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The seven ages of musical theatre: the life cycle of the child performer

The seven ages of musical theatre: the life cycle of the child performer
The seven ages of musical theatre: the life cycle of the child performer
The purpose of the research reported here is to explore the part played by children in musical theatre.
It aims to do this on two levels.

It presents, for the first time, an historical analysis of involvement of children in theatre from its earliest beginnings to the current date. It is clear from this analysis that the role children played in the evolution of theatre has been both substantial and influential, with evidence of a number of recurring themes. Children have invariably made strong contributions in terms of music, dance and spectacle, and have been especially prominent in musical comedy. Playwrights have exploited precocity for comedic purposes, innocence to deliver difficult political messages in a way that is deemed acceptable by theatre audiences, and youth, recognising the emotional leverage to be obtained by appealing to more primitive instincts, notably sentimentality and, more contentiously, prurience. Every age has had its child prodigies and it is they who tend to make the headlines. However the influence of educators and entrepreneurs, artistically and commercially, is often underestimated. Although figures such as Wescott, Henslowe and Harris have been recognised by historians, some of the more recent architects of musical theatre, like Noreen Bush, are largely unheard of outside the theatre community. Theatrical dynasties seem to have been important in protecting and in training young performers, in keeping them `grounded', and in helping to manage the transition to adult performer, although the `edge' enjoyed by the children of theatre families was to some extent eroded by the growth of public/private education provision in the 20th century which improved access and started to `level the playing field'.

Secondly, the research investigates how well aspiring young performers are served by the UK education system. Although much is written about the education system in general, what has been written specifically about the performing arts appears to focus only on component parts. Relatively little seems to have been done to assess the system in its entirety, taking into account both state and private provision, let alone the part played by the `third sector' in the form of youth theatre and theatre schools. The research reported here considers the contributions made by the various elements of the performing arts eco-system and the coherence and cohesiveness of the system of the whole. The research goes on to consider the end product1, and the context in which musical theatre operates.
Barnbrook, Lyndsay
4f8c6fb6-6579-4fa9-9377-11abfb1df776
Barnbrook, Lyndsay
4f8c6fb6-6579-4fa9-9377-11abfb1df776
Pinnock, Andrew
a13924a7-d53d-41a6-827c-f91013ea4ee0

Barnbrook, Lyndsay (2016) The seven ages of musical theatre: the life cycle of the child performer. University of Southampton, Faculty of Humanities, Doctoral Thesis, 370pp.

Record type: Thesis (Doctoral)

Abstract

The purpose of the research reported here is to explore the part played by children in musical theatre.
It aims to do this on two levels.

It presents, for the first time, an historical analysis of involvement of children in theatre from its earliest beginnings to the current date. It is clear from this analysis that the role children played in the evolution of theatre has been both substantial and influential, with evidence of a number of recurring themes. Children have invariably made strong contributions in terms of music, dance and spectacle, and have been especially prominent in musical comedy. Playwrights have exploited precocity for comedic purposes, innocence to deliver difficult political messages in a way that is deemed acceptable by theatre audiences, and youth, recognising the emotional leverage to be obtained by appealing to more primitive instincts, notably sentimentality and, more contentiously, prurience. Every age has had its child prodigies and it is they who tend to make the headlines. However the influence of educators and entrepreneurs, artistically and commercially, is often underestimated. Although figures such as Wescott, Henslowe and Harris have been recognised by historians, some of the more recent architects of musical theatre, like Noreen Bush, are largely unheard of outside the theatre community. Theatrical dynasties seem to have been important in protecting and in training young performers, in keeping them `grounded', and in helping to manage the transition to adult performer, although the `edge' enjoyed by the children of theatre families was to some extent eroded by the growth of public/private education provision in the 20th century which improved access and started to `level the playing field'.

Secondly, the research investigates how well aspiring young performers are served by the UK education system. Although much is written about the education system in general, what has been written specifically about the performing arts appears to focus only on component parts. Relatively little seems to have been done to assess the system in its entirety, taking into account both state and private provision, let alone the part played by the `third sector' in the form of youth theatre and theatre schools. The research reported here considers the contributions made by the various elements of the performing arts eco-system and the coherence and cohesiveness of the system of the whole. The research goes on to consider the end product1, and the context in which musical theatre operates.

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More information

Published date: April 2016
Organisations: University of Southampton, Music

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 402656
URI: https://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/402656
PURE UUID: 36a98fda-57da-4e80-a5db-8fe3141c5cd7

Catalogue record

Date deposited: 02 Dec 2016 11:46
Last modified: 30 Apr 2019 04:01

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