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Little Eyases: Early Modern Plays and Boy Players: 1525–1642


Edward's Boys, 'Mother Bombie', 2010.

“…there is, sir, an aery of children, little eyases…that…are now the fashion, and so berattle the common stages…for so they call them…that many wearing rapiers are afraid of goose quills and dare scarce come thither.” (Hamlet II ii 354–60).

Date: Thursday 13 November 2014
Time: 10am–7pm
Venues: 10am–1pm: Bradley Studio, The University of Western Australia (UWA)
               2–7pm: Videoconference Room 1.33, 1st Floor Arts Building, UWA.
Registration: Registration is free.  However, as places are limited, please RSVP to pam.bond@uwa.edu.au to register your attendance.
Enquiries: Pam Bond, telephone: +61 8 6488 3858, pam.bond@uwa.edu.au

  Download draft program

This symposium will provide an opportunity to reflect on some of the many and complex issues surrounding boy players and boys’ plays in the early modern theatre. These include distinctive and unique emotional effects no doubt experienced by contemporary audiences. One way of understanding these is to reconstruct such performances and analyse the results. The event is arranged to coincide with a fully staged production with boy actors from Guildford Grammar School, Perth, of Francis Beaumont’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle, directed by Professor Peter Reynolds (Newcastle University, UK).  Professor Reynolds previously directed Ben Jonson’s Epicene or The Silent Woman with another group of local school boys as part of the 2012 ANZSA/CHE conference 'Shakespeare and Emotions' at UWA, which provided an unrivalled opportunity to experience emotional effects generated by an “original practices” boys’ production.

For many years scholars have been intrigued by the activities of companies of boy players who constituted a “rival tradition” to that of the adult players in early modern theatre, and have wondered how these worked emotionally. Yet, unless you happened to witness a school play in an all-boys school, the scrutiny of the small but significant canon of plays originally written for performance by children/young adults, has long been restricted to the study not the stage. Even today, plays performed in schools by single sex groups of children are, almost invariably by Shakespeare and not by contemporaries including Ben Jonson, Francis Beaumont, John Lyly and John Marston, who wrote specifically for companies of boy/adolescent actors.

A rare exception to this exists at King Edward’s School, Stratford upon Avon, where a company of boy actors under the direction of Perry Mills, have staged frequent public performances of boys’ as well as adult plays from this period including work by Lyly and Middleton. Moreover, the opening of the new intimate indoor theatre, the Sam Wanamaker playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe, London (2014) has made available a performance space that is the kind of space in which boy players’ companies would have performed. In April this year, Edward’s Boys will perform John Lyly’s 'Galatea' there, and later in the month a group of young actors (aged 12–16) of both sexes will perform Marston’s The Malcontent. Our staged production, and discussion generated by it in a mini-symposium, will illuminate emotions in Elizabethan theatre which are otherwise difficult to retrieve or imagine in studying texts on the page.