Hundreds of middle class parents and their pushy children were horrified to discover that Renaissance child actors were 'kidnapped’. Rather than going through the torturous audition process, these street urchins were fast-tracked to exclusive theatrical training; according to new research by a University of Oxford academic.
Dr Bart van Es says Court documents show some children were forcibly snatched, without any need to attend elocution lessons, period movement classes or the Brit School. One irate parent raged: “I’ve attended numerous school plays, faked interest and faced bankruptcy just to get my Izzy into Sylvia Young. Are you telling me I could have had her kidnapped by a Ruff-wearing rough at a fraction of the cost?”
Dr van Es says these children faced "systematic exploitation and abuse" but admits they would have saved tens of thousands of pounds in fees. The London theatre environment was ”clearly sexual", exploitative and misogynistic; but in other respects it was entirely different from today’s Drama Schools. While cruelty was widespread throughout 16th’/17th century, children were at least saved the humiliation of having to find an agent, gurn for a spotlight photographer or wear a unitard.
Theatre owners had Royal Licenses to forcibly recruit talented children, as opposed to contemporary casting which unerringly selects James Corden for every role. Today’s students are required to hone their skills in narcissism, insincerity and shallowness, whereas the Elizabethan waif was only required to have a shapely calf muscle. “The one positive about the Renaissance approach” commented one Drama graduate. “Is that after all the whipping and enforced labor, you would at least have a few genuinely interesting anecdotes.”