Productions

Program Note: A Short History of Trigger Warnings

The debate over so-called “trigger warnings” continues to simmer, boiling over in the media every month or so. These warnings – statements alerting students, and other members of the public, if writing, video or other materials contain confronting images or ideas – have taken center stage in the campus culture wars in the US and beyond.

Proponents argue that trigger warnings protect vulnerable and traumatized students from harm. Warnings allow students to prepare themselves mentally for distressing experiences or to avoid exposure to them if they feel unable to cope.

Critics see things differently. Where trigger warning proponents see protection they see coddling. Where proponents see sensitivity, they see censorship and threats to fearless pedagogy.

The Concept of ‘Triggers’

Rather than enter this political minefield, we might consider the concept of “trigger warning” itself and ask where it comes from. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a trigger can be something that acts like a mechanical trigger in initiating a process or reaction.

To trigger something is therefore not just to bring it about in some general sense, but to cause it in a way that is mechanical and automatic, like a reflex. Pollen is an asthma trigger because it sets off muscle contractions in the airways among people who are sensitive to it. The muscular reaction is involuntary and requires no conscious deliberation. It just happens.

The idea of trigger warnings originates in the psychiatric literature on post-traumatic reactions, where triggering had the same connotations. The primary features of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) include so-called “re-experiencing symptoms,” like intrusive thoughts and flashbacks.

These thoughts and images bring traumatic events vividly back to life, accompanied by the intense fear that the events originally evoked. Experiences that recall those early events trigger re-experiencing symptoms through a process that is rapid, unconscious, involuntary and automatic.

When trigger warnings were first introduced, they adhered closely to this post-traumatic sense of the term. Warnings were intended to alert traumatized people, who had experienced rape and sexual or physical assault, that soon-to-be presented material might spark their traumatic memories. Trigger warnings now commonly alert people not only to content that relates to sexual or physical trauma, but also to material that is potentially offensive, disgusting or politically questionable.

For example, one recent proposal urged trigger warnings for vomit, spiders and insects, slimy things, food, eye contact, pregnancy, classism, racism and transphobia (including, presumably, critiques thereof). Lists such as these indicate that trigger warnings have expanded their conceptual territory to encompass almost anything that could be a focus of strong emotion or conflict.

That expansion is revealed by statements that trigger warnings relate to material that is “emotionally confronting” or “distressing” rather than narrowly traumatic. Indeed, much of the content now subject to trigger warnings has no direct association with trauma in the psychiatric sense.

Over-Expansion?

The fact that a concept such as “trigger” has inflated far beyond its original meaning is not in itself a cause for concern. Concepts evolve all the time, and so they should. However, it is important to ask whether the expanding meaning of “trigger” has come at a cost.

Sir John Tenniel

Responding to Humpty Dumpty’s claim that a word “means just what I choose it to mean,” Alice [Through the Looking Glass] asked: “The question is … whether you can make words say so many different things.” Humpty Dumpty replied: “The question is … which is to be master,” he or the word.

Trigger warning advocates may be the masters when it comes to defining “triggers,” but they may be over-egging the definition.

The emotional signature of trauma is intense fear or horror. It is fear that dominates the reexperiencing symptoms of PTSD. However, the newer triggers often involve markedly different emotions: sadness or depression, social anxiety, disgust, or moral indignation at an offensive -ism. These diverse emotions can be rolled up with fear into an undifferentiated ball of “upset,” “distress” or feeling “confronted,” but crucial distinctions are
overlooked in the process.

Traumatic fear, for example, is intense, evoked by reminders in a largely automatic manner, difficult to override and related to a personal catastrophic experience. Mercifully only a small minority of the population suffers from PTSD at any point in time; 3.8% over a six-month period according to one recent study.

In contrast, most people experience some disgust at slimy things and vomit, but rarely to a pathological degree and not necessarily as a result of a traumatic personal history. To group together “triggers” for sexual trauma and for everyday disgust is to mix apples and rotten oranges.

The angry offence that people may take to undesirable social attitudes and political ideologies is even more different from traumatic fear, and even more questionably described by the language of “triggering.” Outrage or indignation is not as automatic as traumatic fear, involving a more complex moral assessment of the situation.

The ire we experience when we take offence is not generated by an involuntary trigger-like mechanism but by a complex process of moral cognition.

