Ever since the early days of the Pleasure Gardens, Vauxhall has been a destination for talent, artistry and performance, and would attract performers from far and wide. Nowadays, however, some of this creativity is grown far closer to home. Caroline Boury set up the Boury Academy in 2017 with her husband Rakesh. She tells us how they are striving to nurture grassroots talent in Vauxhall and give their pupils the tools to succeed, both on stage and in life.
As a dance teacher at Henry Fawcett Primary School for four years alongside her professional acting work, Caroline was struck by the natural talent of her pupils there. They had a “different energy” she says. However this energy wasn’t matched by the opportunities they had both in and outside of school, so she came up with an idea to remedy this: a children’s dance academy offering professional performing arts training, at affordable prices.
To do this they needed funding, and this was where Vauxhall One could help. The funding they offered gave the academy the chance to get off the ground, and is still vital in allowing them to offer discounts and scholarships. Their support, and that of The Oval Learning Cluster, is fundamental in allowing the Boury Academy to give their pupils the opportunities that they do.
And this isn’t just in terms of dramatic opportunity. “People underestimate what [performing arts training] does,” Caroline points out. Children can learn not only skills for the stage, but for life, and gain confidence that will help “those who want to become a lawyer, a doctor…or anything they want.” It is this personal development that is the main aim of the academy, and Caroline is clear that “we’re not trying to make a school of famous kids – that’s just a by-product.”
But it’s been an impressive by-product in recent months; three of the academy’s pupils have been selected to perform in West End musicals, one performing in the Tina Turner Musical and two in On Your Feet. Not only is this an incredible achievement for them, but it was amazing for their fellow pupils, to see the Boury Academy named in the programme, showing others – and most importantly the pupils themselves – that they can compete with the best.
This is key to what they are striving to deliver. “We’re trying to offer affordable training, but not training that is ‘cheap’ or ‘budget’,” she clarifies. In a world where performing arts schools usually charge upwards of £30 per class, the Academy works hard to run their classes for half that, making them as accessible as possible – but this doesn’t mean that the quality of the training is any less.
Part of achieving this is getting the best possible teachers, not only in terms of their qualifications and professionalism, but their commitment to the academy and understanding of it’s values and how it runs. “We’re a family,” Caroline tells us, “most of the kids have been here since the beginning,” and they want teachers who will stick around too. No matter what the home life of some of their pupils may be like, the dance school is a place that they can rely on, that remains constant and there for them to enjoy and go to forget their worries, week after week.
It’s this unique atmosphere that can make the Boury Academy pupils stand out, Caroline hopes, in the competitive world of the West End. They aren’t “theatre school kids who have been having ballet lessons since the age of three,” and are perhaps just what the London stage is looking for as conversations about diversity are finally beginning to get louder – although there’s still a huge lack of it in this sector. Far too often, the performing arts are “the playground of rich people,” and finding work is about “who you know, not necessarily what you know,” or what you can do. The competitiveness of the industry is unlikely to change, but what can is its financial and social inaccessibility.
Whatever obstacles might stand in their way, their recent castings prove that the raw talent of the Boury Academy pupils makes them stand out. They’re different – and that’s a good thing.
The Boury Academy is holding a West End Gala on 3 November 2019. This is their first public show, and will take place at Fairfield Halls in Croydon, in association with the Mayor’s Charitable Fund.