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Franco Boni.PuSh Festival

Franco Boni, the longtime artistic director of Toronto’s Theatre Centre, has been named the next artistic and executive director of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival in Vancouver. The move follows the departure of PuSh co-founder Norman Armour last year. Boni takes over from interim artistic director Joyce Rosario on June 1.

In Toronto, Boni has been the Theatre Centre’s artistic director since 2003, where he led the development and construction of its new space, including the $6-million capital campaign to redevelop the historic Carnegie Library building that is now its home. He developed the Residency Program, designed to support artists in developing new work over two years; established the Free Fall Festival for boundary-testing work as a biennial; and co-founded Progress Festival, an international festival of performance and ideas.

Boni, 48, was born in Toronto, and attended York University for theatre and religious studies. He took over the Rhubarb Festival at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre when he was 28, then moved to SummerWorks Performance Festival, where as artistic producer he brought in a major change, moving the festival from a lottery to a juried event.

He was the inaugural recipient of the Ken McDougall Award for emerging directors in 1996, and received the Toronto Arts Foundation’s Rita Davies Cultural Leadership Award in 2007 recognizing his outstanding leadership of arts and culture in the city. He received the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts’ George Luscombe Award for Mentorship in Theatre in 2013.

Boni has been attending Vancouver’s PuSh Festival, which marked its 15th anniversary this year, since its early days and calls himself “a huge, huge fan” of Armour’s and what he has done with the festival.

In particular, he says he admires the programming of local works alongside international companies.

“I was always so impressed,” he says. “The PuSh Festival really has propelled those Vancouver artists on the international stage, unlike Toronto. That hasn’t happened in Toronto. It’s really unique. There’s a platform that has been given for those Vancouver artists internationally that’s very exciting and that I want to continue to support.”

He says his first order of business is to meet with as many people as possible to discuss PuSh and how the festival serves the theatre and arts community as well as the greater population of Vancouver. He is very interested in the idea of the role of civic engagement in theatre.

“The question that has really driven me over the last five years at The Theatre Centre [is] what can a theatre be? And it can’t just be for plays; it can’t just be for entertainment. What is it for a community, a neighbourhood, a city?”

He points out that the Theatre Centre – a live arts incubator that serves as a cultural research and development hub, as well as a performance space – is open to the public from the morning until late at night, with free WiFi. It hosts community events and people are encouraged to hang out. “You’re welcome here. And you’re welcome at any time, [which] is a huge shift because most people associate theatres as places … where you have to buy a ticket to come in and that’s how you access theatre. But I think we have to turn that around.”

Boni says he is unsure of succession plans for the Theatre Centre, but he’s confident.

“There’s an incredible board of directors and an amazing staff, so they’re going to get it right. I trust them,” he says. “It’s going to be just fine.”

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