My first taste of acting was when I joined Boden Studios, based in Enfield North London, I was only twelve years old. At just 50 pence for an hour’s tuition on a Saturday morning, it was very good value for money and would become a major part of my younger life. Tony Boden was a tall and very approachable man which was a blessing as I was a very small and frightened boy!
Being very shy at this young age, my parents tried to encourage me to join a group like the scouts as a way of combating this shyness, but I really wasn't suited to the scout movement and after a while had to leave. My mum, Ann, worked in education and had already heard of Tony Boden’s young drama group and arranged for me to attend. It took a few weeks before Mum could actually leave me there alone, but I soon realised that it could be good fun learning about acting and stagecraft. Most of the other students in the group were a little older than myself and I was surprised how sensible and mature they behaved. This was a real contrast to the students at my school who were really quite unruly and poorly behaved by comparison (not that I was any kind of angel). It wasn't long before I settled into the classes and when Boden Studios started a Saturday agency, where classes where spread over four hours and included speech, singing and dancing I jumped at the chance to join. Although, I wasn’t looking forward to the dancing or singing much.
Tony Boden very quickly became an important figure in my life, becoming very influential to me shaping the person I have become today Along with his wife Maureen, also a professional actress, the agency started to grow to several hundred students. New teachers and classes were started, including on weekdays and the Saturday agency doubled to a morning and afternoon session. Students were starting to be sent for professional stage and television auditions. Along with another student, I started a personal tuition class conducted by Tony at his home in the evenings, which led to acting exams run by L.A.M.D.A. I achieved a grade of bronze medal before becoming too old to continue.
The varied, interesting and fun classes helped us all quickly develop our stagecraft and acting techniques. We were often encouraged to delve into strong emotions as well as thinking on our feet. Improvisation was frequently used alongside solo performances and even on one occasion, how to kiss on stage. I remember Tony advising the girls that, should the male lead ever put his tongue in her mouth, that she should bite it! I was obviously still a little wet behind the ears, because I thought, why on earth would he put his tongue in her mouth?
We would often sit in a circle and work or work in groups, most projects were designed and formed by the students, based on ideas we had that day. Each member knew he or she could be called on by the tutor, at the drop of a hat, to demonstrate their understanding of the acting methods we were working on. This meant that there was very little teasing, in fact, we often encouraged and helped one another which in turn helped to form strong bonds in the group. I now see this as a great benefit and quite ahead of it's time for teaching techniques in the late 70s and early 80s. The atmosphere left us open to explore ideas and feelings which is critical to an actor’s technique. Part of the learning process was also to put on shows at our local theatre. The Intimate Theatre, in Palmers Green, North London, which is a small theatre owned by the church and it seats around a thousand but has all the trappings of a professional theatre; it still operates to this day.
My first big role was as the lion from ‘The Wizard of Oz’. I loved being the lion and threw myself into the role. One of the parents made a fantastic costume for me which was so incredibly hot all I wore underneath were pants and socks. I can remember such a warm reception from the crowd on the first night. When you go through rehearsals some people may chuckle at what you do, but to hear an audience laugh and applaud your performance is something I shall never forget. I learned quickly how to play the audience and got a little cheeky with it maybe, but then, towards the end of the weeks run, I began to lose my voice. I had thrown myself into the part so completely that my roar was just too much for my throat and I very nearly lost it altogether. The lion’s song was cancelled, and on one night they played the noise of a roaring lion instead, but when the cue came for the roar, I was waiting for it and the sound man was waiting for me to jump out, there were a tense few moments while I realised and leapt out, and began to make my own roar, at which point the roar started. Well, this was incredibly comical to the audience; a lion who had lost his roar! But I didn’t find it funny and insisted we went back to me roaring, regardless of the pain in my throat.
Tony Boden had a very strong influence on my life and was always proud of me, encouraging and guiding me out of the shy shell I hid behind. He helped develop my skills for my role as Henry Parker. Sadly Tony died very young and without me really having the chance to tell him all this. Tony and Maureen have developed a large and very professional stage school which to this day thrives in North London and is now run by their son, Adam. If you’re thinking about sending your young son or daughter to a youth group to help develop his or her skills, Boden Studios still offers a fantastic environment where children can learn new life skills and develop any natural talents they have. Follow the link to their website and find out more about them for yourself. Tony’s memory lives on and I know that the Boden Studios are still doing wonderful things for kids in and around North London.
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