Gabe Hartwig for The St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The differences between traumatic fear and moral anger do not stop there. One motivates avoidance, the other motivates attack. People taking angry offence at classism or racism are unlikely to be responding reflexively to a personal trauma, and more likely to be responding in an, at least partially, reasoned way to injustices felt on behalf of (or as part of) a group, including groups to which they do not belong.

To argue trigger warnings are required for class content that refers to colonialism or Islamophobia is to stretch the meaning of “trigger” to breaking point, making it refer both to pathological fear and to normal moral disapproval.

As Alice said to Humpty Dumpty: “That’s a great deal to make one word mean.” To which Humpty replied: “When I make a word do a lot of work like that … I always pay it extra.”

About The Thanksgiving Play

Four well-intentioned white high school teachers scramble to create a pageant that somehow manages to celebrate both Turkey Day and Native American Heritage Month.   What could possibly go wrong?

Perfecting a Poster

This is a guest post written by Digital Marketing Assistant Kate Casner in association with fellow intern Michael Rocco. She details the process of designing parody posters that imitate some famous and not-so-appropriate plays to incorporate into the set of The Thanksgiving Play.

One of the main characters in the The Thanksgiving Play is Logan, a high school drama teacher who is notorious for mounting very mature plays with casts of high schoolers (much to the anger of her student’s parents). When Stephanie Hettrick, our Production Manager, approached me and my fellow intern Michael about creating parody posters of iconic, mature plays that featured high school-aged stars to be used as set dressing, we were very excited to run a bit wild while making them.  

Before we began, we asked ourselves, “just how far can we push the traditional boundaries of these shows?”. The answer, dear reader, is a lot.

Brainstorming

The Iceman Cometh parody poster

Michael and I were given a list of some plays that are wildly inappropriate for teens to put on such as Angels in America, The Motherf*cker with the Hat, and The Iceman Cometh. We researched the concept of each show for inspiration, then brainstormed how to create posters for them that both encompassed the main themes and looked like they were made by a high schooler who was really trying to show off their Photoshop skills. 

“Just how far can we push the traditional boundaries of these shows?”

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? parody poster

Execution
and Results

Our goal was to create shockingly funny juxtapositions between the teenagers featured on the posters and the adult content of the shows. We parodied some iconic posters, and even recreated the poster from our own production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, directed by Scott Edmiston during our 2016-2017 season. We absolutely support non-traditional casting at the Lyric, but featuring an African American woman as Martha on the high school poster of Who’s Afraid not only contradicts the playwright’s intentions, it fundamentally changes the message of the play. That specific choice make Who’s Afraid even more shockingly inappropriate for a high school production!

Check out some side-by-side comparisons of these iconic posters and our parody creations for The Thanksgiving Play below!

About The Thanksgiving Play

Four well-intentioned white high school teachers scramble to create a pageant that somehow manages to celebrate both Turkey Day and Native American Heritage Month. What could possibly go wrong?

THROUGH OCT. 5: LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS

Susan Mulford

     Best production of this delightfully fun show that I have experienced in my 33 year reviewing career!   The Lyric Stage Company at 140 Clarendon St. in Boston presents this award-winning sci-fi pulp musical on its award-winning, popular and intimate stage. The musical is also currently enjoying a successful off-Broadway revival in NYC.  With an upbeat
score composed by Alan Menken and a  Book and lyrics by Howard Ashman, this production has been inoticebly directed
and choreographed with many delightfully clever and extraordinarily perfect details by IRNE Award-winner Rachel Bertone.

The quirky story takes place in a failing flower shop in a run-down, “skid row” neighborhood in NY City. Four time IRNE and four time Norton Award-winner, Scenic Designer, Janie E. Howland*, thrusts the audience into the center of the sad, little shop that is situated in the slums.

The tale opens with the timid, clumsy, and overtly submissive Seymour Krelborn played by Dan Prior. Seymour, who was taken from an orphanage and has been brow-beaten to work for the abusive and greedy Mr. Mushnik (Remo Airaldi), the owner of the shop. Seyomour has always had a fascination for propagating strange plants. He also harbors a secret crush for his  coworker Audrey (Katrina Z. Pavao), a simple, sweet and kind girl who is under the influence of her sadistic, physically and verbally abusive, motorcycle-riding, psycho dentist boyfriend, Orin (Jeff Marcus). During a mysterious total eclipse of the sun, Seymour acquires a rare and very strange plant that resembles a super-sized Venus Fly Trap.

