History of the Beginning of the Vicksburg Rotary Showboat

The Club, looking for a community program to raise money for the benefit of the Rotary Handicapped Children’s Fund, took the suggestion of a visiting Rotarian, to produce a musical program.

They had the help of an already existing group from the Lake Center area in Portage, who had been doing Minstrel shows for several years, to support the Boy Scouts.  This group planned and performed the first show in the Vicksburg High School gym on March 26 and 27, 1954.

The format was a traditional Minstrel Show with a chorus seated, first in a semi-circle of chairs, then on bales of hay.  It included ‘End Men’ and a white suited ‘Interlocutor’ with plenty of songs, specialty numbers and jokes.   Costumes for the first shows were stripped pajamas, with sewn-on colored collars and cuffs, bright painted shoes with glitter and neon-bright socks.  Traditional black-face make-up was used and black-face would continue to be the make-up until 1986.

The first shows were notable for many soloists, quartettes, octets, and specialty numbers (dancers and acts).  The chorus accompanied the soloists and sang a few sets of songs.  Gradually over the years, the chorus came to be featured more and, with the introduction of four-part harmony, became the focus of the show.  Also, a story line was developed and gained more importance with the strict Minstrel Show format, less prominent.

The first show had an audience of 1,100 and ‘good profits’ and the show became an annual event for the Rotary Club.  After seven shows, the club had netted $15,800 and played to about 17,000 people.

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