Back in the days of vaudeville, a peanut gallery was the nickname for the cheapest and certainly the rowdiest set of seats in a theatre. These were the seats farthest from the stage and the folks sitting back there were known to yell at and heckle the performers on stage. Since peanuts were also the cheapest snack available for these rabble-rousers, it quickly became known as the peanut gallery. I didn’t learn any of this until much later in life, but as a kid I enjoyed watching reruns of a show called Howdy Doody. This was a show that featured marionettes in the leading roles and little kids sitting in a section known as the peanut gallery who were encouraged to laugh, cheer, or boo at all the crazy things that happened. It was a perfectly odd show, but I really liked it as a very little kid and even had a Howdy Doody lunchbox that I proudly brought to school with me. I’ve no idea why all of this came to mind in this moment, but painting peanuts apparently brought back these memories.
The idea of joyfully cheering or booing at something was rather delightful to me as a kid. On the Howdy Doody show, booing was simply joining in the fun and not something that was ever meant to be mean. Later, when I was in college, I would spend a few years on stage at a local theatre known as Martin City Melodrama & Vaudeville Company. These were fabulously ridiculous shows performed in two parts. The first part was a spoof of some famous story, and the audience was encouraged to cheer for the hero and boo for the villain. In the first show I did there, I was d’Artagnan in the The Three Musketeers. In the papers, one reviewer referred to me as having “cartoon-like good looks,” which meant I was forever cast as the hero from that point forward. Only once, when I had to step in at the last moment for another actor was I ever able to play the villain and experience being booed when I came on stage. It was fun! The second half of the show was a vaguely related series of vaudeville musical numbers that were the equivalent of Saturday Night Live had it existed in the 1920’s. And yes, the entire floor of the theatre was completely littered with peanut shells.
Those were really fun years in my life and they now seem like a lifetime ago. In truth, it was a period exactly half way through my current life and one that I’ll always treasure. And though I’m actually a rather shy person, being on stage helped me gain a bit of self-confidence. Today, that’s likely why I was able to fearlessly start posting every single watercolor I made from the moment I started. Sure, it was entirely possible that I could get booed off stage when it came to social media. But, I had learned that even that could be really fun as it meant you caused a reaction of some kind at least. So, really, whether I came across as the hero or the villain, I didn’t mind at all. I was just glad to show up and share what I created. There aren’t many vaudeville theatres in existence today, in the original version of them, at least. But there’s a ton of crazy stuff on YouTube that people post every second and we’re all watching it for free, in the cheap seats. Perhaps, in the end, not much has really changed at all. We can all still joyfully cheer or boo at the crazy things we see each day, this time behind phones and computers, that have simply become the modern form of the peanut gallery.
About the Doodlewash
Da Vinci Paint Co.: Yellow Ochre, Quinacridone Red, Terra Cotta, and Cobalt Blue. Lamy Al-Star Safari Fountain Pen with sepia ink in an A5 Hahnemühle Watercolour Book.
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