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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Long Time Director Of Rutland's Paramount Theatre Retires

A man sits on a railing outside his apartment.
Nina Keck
Bruce Bouchard sits outside his apartment in downtown Rutland just a few blocks from the Paramount Theatre. Bouchard retired this week after 12 years as executive director of the theater.

Bruce Bouchard, the long-time director of Rutland’s Paramount Theatre, is retiring.

The 72-year old took the helm at the Paramount in 2008, when the theater was struggling with debt and an uncertain future. Twelve years later — despite the challenges of the pandemic — Bouchard says he and the theater are in a good place to begin a new chapter.

'A beauty'

Bouchard remembers the first time he saw the Paramount.“I walked in and went, 'Oh! She's a beauty. Oh,  my, my, my, my,'” he said.

The theater, located in the heart of downtown Rutland, was built in 1913. Its elegant pink and gold interior reflects the Victorian opera house style that was popular at the time.

When country singer Alison Kraus performed there, she gushed that it looked like a wedding cake.

read and peach theatre interior, looking out at rows of seats
Credit The Paramount Theatre, Courtesy
The interior of the historic Paramount Theatre in downtown Rutland is in the style of a Victorian opera house.

To Bouchard, however, “That's all the frou-frou. I don't care as much about that. It’s, 'What's the mojo when I sit in the seats and I think about something being on that stage?'”

Bouchard grew up in Anaheim, California and has spent his life in the performing arts. To him, as he sat in different parts of the theater during that first visit, the Paramount's 800-plus seats radiated mojo.

In the years after it re-opened in 2000, the theater went through a series of executive directors. By 2008, when Bouchard was hired, it was in debt by more than $100,000.

“The place was listing and it very quickly needed to be made relevant,” Bouchard said. “My big selling point to the board was, 'This is an underutilized asset. You gotta jerk this up!'”

The 'brash, arrogant flatlander'

Bouchard is the ultimate type-A personality: uber confident, with big ideas. When he first arrived in Rutland, he admits people weren’t sure what to make of him.

“It was lonely. I was the brash, arrogant flatlander. And you know, I guess some would say 'egomaniac,'" added Bouchard. "But … you have to have a strong ego to work in the arts. You have to have a strong ego to have a point of view. And that's ... what we needed more than anything, was a point of view.”

For twelve years at the Paramount Bouchard worked to create that point of view by innovating and taking  risks.

More from VPR: Puppets, Vaudeville And A Cow: Making It In Vermont Theater

“Wynton Marsalis — perfect example,” Bouchard said. “We knew we would lose $10,000, but the people who walked in the door for Wynton Marsalis, they drove a long way to be there.”

His approach paid off. Bouchard said annual giving during his tenure rose 400% and board members and others say he helped put the theater on the map. 

A paradigm shift

Dina Janis, artistic director of the Dorset Theater Festival, said despite having lived a long time in the area, she wasn’t familiar with the Paramount before Bouchard took over.

“Which in a way is a statement of its own,” she said. “With Bruce, I feel like he was much more intentional about the kinds of programs that he began to program there.”

She said Bouchard impressed her with how hard he worked to collaborate with new and different partners and boost the area's economy. And growing the Paramount's audience, she said, benefited every other theater in the area.

“He’s definitely left a mark on the city, and created a strong economic engine for the region," said Paul Gallo. 

The street view of the Paramount Theatre in downtown Rutland
Credit Nina Keck / VPR
The Paramount Theatre in Rutland has been a boon for the local economy under the leadership of Bruce Bouchard. Now, as Bouchard retires, it will see a new executive director.

Gallo spent more than a dozen years on the Paramount’s Board of Directors and was part of the team that hired Bouchard. “You know, when you take a theater that had 15,000-to-20,000 visitors a year and now it's up to the 60,000-to-70,000 visitors a year mark — or it was before the pandemic — [that] has changed the makeup of the theater.”

"It was a paradigm shift," agreed Mark Foley, Jr.  Foley has served on the Paramount's board of directors for 14 years and said of Bouchard, "He showed us what the Paramount could accomplish, and the rest is twelve years of history. 

The community's playhouse

Talking about his time at the theater from his apartment a few blocks away, Bouchard said more than anything he wanted the Paramount to belong to the community, whether they loved Shakespeare or country music, or both.

In 2013, he said he felt like he’d succeeded after they installed a costly high-definition projection system, initially to showcase opera.

More from Vermont Edition: Across Vermont, Performing Arts Organizations Navigate COVID-19

“And that led to one of my favorite things we ever did: Sports live in HD,” he said

Bouchard said free live broadcasts of World Cup Soccer, World Series Baseball and Super Bowls attracted a whole new audience.

"My single favorite memory of the Paramount — and it will never change — the first opera went off on the first day of the playoffs for the Red Sox in 2013. So at five o'clock, the bejeweled opera people are walking out and the swaggering Red Sox nation people are walking in," he said.

"I can't believe I didn't videotape it," Bouchard said, smiling at the memory. "It was heaven on earth.”

The view from the balcony, with red walls and theater lights, inside Paramount Theatre
Credit The Paramount Theatre, Courtesy
The Paramount Theatre has hosted all kinds of programming and community events over the years that Bouchard has led the organization.

This past June, Bouchard realized he’d been in the performing arts business professionally for 50 years. His career has included: acting, directing, managing talent as well as creating and operating theaters in Albany and Rutland. As the pandemic raged this summer and his 72nd birthday loomed; he says he did some soul searching.

“And I said it: the time is right,” Bouchard said, to slow down, spend time with his new partner, and maybe write a memoir.

But because of the initial chaos caused by the pandemic, he held off on retiring until now. He said he's proud of innovative efforts the Paramount has overseen this year, like drive-in movies and fireworks displays. "They kept revenue coming in over the summer," he said.

Because of that and continued strong community support, he said the theater is on solid financial footing for another 12 to 18 months.

Bouchard feels good about that and has full confidence in his successor, Eric Mallette. Mallette began acting as interim Executive Director in July, worked under Bouchard for years, and was formally promoted to executive director this month.  

As to what the Paramount’s point of view will be, going forward?

“It's going to be wherever Eric Mallette says it's going to be," Bouchard said with a nod. "And I support that 100%.”

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Nina Keck @NinaPKeck.

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