Michael Boucher has an impossible-to-miss presence, even as he stands dead still for the Georgia Straight’s photographer in front of the humongous Stan Douglas photo mural installed in the atrium of the new $80-million SFU Woodward’s development.
As a point man in SFU’s grand experiment in mingling education, public art, and community outreach, perhaps Boucher has emerged from his two-and-a-half-year roller-coaster ride with a practically visible energy field. The native Montrealer was brought on as the director of cultural programs and partnerships for the SFU School of Contemporary Arts at Woodward’s in spring 2007, a daunting position he describes with a wry smile as “very rewarding, but pedal to the metal. Virtually from that point on, it’s been nonstop.”
The first landmark moment for the new facility came January 20 when the PuSh festival brought Jérí´me Bel’s The Show Must Go On to the state-of-the-art Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre at SFU Woodward’s. “There were current students and alumni involved,” Boucher explains. “They were able to perform in a learning situation but also in a professional context.”
It’s not an unusual situation for theatre or film students, until you factor in the massively impressive playhouse itself. As PuSh festival head and SFU graduate Norman Armour opined to the Straight on opening night, “When I graduated, I can’t even imagine this could even have been a dream.”
Boucher says the space he’s been hired to oversee performed beautifully on its test flight. That’s good news, because he’s mounting Robert Lepage’s technically formidable The Blue Dragon starting February 2, again with a complement of students in various behind-the-scenes positions—but it was a skin-of-the-teeth affair.
“We were putting in the seats 15 minutes before the audience rolled in—I kid you not,” he says with a laugh, guiding the Straight through the lobby. “It was unbelievable. But it’s the best way to work.”
Once inside the theatre, the kinetic “impresario”—as he’s described in SFU’s own literature—proudly demonstrates the room’s exquisite acoustics while pointing out the massive guillotine that lowers to create two separate, soundproofed performance spaces, and the galleries overhead made wheelchair-friendly for disabled students. “I think we’re pushing the envelope in terms of accessibility and opening up to all people,” Boucher says. “There are no barriers for learning. That’s the idea.”
He’s equally ebullient as he enters the spacious Audain Gallery on the ground floor, still holding forth on the subject of accessibility.
“I think the magical opportunity lies in the fact that there will be this incredible crossover of teaching: students going through the various arts disciplines and having direct relationships with the professional arts community and professional artists themselves.”
He adds: “Again, it’s that crossover idea: the power in that positioning of Woodward’s and the SFU campus in this downtown area. It’s the selling point and the working point of this idea.”
Boucher is acutely aware of the significance of the downtown area. His mandate as director includes “artistic outreach within the Downtown Eastside and the larger community”, while his belief is that a balance of pedagogy and public arts programming at SFU Woodward’s will prove to be more than just culturally enriching. He has a refreshingly blunt way of putting it.
“The more creative we are as a culture,” he begins, noting the paradox of a multimillion-dollar art school in a time of gruesome funding cuts, “the more successful we’ll be in business.”