But the plant, affectionately named, Audrey II, is struggling to survive until Seymour accidentally pricks his finger on a thorn and the plant responds to his blood. Throughout the show, Audrey II’s growth becomes insanely rapid and highly animated…which is cleverly achieved through the creative puppetry of Cameron McEachmen The unusual plant, revived by Seymour’s blood is placed in the shop’s window where its sudden notoriety results in unprecedented success for the business. But unbeknownst to everyone, this mysterious, and as we learn, conniving and voraciously carnivorous plant begins to speak. It goads Seymour into satisfying its blood thirsty needs by promising to fulfill Seymour’s every wish. The seductive, off-stage lyrical vocals for Audrey II are supplied by the IRNE Award-winning Yewande Odetoyinbo.

For the flawless cast selection, Dan Prior as Seymour and Katrina Z. Pavao as Audrey provide perfect vocals and gentle chemistry to their roles.  From the fine-tuned, tonal harmonies of the mega talented trio chorus, consisting of the award-winning Lovely Hoffman”, Carla Matinez* and Pier Lamia Porter* to the, always show pleasing and hugely funny antics of
long time Boston favorite Remo Airaldi (Mr. Mushnik), as well as to Jeff Marcus*’, who one would swear had studied Steve
Martin’s movie role as Orin, the nitrous oxide-addicted dentist and Audrey’s violently abusive boyfriend, the musical is wonderful. Jeff also enchanted the audience with his multiple other roles during the production. The orchestra and music direction were all attained, behind the scenery and were under the keyboard and baton of the IRNE Award-winning Dan Rodriguez. I must add that when one sees the names of Bertone and Rodriguez, together on the Playbill, you can be
assured that the show will be stellar. The NY Times stated that Little Shop of Horrors was, “A show for horticulturists, horror-cultists, sci-fi fans, and anyone with a taste for the outrageous.” Tickets for this incredibly entertaining and engaging classic musical may be purchased at  www.lyricstage.com

Plant Talk with the Designer of Little Shop Puppets

We chatted with Cameron McEachern, the Puppet Designer for Little Shop of Horrors about Little Shop revivals, his design process, and experience with puppet-making.

Little Shop Plant Thoughts:

This has always been one of my favorite shows. Great story, great music and the fun-factor of a man-eating plant. The only usual downside is that most companies do not build their own plants, but rather rely on rentals. So it’s very exciting that Lyric is producing the show with brand new, never before seen puppets. I’ve always believed that the charm of the plants is that they ARE a foam rubber monster, like the b-movie creatures that they are referencing. There’s no getting around the fact that this is a puppet show … but somehow the over the top text of the show combined with well-made puppets makes it work.

Design Process:

We are building our plants utilizing the blueprints for the original off-broadway puppets designed by Martin P. Robinson who, fun fact, is Mr. Snuffleupagus and Telly Monster on Sesame Street. While we are staying true to the original shape and structure of the pods, I have chosen to use a color palette that is more natural and plant-like rather than the brightly colored rainbow puppets that are commonly used. While designing the plants, I worked hard to not only convey growth in size but also show the evolution of the plants from cute baby pod to giant monster. She starts off a pale yellow but as the show progresses and she is fed more and more, her pod becomes greener and greener. As she grows, she develops roots, thorns, warts, and vines. The taper of her lips and snout become more pronounced and menacing.


My Background / Experience with puppets:

To be honest, I don’t have a huge amount of experience with puppets. I have had the opportunity to create puppets for shows in the past, but the majority of the work I do is as a scenic artist with a little prop fabrication thrown in there. What I have really enjoyed about this project is the wide range of skills I have been able to utilize while creating the plants … Paper mache, foam sculpture, sewing / patterning, painting / airbrushing and even a little carpentry… There is a lot more that goes into puppet building than meets the eye.

More About Little Shop of Horrors

This award-winning sci-fi pulp musical about nebbishy Seymour who haplessly pines after his coworker Audrey. Suddenly, opportunity falls into his lap in the form of a mysterious, carnivorous, conniving – not to mention singing – plant that promises to fulfill Seymour’s every wish.

“A show for horticulturists, horror-cultists, sci-fi fans, and anyone with a taste for the outrageous.” – NY Times

About Cameron McEachern

Cameron McEachern (Puppet Design) is a Boston-based scenic artist, designer, prop fabricator, and costumer making his Lyric Stage debut. As a freelance artist, he has been fortunate to work with companies including the American Repertory Theater, Moonbox Productions, Reagle Music Theatre, North Shore Music Theatre, The Company Theatre, and New England Scenic. He is also the paint charge for Wicked Amusements – an escape room and interactive amusement design company.

