts and variety television in the 1950s and 1960s’, Television and the National, La Trobe University, Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne, 19-21 Nov 2008.
  • ‘Australian variety performance from theatre to television in the 1950s and 1960s’, National Film and Sound Archive, Canberra, 24 Jul 2008.
  • ‘Here from There: Exotic revue as excursive practice in Australian variety performance’, Turangawaewae – A Sense of Place, Australasian Association for Theatre, Drama and Performance Studies, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, 30 Jun – 3 Jul 2008.
  • ‘Australian variety performance in the 1950s and 1960s’, Spotlight Lecture, The Arts Centre, Melbourne, 17 Apr 2008.
  • ‘Rendering the everyday ordinary: Australian variety performance as excursive practice’, Extreme States, Australasian Association for Theatre, Drama and Performance Studies, La Trobe University and University of Melbourne, 3-6 Jul 2007.
  • ‘Whatever happened to vaudeville? Australian variety performance from theatre to television and licensed clubs, 1945-1975”, Flinders Humanities Research Centre, Flinders University, 18 Oct 2006.