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From 1923 to 1959 Vivian and Rosetta Duncan performed the show Topsy and Eva in front of thousands of audiences in the United States and abroad. This essay examines how the Duncan Sisters’ appropriation of blackness through a yin and yang performance of black and white womanhood, their sexualized but ultimately infantilizing routine as young girls, and their take on anarchistic comedy resulted in a particular spin on age, gender, race, and sexuality that reinforced their privilege as white women even while it pushed the boundaries of acceptable femininity in the swiftly shifting American culture of the first half of the twentieth century. Packaged as a rollicking night of physical, musical, and comedic theatrical entertainment, Topsy and Eva was distinct enough to make the Duncans a part of theatre history by becoming one of the longest running sister acts and Tom Shows of the American stage.


This article was originally published in Popular Entertainment Studies, volume 2, issue 2, in 2011.

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