Authenticity, Appropriation, and Identity

Micheline Wu on the choreographic process of Pacific Overtures

In my opinion, to be a musical theater choreographer is to be a dance historian and movement anthropologist. Dance in musicals is more than aesthetic entertainment. Whether it’s 1962 in Baltimore, 1906 in Oklahoma, or 1853 in Japan, the movement must clearly demonstrate the time and place of the story. And in order to do that, the choreographer needs to have done their research.

A show like Pacific Overtures is particularly challenging because it is a constant negotiation of the balance between the needs of the storytelling in that moment, the implementation of authentic traditional gestures, and the navigation in and around cultural appropriation. On top of that, there is theater dance having its own vernacular that is a common visual language expected by musical theater audiences. And then there is the need to serve the overall vision of this production, which is not in the traditional Kabuki style. My job has been to blend all of this into an overall homage that pays honor to the rich physical language of Japanese dance and theater while still maintaining that we are in the world of a musical written by Americans and performed in America.

The cast of Pacific Overtures

A prime example of the necessary fusion of physical styles and components is the first group number: “The Advantages of Floating in the Middle of the Sea”. Opening numbers in musicals fundamentally must establish the world of the play, often introduce the primary characters, and present the storytelling framework that will be utilized. While not technically the opening number because of a short musical prologue, “The Advantages of Floating in the Middle of the Sea” illustrates that this is a story told by a reciter and an ensemble of actors, many of whom play multiple roles. A challenge for me when creating movement for this number was that the lyrics are not only often just generally descriptive of society in mid-1800s Japan, but also occasionally do not parallel movement that would be traditionally illustrated in traditional Japanese dance. My approach was to present the wide and varied physical vocabulary used within the show through a blend of quotations of movement from other numbers, non-traditional gestures stylized in an aesthetic similar to but not the same as Nihon buyō, and pedestrian vernacular of genuine every-day movement. This number is the product of a true collaboration between myself and Spiro to ensure that the storytelling was effectively established and would move seamlessly into the rest of the show.

Kai Chao dancing “The Lion Dance” in Pacific Overtures.

Within this script, cultural appropriation cannot be completely avoided because it is used as a storytelling technique. This is particularly true in the Lion Dance, which closes Act I. The stage directions state that the dance is a “combination of the traditional Kabuki lion dance and an American cake walk.” The Kabuki Lion Dance is dignified and the shishi – or mythical lions – are of the divine. In contrast, the cake walk is a dance that emerged from plantations and was appropriated into minstrel shows by performers in blackface. The juxtaposition of these two forms and appropriation of the Japanese dance movements is intended to be offensive and therefore must be choreographed and performed grotesquely. This parallel appropriation is fundamental to telling the story of the United States forcing intrusion on Japan.

On the other hand, Tamate’s dance during “There Is No Other Way” I choreographed with primary attention to the Nihon buyō style, which was then delicately customized to the needs of the story told through expected musical theater norms. The dance is pivotal moment for Tamate and is a visual inner monologue with two observers and according to the script: “The first sings about her, the second sings her words and thoughts.” This is one of the most complex and multi-layered pieces of choreography I’ve ever created.

The cast of Pacific Overtures.

In performing this dance, I cannot and will not make the claim that I am a Japanese fan dance expert, especially since this dance takes liberty with the traditional form due to the needs to both communicate the story as well as fulfill the richness of the music. Growing up training and performing traditional Chinese dance, I have the highest respect for traditional dance forms. I did more research on dancing with a mai ogi than I did for any other movement used in the show.

In creating the dance, first I made it beautiful. Then I ripped it apart and set different sections to the appropriate parts of the music. Then I teased out which sections would contain pantomime and if so whether it would align perfectly with the lyrics of the music, as indication of lyrics is to be avoided as much as possible in musical theater choreography, or would be back-phrased or anticipatory. Then I adjusted, inserted, or deleted movements to work with or against the music itself. Then I layered in any additional acting that needed to be clearly gestured within the dance itself. Then I allowed the acting to blossom from within through feeling the physical sensations of performing the dance, the ebb and flow of the music, as well as the enormity of the circumstances in which the dance was being performed. And finally, after working with our Japanese dance consultant Michiko Kurata, I added in some very specific movements that were fundamental to Nihon buyō that must be included in a dance illustrating these circumstances. I have never drafted and redrafted a dance so much in my life.

Karina Wen, Alexander Holden, Gary Thomas Ng, and Kai Chao in Pacific Overtures.

