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EVELYN GEARY - BIOGRAPHY

The portfolio of dancer, ballet mistress and teacher Evelyn Geary reflects a dancer's life during the height of vaudevillian theatre in Toronto. The days were long, the work hard, and there was no protection for the rights of the artists, but the pay made up for it. Salaries were higher than those offered by the legitimate theatres and for dancers, particularly for women, vaudeville offered financial freedom in addition to a job one loved. At the height of her vaudeville career, Geary earned more than her father.

Geary began dance lessons in 1918 at age nine with Toronto teacher Samuel Titchener Smith. Her first paid performance came four years later, dancing a ballet in an opera presented by the Defoe Grand Opera Company. Geary continued school as well as dancing, making herself a hot commodity with her skill at dancing en pointe in addition to the usual national, fancy, skirt, and partnered dances. In the mid-1920s, Geary toured with Captain M.W. Plunkett, founder of the famed Dumbells company. The Plunkett tour of 1925 began at the end of November and ran until the following April. The sixteen-year-old Geary was signed on as a specialty dancer performing toe and acrobatic dances. With the help of a booking agent, Geary also performed in vaudeville theatres across Canada and the United States including New York's Roxy Theatre. At the Roxy, dancers worked seven days a week performing shows in repertory – while one show was performed over the course of the week, the next week's show was being rehearsed. On weekdays there were four shows per day, with five per day on weekends and holidays. The first performance of the day was followed by a rehearsal for the next week's show, the second performance was followed by a break, the third performance was followed by more rehearsal, and the day concluded with a fourth performance. In the late 1920s, Geary began working steadily at Toronto's Uptown Theatre, which had a similar routine to the Roxy - four performances per day with rehearsals between for the next week's show. The workday usually began at 10:00 a.m. and the last show started at 10:30 p.m. although, in contrast to the Roxy, Sundays were a free day. Geary became a solo dancer and ballet mistress while working at the Uptown and worked alongside Russian émigré Boris Volkoff during his first years in Toronto. When the stock market crashed in 1929, live theatre was significantly affected. People had less money for entertainment, so movies were no longer preceded by live acts. Dancers either scrounged for work or left the business. Geary mixed her sporadic performing jobs with teaching work for Boris Volkoff. Like many women of her generation, her career ended when she married, in 1938.

CONTENTS

  • pointe shoes (Selva & Sons, NY), photographs, contracts, scrapbooks, backstage passes, house programmes, notebook with Geary's memories from performing in the 1920s and 1930s, telegrams, metal box
Notable:
  • notebook beginning in 1923 in which Geary kept a record of each job and its rate of pay; venues listed include the Selkirk Dance Hall, Canadian National Exhibition Coliseum, Loew's Uptown Theatre, Hippodrome, King Edward Hotel Crystal Ballroom, and summer performances at Scarboro Beach
  • scrapbooks containing newspaper clippings covering the controversy over missing school to perform, performances with Capt. Plunkett, teaching with Boris Volkoff, teaching in her own studio, and the period in which Geary danced at the Uptown Theatre
  • performance contracts

Maud Allan

Photos: Top Left: Evelyn Geary, Chicago, c. 1927
Below Top Left: Evelyn Geary, Winnipeg, c. 1926
Above: Evelyn Geary, Hart House Theatre, Toronto, c. 1932

CROSS REFERENCES

Portfolios:
  • Boris Volkoff
Oral History:
  • Evelyn Geary (10 hours)
Books:

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