Ken Boden & The Stephen Joseph TheatreKen Boden is considered one of the three key figures in the history of theatre in the round in Scarborough alongside Stephen Joseph and Alan Ayckbourn. He is undoubtedly significant as it was Ken who essentially ensured the survival of the company during one of its most difficult periods.
When Stephen Joseph first visited the town in 1954 or 1955 (there is some contention about Stephen's first visit to the town, Ken Boden always recalled it was 1954, but Stephen Joseph's correspondence suggests he did not visit the town until 1955), he met Ken Boden and explained his plans for a professional theatre-in-the-round company presenting new plays in the Concert Room at Scarborough Library. Even though he believed the project "rather strange", Ken - like so many people - was impressed by Stephen's enthusiasm and passion and he offered Stephen the help of himself and Scarborough Theatre Guild, of which he was a leading member. Working as an insurance agent, Ken's ability to secure props and help from his clients became legendary within the company.
When Theatre in the Round at the Library Theatre opened on 14 July 1955, Ken brought in members of Scarborough Theatre Guild and other theatre-goers to man the front of house with his wife, Margaret, running the box office and he acting as Theatre Manager. For many years, the theatre would depend on the voluntary help of the local amateur community to keep the theatre viable, all of which was organised by Ken.
Ken was passionate about Theatre in the Round at the Library Theatre and, inspired by Stephen Joseph, he began encouraging year-round theatre in the town at the venue; initially Theatre in the Round at the Library Theatre only had a professional summer season, later joined by a winter season but even then this accounted for less than half the year. Ken began organising out-of-season amateur in-the-round productions as well as seeking financial support to keep The Library Theatre space active. Many of Scarborough's most prominent amateur societies performed at the venue and in the annual In The Round Festival which Ken founded at Theatre in the Round at the Library Theatre (and which were adjudicated for many years by Stephen Joseph). Scarborough Theatre Guild continued to produce plays as well and - inspired by Stephen - tackled new plays by up and coming playwrights such as David Campton and a young actor and aspiring playwright with the company named Alan Ayckbourn!
This relationship between amateur and professional - encouraged and nurtured by Stephen Joseph - continued until 1965 when Stephen Joseph announced this would be the final season of Theatre in the Round at the Library Theatre. But Ken had other ideas.
Ken persuaded Scarborough Library and Stephen Joseph to let him run an in-the-round amateur summer season at The Library Theatre in 1966 under the auspices of Scarborough Theatre Guild. With that in place, he then began plans to restore professional theatre the following year - the story of which can be found here. Needless to say, Ken was successful and following the death of Stephen Joseph in 1967, professional theatre continued at the venue made possible by Ken and his army of volunteers helping to keep costs down. Again professional and amateurs united to keep the theatre viable until a permanent Artistic Director was appointed in 1972 with Alan Ayckbourn.
The fact there is professional theatre in the round in Scarborough today is inarguably due to the efforts of Ken Boden during this period, who ensured all the hard work that had gone into establishing Theatre in the Round at the Library Theatre did not go to waste.
Ken Boden, having been made redundant in 1969 from his insurance job, was given a salaried position as Theatre Manager for the first time in the same year and continued in that role until 1985, when he retired in the same year that Alan Ayckbourn announced he was to take a two year sabbatical from Scarborough by becoming a company manager at the National Theatre.
Ken died in February 1991 and his essential contribution to the history of theatre in the round in Scarborough is marked in the Stephen Joseph Theatre with The Boden Room, which is named in honour of Ken and Margaret's work for the theatre.
Article written by and copyright of Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.