At the root of all of this was an incredible amount of time doing research. One cannot be intentional with choreography like this without acknowledging what is, and what is not, correct according to tradition. This means that I am working in a grey area where I perhaps do not know the lines, or perhaps we collectively are in the process of establishing these lines. Is it appropriate for me to choreograph in another Asian dance style that is not my area of expertise? Is my training in Chinese dance less legitimate because I studied it in the US, even if my teacher was from Taiwan and is a traditional Chinese dance expert? Does it make a difference that I am American born or that I am mixed-race, despite the fact that I speak two dialects of Chinese and was raised exclusively by my Chinese family? Personally, I am excited to be living in a time of grey areas where societally we are increasingly open to the conversation of what lies in the mists in between definitions and delineations. It is a blessing to be able to have conversations that address questions such as these, a circumstance that is not true everywhere. So bring on the dialogue. I’m game. Are you?

About Micheline Wu

Micheline Wu (Choreographer/Ensemble) is making her Lyric Stage debut. A Boston native, she trained and performed with the American Chinese Arts Society’s Traditional Chinese Dance Troupe for ten years. In contemporary dance, she received a Young Artist Grant from the DC Commission on Arts and Humanities, two artist residencies at The Firkin Crane in Ireland, and her choreography and dance films have been shown across the country. Theater performance credits include Allegiance (SpeakEasy Stage Company), My Fair Lady (New Bedford Festival Theatre), Little Shop of Horrors (Priscilla Beach Theatre). M.F.A. Musical Theater, Boston Conservatory. @michelinewu

About Pacific Overtures

This startling, entertaining, and thrilling masterpiece puts a cap on Spiro Veloudos’ multi-year Sondheim Initiative. An unlikely friendship is forged between a samurai, Kayama, and an Americanized fisherman, Manjiro, during Commodore Matthew Perry’s 1853 mission to open trade relations with isolationist Japan. The two friends are caught in the inevitable winds of change and tell the story of Japan’s painful and harrowing Westernization. A highly original, inventive, powerful, and surprisingly humorous theatrical experience.

Chatting with Janie Howland, Scenic Designer

We talked with Janie Howland, the scenic designer of Pacific Overtures!

What Lyric Stage shows have you worked on before?

JH: I’ve been working at the Lyric Stage for 25 years. I’ve done
at least two shows a season. So, it has to be at least 50 and a few
more—maybe 60. In fact, I did my first professional show ever at
the Lyric Stage and Spiro directed it.

What excites and challenges you about of Pacific Overtures?

JH: Pacific Overtures is difficult. In the beginning of the script,
Sondheim alludes to Kabuki Theater and so we started there, but
this space physically doesn’t lend itself to that and I question why
we are referencing it at all? It feels so separate from American
theater, and it’s so stylized—I feel like it would alienate the
audiences a little bit. If we’re trying to tell a real story about
something that’s important—which in this case is people
overcoming other people and imposing their culture on them—
then it feels like Kabuki is not going to help us. So then putting
that aside it becomes a challenge of “okay, well what story
are we telling? And how do we keep it Japanese but make it
accessible?”

How many different theaters do you work at in a year? How many shows do you design?

JH: I design, on average, ten shows a year. But the Lyric Stage
is home. The Lyric Stage has always been home. I know the
space. I dream the space.

What’s your favorite space to work in?

JH: The Lyric Stage!

You don’t have to say that! (But of course we’re thrilled that you did.)

JH: I love three-quarter thrust because I love the intimacy
and I love pushing the set out to the audience.

What’s your process like?

JH: Once I am hired, I read the script, listen to the music, and just
feel it. I don’t get into specifics of “there has to be a door, there has
to be….” I just ask what does this play feel like? I do what’s called
an emotional response. It’s any kind of creative regurgitation. I
tend to make little sculptures but when I teach I tell my students
they can do anything—compose a song, do a movement piece, etc.
Then I present it to the director as my initial “this is how I feel about
the play” and it becomes a jumping off point for further discussion.

Does it change for you when you read a play or musical that
you’ve never read or worked on before versus one you’re
familiar with or have worked on before?

JH: If it’s within a particularly small timeframe, it will be hard to
have a different response to it. I did A Streetcar Named Desire
twice a year apart and the directors brought completely opposite
concepts. In the first production the focus was how the outside
world impacted Blanche, and how the color, light, and noise
really pressed on her. With the second one, the director was really
interested in it being an internal monologue from Blanche—
almost like she dreamed it happened. And it was much more
abstract and (I think) a better design. The first one won multiple
awards; it was beautiful, it was huge—it was a classic Streetcar.
But the second one was more interesting. I didn’t go into the
second one with a different emotional response, but the director
took it in a whole different direction.

