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Small Reference Pools / Theatre

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  • William Shakespeare:
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  • George Bernard Shaw might be brought up instead of Shakespeare, but only in reference to Pygmalion and My Fair Lady.
  • If the School Play isn't Shakespeare, it's probably Thornton Wilder's Our Town.
  • When it comes to The Musical, the only creators brought up are Rodgers and Hammerstein (mostly for Oklahoma!), Stephen Sondheim (Sweeney Todd's the only work of his that's specifically referenced), and Andrew Lloyd Webber (for Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, and that one with the roller skates).
  • There have been only two circus companies ever: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (traditional) and Cirque du Soleil (contemporary). And don't expect depictions of the latter to acknowledge that it presents a variety of different productions and draws on an international talent pool — it's almost invariably presented as a single troupe that only employs French/French-Canadian performers. If you're from the Greater Los Angeles (California) area, you can add Circus Vargas to the above list, and New Yorkers can add the Big Apple Circus.
    • Only lion tamers ever? Clyde Beatty (the guy who invented using a whip and a chair) or Gunther Gabel-Williams.
    • Aerialists? The Flying Wallendas (or maybe the Zacchinis, if you're at least a casual circus buff).
    • Clowns? Pretty much just Emmett Kelly. (Bozo, Clarabelle, etc. don't count because they weren't actually circus clowns.) Grock and Oleg Popov to older people.
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    • Mimes? Marcel Marceau.
    • Nude dancers? Josephine Baker.
    • Sideshow performers? General Tom Thumb, The Elephant Man, Zip the Pinhead (who inspired Zippy the Pinhead) or Chang and Eng Bunker (the "Siamese twins").
    • Famous circus animals? Just Jumbo the Elephant (and when it comes to fictional circus animals, Mrs. Jumbo and Dumbo). Old Joe the Dromedary is only known indirectly, as the model for the camel on the Camel Cigarettes pack...and eventually for the most controversial advertising mascot in history, Joe Camel. And now that most circuses have phased out animal acts, probably the only place kids today can be expected to see them is on a Barnum's Animals cookie box.
    • Magicians? Harry Houdini (never mind that he was an escape artist, not a magician). Maybe David Copperfield and Siegfried and Roy if you're lucky.
  • Did Oscar Wilde write more plays than The Importance of Being Earnest? He did, and some are as hilarious as this one, and he also wrote a tragedy in one act, but it's just that Earnest is such a funny and Meaningful Name...
  • There are only three French playwrights : Corneille, Racine and Molière - who all lived in the same century. Also, Corneille only ever wrote Le Cid ; never mind that it is fairly atypical compared to the rest of his work.
  • Being a fan of Fiddler on the Roof is a good way to establish a character's Jewish identity.


  • Shakespeare both embodies and defies this trope - he put in a lot of references to very famous (in his time) figures, but also dug up some obscure things. He designed his plays to appeal both to the intellectuals and 'the groundlings'.