This video includes closed captioning.
There’s a place in the heart of Vermont that holds the hearts of the community thanks to a talented team that put their hearts into their work and find joy in giving performers and patrons a place to love.
That place is the Paramount Theatre in downtown Rutland.
In 2008, now-Executive Director Bruce Bouchard brought decades of experience in acting, directing, and theatre management to his interview for the position at the nearly 100-year-old venue. Despite that, there was one thing for which he was completely unprepared.
"I walked into this theatre and went, ‘Whoa, whoa, damn.’ And this is my first formal theatre,” Bouchard said. In that moment, he knew he would be accepting the job, packing his bags, leaving New York and moving to Vermont. "When I fall in love with a space I’m sunk."
And the Paramount’s “wow” factor has grown since Bouchard took the helm. “My sense was it was an underutilized asset and I said, ‘Why don’t we take this bad boy and kick it out as far as it can go?’” Bouchard recalled.
Bouchard and Programming Director Eric Mallette are packing the Paramount’s 838 seats thanks to jam-packed seasons featuring numerous big name performers - ones that the audience wants.
"I take direction from the audience,” Mallette said. “Whatever the audience is buying is what we bring."
Paramount Board member Paul Gallo points out that the audiences are showing the Paramount their appreciation financially. “We bumped up from 300 or 400 members up to 850 members,” he said.
They’re also showing their appreciation vocally.
"They usually stand up and whistle and hoot and holler and give everything that appears in this building a standing ovation,” Bouchard said of the audiences. “Now is that critically astute? I don’t know and I don’t care!"
The Paramount reopened in 2000 after a roughly 25-year closure, during which it fell into a state of disrepair. Now, looking as it did in its original glory days - when stars from Harry Houdini to Ethyl Barrymore performed on its stage - the Paramount is entering a new age and expanding into the building next door. The soon-to-be multi-use performance space will be shared with Castleton State College. All of this renewed energy at the Paramount is infectious.
"The biggest compliment to me, and the one I like to share the most with our audiences, is what the artists say about them, and that is ‘I had just as much fun as they did,’” Mallette said.
"Now the people who didn’t want to take our phone calls before are calling us up to see if their artists can play our hall,” Bouchard said.
Bouchard says it’s easy to prove the Paramount’s legitimacy to big name stars when you have the numbers to back it up, and generous sponsors are leading the Paramount to what could be its best year yet. The running number is $192,000 simply for show sponsorships.
A recent benchmark study by the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing found that domestic day visitors bring at least $70 per person per day into a region’s economy. Tom Donahue, who heads the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce, says the Paramount draws a steady stream of visitors to the area and ensures that the cash keeps flowing in.
"If you have an 850 seat theatre that’s full oftentimes for these events, that’s dropping $60,000 a night into your region, not counting the cost of the ticket. That’s just what’s spent locally the night of the performance or the day of the performance,” Donahue explained. "So you multiply that out by hundreds of performances and you’re talking millions and millions of dollars dropped into the economy locally, just from that one facility alone, per year."
But the Paramount is much more than an economic driver. It’s a living piece of Rutland history. “Just a month ago, we had a dance recital in here that my daughter was a participant of and she had a solo,” Gallo said. “And as a young boy I came into this theatre with my older brother and my father, a first generation Italian American, to see The Godfather.”
Mallette often thinks about the number of performers and patrons who have stood on the stage, sat in the seats, and enjoyed themselves in the space. “That stupid line, ‘If walls could talk…’ Can you imagine? These walls would scream.”
Bouchard knows that keeping the century-old theatre alive and thriving is a job that will never end.
"If you do get in this game, it’s not the place to sit back and be timid or rest on your laurels,” he said. “You always have to be reinventing yourself.”
Luckily for the Paramount - and Rutland - it’s exactly what he wants to do.
"A life in the arts,” he said, smiling. “What a lucky person am I."
The Paramount Theatre is the recipient of an FY2012 Arts Partnership Grant.