What inspires you as an artist?

JH: Anything visual can inspire you. Sometimes I walk around
outside and look up at the buildings. If you look up instead of
down, there’s beautiful architecture in Boston. My favorite art
movements are Art Nouveau and Art Deco, and Van Gogh is my
favorite painter because he’s very expressionistic. I always go to
art—I go to sculpture and painting for inspiration

More About Pacific Overtures

This startling, entertaining, and thrilling masterpiece puts a cap on Spiro Veloudos’ multi-year Sondheim Initiative. An unlikely friendship is forged between a samurai, Kayama, and an Americanized fisherman, Manjiro, during Commodore Matthew Perry’s 1853 mission to open trade relations with isolationist Japan. The two friends are caught in the inevitable winds of change and tell the story of Japan’s painful and harrowing Westernization. A highly original, inventive, powerful, and surprisingly humorous theatrical experience.

“Musical theater at its most intellectually challenging.  Extraordinary songs!”   – NY Times

“It’s enthralling to see Sondheim’s songs work so magically well!” – Huffington Post

About Janie E. Howland, Scenic Design

Janie E. Howland** (Scenic Design) has called the Lyric Stage home for 25 years, having recently designed Little Foxes and Anna Christie. Other recent designs: Nat Turner in Jerusalem (ASP), Caroline or Change (Moonbox), Art Makes Sense CONSENSES Exhibit (Mass MOCA), Madeline’s Christmas (BCT), Urban Nutcracker (City Ballet). Other venues: Lynn Redgrave Theatre (NY), Emerson Majestic, New Rep, Weston Playhouse, North Shore Music Theatre, Odyssey Opera, Central Square Theatre, Gloucester Stage, SpeakEasy Stage, Ohio Star Theatre, A.R.T. Institute, Boston Conservatory, Company One, Greater Boston Stage Company, Seacoast Rep, Merrimack Repertory Theatre, New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, and Huntington Theatre Studio 210. Brandeis University M.F.A.; four-time Elliot Norton Award winner, four-time IRNE Award winner, adjunct faculty at Emerson College, Wellesley College. USA Local 829. janiehowland.com

Chatting with Lisa Yuen

We talked with Lisa Yuen, who portrays Reciter, Shogun, Storyteller, and Emperor in our upcoming production of Pacific Overtures!

What Lyric Stage shows have you worked on before?

LY: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Into the Woods,
Sweeney Todd, and Kiss of the Spider Woman

What you about of Pacific Overtures?

LY: Spiro Veloudos and music director Jon Goldberg LOVE
Sondheim! They are two of Boston’s most passionate and informed
Sondheim experts and I predict rehearsals to be masterclasses
about one of America’s greatest composers and lyricists.

What challenges you about Pacific Overtures?

LY: Pacific Overtures is commonly touted as Sondheim’s most
ambitious and sophisticated score and that description alone
is a daunting task. Everyone approaches Sondheim’s work with
deep intellect and then as an artist, you are reminded of how well
Sondheim can tap into the complexity of human emotion.

Where do you and The Reciter intersect?

LY: At the role’s heart, The Reciter is a storyteller and I’ve made
a career of being just that. We will be rediscovering the 1976
Broadway classic to its bare essence of storytelling—about
holding onto tradition while trying to be successful with change
and modernization. More importantly, we ask ourselves how
this dichotomy effects the human condition and its relations,
as so excellently portrayed in the development of the roles
of Manjiro and Kayama. I love hearing the role of the Reciter
through a woman’s voice since there are such great themes of
modernization and strength—very timely for now.
The Lyric Stage has always been very generous and has allowed
me to play roles that are not usually played by an Asian female.
The Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods was probably my most favorite
Lyric experience. The Baker’s Wife is traditionally played by
a white female but my goodness, the role is a made-up fairy
tale character. Why can’t she be Asian? I remember going to
the callbacks and thinking I should wear glasses so I could
appear to be a stereotypical “smart Asian” and that would be
my take. Fast forward to the actual production, and I lost the
glasses, any sense of racial identity, and just went to the heart
of the role. Most important was her mission to have, love and
protect her family, a mission any ethnicity can relate to. When
Pacific Overtures became a possibility, Spiro surprised me once
again with his progressive vision by casting a woman in a role
that is traditionally played by a man. Spiro knows that these
opportunities are so much greater than just one person, it’s
about opening the audiences’ eyes of inclusivity and ridding
ourselves of unconscious bias.

