Today, The Theatre Centre’s Board of Directors and staff announced that Artistic Director Franco Boni will be leaving to assume the role of Artistic and Executive Director at PuSh International Performing Arts Festival in Vancouver commencing June 1, 2019.
Franco joined The Theatre Centre as Artistic Director in 2003. Over the last 16 years, Franco’s vision, generosity, leadership, and commitment to the arts and community building has had a profound impact on the organization.
“Franco’s departure marks the end of a remarkable era for The Theatre Centre. The company is well-placed to take advantage of his legacy of growth and success. In that same spirit of generosity that the company extends to artists and to the wider community, we extend to Franco our support in this next phase of his career.” – Lindy Cowan, Board Chair.
Franco’s work at The Theatre Centre is notable for his focus on the development of new work and the long-term incubation of many different voices and projects. Residency, which took its current form in 2005, has supported an unprecedented number of artists and ideas and continues to cultivate an environment that assists artistic risk takers. The unique structure of Residency has resulted in the creation of over 25 works which have garnered close to 40 Dora-nominations and 12 wins, with Outstanding Production awards in both Dance (what it’s like) and Independent Theatre (This is the Point).
“I will be forever grateful to the many artists, staff, board members, donors and neighbours of West Queen West who have travelled with me on this journey at The Theatre Centre. Today, I want to celebrate those triumphant and quiet moments of joy: the opening of our new building; the early morning phone call from a board member who said ‘let’s make it happen!”, despite the impossibility of the task; that time when you are feeling lonely in a crowded room and you turn around to see a familiar face, an artist who shares a moving story of redemption as a result of the support they received; a generous and caring note from a mentor on the eve of a very big day; the night of the Dora Mavor Moore awards where Residency artists received the top theatre and dance awards; a recent community meal where The Theatre Centre has suddenly transformed into your living room at home. As I reflect on the past 16 years, I can see clearly now, how times of joy have far outpaced those of struggle. As we celebrate The Theatre Centre’s 40th anniversary and the 5th year of operations in our building, let us revel in a place that has valued process, invention, debate, imagination, generosity and above all else questions, not answers.” – Franco Boni
While Franco’s working philosophy is grounded in collaboration and a desire to follow the needs of the artist, during his tenure he also directed two new works: Alanna Mitchell’s Sea Sick which continues to tour nationally and internationally, and Jani Lauzon’s Prophecy Fog which will be produced as the final show in The Theatre Centre’s 40th Anniversary year and will close out Franco’s time in Toronto.
Franco was instrumental in spearheading a $6M Capital Campaign to secure a permanent home for The Theatre Centre at 1115 Queen Street West The campaign closed with a generous gift of $500,000 from the Hon. Margaret Norrie McCain and saw the Mainspace theatre renamed The Franco Boni Theatre. That McCain chose to dedicate the space to the visionary who made all of this possible is unique in the community and is an acknowledgement of Franco’s extraordinary leadership over the last 15 years.
Prior to moving into its new home in 2014 the company had moved ten times; having a permanent home would mark a new chapter in the history of the organization. As a steering committee member of Active 18 (a local West Queen West community association, which advocates for retaining the cultural fabric of the neighbourhood) Franco was committed to expanding the mandate of The Theatre Centre to include a focus on civic engagement and community building.
That ethos can be seen in the café/bar, a space which has become a staple in the neighbourhood and was a priority for Franco during the renovations. “We grew beyond our function as an arts venue. Instead of opening our doors at 8PM for show times we opened at 8AM; we hired a baker to bake fresh goods; we offered free wifi and comfortable seating and invited people from our community to just hang out. We have embraced our new role as a cultural hub and have become a place where city building, civic engagement, and performance intersect.” – Franco Boni
Other significant initiatives include: the Condo Project, a partnership between The Theatre Centre and the Bohemian Embassy Lofts to engage community members, welcome them into the space, and invite them to make it their own; the Syrian Newcomer Initiative which saw Theatre Centre staff working with three Syrian Newcomers to provide Canadian work experience; and the Tracy Wright Global Archive (in honour of the late Tracy Wright), a program designed to send an artist with a burning question to engage deeply with communities and locations across the globe.
Reflecting on their 5 years of working closely together, Creative Producer Aislinn Rose said, “I’m thrilled for Franco. I’ve always thought ‘if not at The Theatre Centre, then Franco should be at PuSh’. He is such a champion of artists who push against the boundaries of form, and of works that inspire a sense of curiosity and adventurousness in their audiences – and those are the artists we find at PuSh, coming from Canada and around the world. At the same time, I’m losing my partner in crime! I’m going to miss our impassioned conversations, and weekend phone call commiserations. PuSh is getting one of the very best.”
The Board of Directors and staff at The Theatre Centre and the many artists, creators, and community members who have worked with Franco over the years, wish him all the best in this new endeavour.
The Theatre Centre will continue its commitment as a live arts hub and incubator as well as growing its role in the Queen West community. The Board has begun a process in its search for a new leader and more details will be announced soon.