It is almost impossible to calculate how many international variety artists and acts visited Australasia between the 1850s and 1930s. Evaluating this aspect of the industry is made equally difficult because the published history has to date focused almost exclusively on those who toured for Harry Rickards and the Tivoli circuit, with a smattering of artists linked to J. C. Williamson’s and Fullers’Theatres. There is therefore little understanding of the extent to which overseas artists impacted on both the development of Australian variety entertainment overall or its audiences. Furthermore there has been little interest in identifying how many remained after their major contracts expired to work for the lower level circuits and managers.
The objective of this section is to provide insights and/or historical data relevant to a cross-section of significant and influential oversees practitioners whose association with Australasia was brief. The artists chosen fall roughly into three categories. 1. Performers, acts or troupes which came to Australia as international stars and which are still known today (including for example, Little Tich and Harry Houdini); 2. Performers, acts or troupes that were high profile during their careers but which have since largely disappeared from the public record; and 3.Individuals who came out as emerging artists and who later became internationally recognised stars (W.C. Fields and Fred Allen, for example).
Due to the nature of international travel during the period in question these tours may have lasted from several months up to a year or more. In some instances the artists or acts may have also visited Australia several times during the course of their careers. The main criteria for inclusion in this section is that the individuals or acts came to the region as tourists and either did not reside here as performers or did not become actively involved in the local variety industry.