What excites you about working on a piece that is rarely
revived due to its complexity?

LY: Ha! You ask me this question after my last show at the Lyric
Stage was Kiss of the Spiderwoman, a musical about a homosexual
window dresser, who is serving his third year in an Argentinian
prison. The Lyric Stage is really highlighting the complex musicals
this year and I am in deep and in love with the challenge.

What does it mean to you to be working with an all-Asian
cast? Have you ever had that experience before?

LY: I spent 5 years performing in Broadway’s Miss Saigon,
performed with the national tours of The King and I and Flower
Drum Song, and I have worked with numerous all-Asian casts
regionally. From the first day of rehearsal, there’s usually this
very comfortable, loving, familial sense, like everyone knows
each other, even if we don’t. Boston is rich with talented and kind
Asian American actors and delving deeper into this community
was a great draw for me to want to do this show.

More About Pacific Overtures

This startling, entertaining, and thrilling masterpiece puts a cap on Spiro Veloudos’ multi-year Sondheim Initiative. An unlikely friendship is forged between a samurai, Kayama, and an Americanized fisherman, Manjiro, during Commodore Matthew Perry’s 1853 mission to open trade relations with isolationist Japan. The two friends are caught in the inevitable winds of change and tell the story of Japan’s painful and harrowing Westernization. A highly original, inventive, powerful, and surprisingly humorous theatrical experience.

“Musical theater at its most intellectually challenging.  Extraordinary songs!”   – NY Times

“It’s enthralling to see Sondheim’s songs work so magically well!” – Huffington Post

About Lisa Yuen, Reciter, Shogun, Storyteller, Emperor

Lisa Yuen* (Reciter, Shogun, Storyteller, Emperor) returns to the Lyric Stage having appeared in Kiss of The Spider Woman, Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd, and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.  Local credits include:  The King and I (North Shore Music Theatre), Ragtime and Mary Poppins (Wheelock Family Theatre), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Theatre by the Sea) and New Rep.  Other credits include 7.5 years on Broadway (Miss Saigonand The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.), 4 national tours (The King and I, Flower Drum Song, The Scarlet Pimperneland The Pirates of Penzance), Off-Broadway (Second Stage and York Theatre), Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, regional theatre (including Paper Mill Playhouse, The MUNY, PCLO, and Sacramento Music Circus) and TV/film including 23 episodes as “Rachel” on  All My Children, Body of Proof, The Martha Stewart Show, World Trade Center). Brookline mom to twins.  B.A. from UCLA.  Love and gratitude to Mom, Kevin, family, and friends.  

Why³ with Pacific Overtures Director Spiro Veloudos

We asked all of our directors this season the question “why?” Here are the answers from the director of our upcoming show, Pacific Overtures!

Why Pacific Overtures?

It’s one of the final major Sondheim musicals that I haven’t done (Passion and Merrily We Roll Along are the others.) As we are taking a hiatus from Sondheim musicals, Overtures seems fitting. In addition, its book was written by John Wiedman. I have directed the other two plays written by him with Mr. Sondheim (Assassins and Road Show), so with Overtures I close the circle that started in 1998 with our now famous production of Assassins.

Why at The Lyric Stage?

For the last 20 seasons, The Lyric Stage Company has made a “cottage industry” out of taking musicals that were originally conceived on a large scale and boiling them down to their essence (My Fair Lady, Kiss Me, Kate and Gypsy to name a few.) Overtures had one of the largest casts in its original production. We will scale that down to 11 or 12 without sacrificing this story of the effect of American Imperialism (along with several other western countries) upon Japan, which had isolated itself in 1600 (as described in the opening number).

Why now?

While it would be capricious to compare America’s current actions in foreign affairs to Millard Filmore’s “Gunboat Diplomacy” of 1853, American military influence in many areas (such as the Mideast, Viet Nam, and Korea) might bear comparison. The foisting of the “American Dream” on countries or areas of the world that might not be appreciative of it, and the sometimes tragic consequences of those actions (especially a little over 8 months after the evacuation of Saigon, when Pacific Overtures opened) might have had an influence on the writers. Whether it is opening trade, saving the world from Communism, or just preserving America’s need for oil, Pacific Overtures shines a light on the folly that is sometimes called American foreign policy.

