Austin Bouchard had no clue about a major or a career path when he auditioned for a University of Mary Washington theatre production before stepping foot on the Fredericksburg campus his freshman year. Now four years later, not only has the senior theatre major found direction as an actor, he’s directing his first full-length theatre production.
It all began with that first audition.
Bouchard had acted in high school and, on a whim, decided to submit an online audition for a production of Rent. He learned that he landed a lead role in the play shortly after he arrived at UMW.
“I’d been in class for all of one day, and all of a sudden I’m in this huge production,” said Bouchard.
Despite a successful performance, he put theatre on the backburner. He wanted to get a well-rounded experience at UMW, so he took a computer science class and soon declared it as his major. Then, an art class rekindled a love for oil painting, so he added a major in studio art.
“The more you get involved, the more you learn,” said Bouchard.
Despite his burgeoning interests, Bouchard found time a year later to audition for another play.
“I realized it [theatre] was a huge part of my life,” said Bouchard. “I had this sense that something important in my life was floating by. I’m not being true to myself if I don’t go for it.”
Bouchard decided to continue doing art as a hobby and to make his computer science major a minor. Focusing more of his energy on theatre, Bouchard acted in several UMW productions and joined Alpha Psi Omega, UMW’s theatre honor society. Last fall he landed the lead role of George in Sunday in the Park with George.
“When I look back, I’m so glad I was able to follow this weird path to get me where I am now,” said Bouchard.
He gives credit both to the logic he gained from computer science and the freedom from creating art for helping him move forward as a better actor. While Bouchard was surprised to find himself returning to the theatre, Chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance Gregg Stull was not.
“People come to us and they discover something about theatre that speaks to them,” said Stull. “Austin tried other things, which is exactly what we want students to do.”
Stull is mentoring Bouchard as he directs his very first full-length production as part of an advanced directing course. Bouchard is one of only three students in the class taking on the challenge.
“We want our students to be empowered to do the things they’re learning about,” said Stull, explaining how hands-on experience is the best way for his students to learn how to be directors.
In a theatre department that emphasizes student leadership and responsibility, Bouchard has his work cut out for him as he moves into the director’s chair. He independently chose the play, held auditions and conducted rehearsals.
Bouchard’s production of Oleanna will premiere at the end of March.
While directing a play has many challenges, Stull has confidence in the ability of his protégés.
“Our students do a lot. They spend every waking hour immersed in their work,” said Stull, “but they’re compelled to do this.”
In addition to directing his own play, Bouchard is giving his final performance at UMW’s Klein Theatre as Eddie in The Drunken City, which runs through Feb. 22.
“There were times when it is hard,” said Bouchard, “but the more I work, the more I realize this is what I want to do in my life. Going to rehearsal is the best part of my day.”