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Raymond Boyce

Raymond Stanley Boyce MBE was a British-New Zealand stage designercostume designer and puppeteer and puppet designer. Boyce was part of the start professional theatre movement in New Zealand influencing the artistic landscape with his design knowledge. Boyce designed hundreds of theatre shows and was named an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Icon in 2007. Raymond Boyce was born in London in 1928. He was interested in theatre from a young age and used to build mini stages with marionettes, and as a child joined the Model Theatre and Puppet Guild.

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Before he went to Slade he was conscripted into the army and was there for two years. An early job of his was as a puppeteer for the John Wright Marionette Theatre and while studying he designed for the University College Drama Society in London. The Head of Theatre Design at the Slade School of Fine art was Vladimir Polunin who had painted scenery for Sergi Diaghilev, and Boyce learned the Russian method of scene painting from him. After completing his post-graduate course at the Old Vic under Michel St Denis, Boyce was appointed as Resident Designer at Dundee Repertory Company where he stayed from 1951 - 1953.

Richard Campion, who had been at the Old Vic, invited Boyce to New Zealand in the early 1950s to join the New Zealand Players as the company's resident designer and he took up the opportunity in 1953. Initially deciding to be in New Zealand for 18 months, he remained there for the rest of his life. After leaving the New Zealand Players Boyce set up a touring puppet theatre in 1957. He then got jobs designing for New Zealand Opera under Donald Munro as the company was starting out, and the New Zealand Ballet Company, also in its early years.

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From his earliest memories, Boyce wanted to be involved in the theatre. Growing up in London, on the edge of theatreland, his parents and grandparents would take him to shows. He would be as fascinated by the machinery behind the action as by the works themselves. He began building scenes and mini-theatres, complete with moving scenery, and then fashioned marionettes to bring stories and life to his creations. At the age of about 10, he joined the Model Theatre and Puppet Guild, unlocking expertise and idols to feed his enthusiasm.

But then war hit, and he was evacuated out of London, billeted to a series of reluctant host families. A role as the heroine in a French play had him dreaming of an acting career, but a disastrous audition for the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art put paid to that. Boyce enrolled instead at the Slade School of Fine Art but was conscripted before he could begin. He did eventually study at Slade, and then at the Old Vic Theatre School, where he learned theatre design. Boyce said his career was shaped by serendipity.

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He left The New Zealand Players in 1957 to set up a touring puppet theatre with Geraldine Kean, who became his wife. Gerry built up 15cm cork soles so she could manipulate the puppets at the same height as Boyce, and they took their enigmatic shadows and glove puppets on sticks around the country, from Porirua Mental Hospital to a cinema in a paddock in Te Kaha, on the East Cape. Boyce was awarded an MBE in 1977 and in 1990 was given an honorary Doctorate in Literature from Victoria University. He retired from theatre design in 1999. 

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