More about Pacific Overtures:

Commodore Matthew Perry’s 1853 mission to open trade relations with isolationist Japan through gunboat diplomacy forges an unlikely friendship between the samurai, Kayama, and the Americanized fisherman, Manjiro. The two of them – and all of Japanese society – must face the wave of Westernization that follows.  Spiro Veloudos puts a cap on his multi-year Sondheim Initiative with this startling, entertaining, and thrilling masterpiece.

“Mr. Sondheim’s songs are complete miniature dramas, loaded and compressed to a profound intensity.” – New York Times

A First Look At Pacific Overtures

We’re busy building the set for Pacific Overtures, but we wanted to share with you a sneak peek of the beautiful set, designed by Janie E. Howland (
United Scenic Artists (USA-Local 829))!

About Pacific Overtures

This startling, entertaining, and thrilling masterpiece puts a cap on Spiro Veloudos’ multi-year Sondheim Initiative. An unlikely friendship is forged between a samurai, Kayama, and an Americanized fisherman, Manjiro, during Commodore Matthew Perry’s 1853 mission to open trade relations with isolationist Japan. The two friends are caught in the inevitable winds of change and tell the story of Japan’s painful and harrowing Westernization. A highly original, inventive, powerful, and surprisingly humorous theatrical experience.

“Musical theater at its most intellectually challenging.  Extraordinary songs!”   – NY Times

“It’s enthralling to see Sondheim’s songs work so magically well!” – Huffington Post

About Janie E. Howland, Scenic Design

Janie E. Howland** (Scenic Design) has called the Lyric Stage home for 25 years, having recently designed Little Foxes and Anna Christie. Other recent designs: Nat Turner in Jerusalem (ASP), Caroline or Change (Moonbox), Art Makes Sense CONSENSES Exhibit (Mass MOCA), Madeline’s Christmas (BCT), Urban Nutcracker (City Ballet). Other venues: Lynn Redgrave Theatre (NY), Emerson Majestic, New Rep, Weston Playhouse, North Shore Music Theatre, Odyssey Opera, Central Square Theatre, Gloucester Stage, SpeakEasy Stage, Ohio Star Theatre, A.R.T. Institute, Boston Conservatory, Company One, Greater Boston Stage Company, Seacoast Rep, Merrimack Repertory Theatre, New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, and Huntington Theatre Studio 210. Brandeis University M.F.A.; four-time Elliot Norton Award winner, four-time IRNE Award winner, adjunct faculty at Emerson College, Wellesley College. USA Local 829. janiehowland.com

Why³ with Paula Plum

We asked all of our directors this season the question “why?” Here are the answers from the director of our upcoming show, Twelfth Night. Photo of Paula Plum by Gary Ng.

Why this play? 

Because we love love stories when they’re both comic and sad. These characters are all looking for love in the wrong places. And for me, it’s send in the clowns: the ASP company members in this play are all the clowns.

Why a co-production with Lyric Stage?

Spiro has said that the future of theatre in this city is collaboration not competition. We all benefit by sharing resources. And plus, I’ve been working at the Lyric Stage since I was 20 and I’m a founding member of ASP. It’s a perfect fit. 

Why now? 

I can’t read or think about this play without thinking that Viola is a refugee who has to disguise herself because she can’t be who she is. It’s such a contemporary theme: the immigrant/refugee who has to change their identity in order to survive.

About Director Paula Plum

Paula Plum (Director) is a founding member of Actors’ Shakespeare Project and has worked as an actor and director with the Lyric Stage since 1975. She has been Artistic Director of WGBH’s A Christmas Celtic Sojourn since its inception in 2003, touring concerts throughout New England during the holiday season. She has directed in Paris, New York, and Boston and is the 2009 recipient of the Fox Actor Fellowship. In the last year she has directed the Leonard Bernstein Centennial Celebration for the Boston Pops and Reclaiming Lucretia for Boston Lyric Opera. Paula is the recipient of the Elliot Norton Award for Sustained Excellence, five IRNE Awards, three Elliot Norton Awards for Outstanding Actress, and was the 2003 Distinguished Alumna of Boston University’s College of Fine Arts. paulaplum.com

About Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night is a tale of unrequited love – hilarious and heartbreaking. Twins are separated during a shipwreck and are forced to fend for themselves in a strange land. The first twin, Viola, falls in love with Orsino, who dotes on Olivia, who falls for Viola but is idolized by Malvolio. Enter Sebastian, who is the spitting image of his twin sister… is it possible for this to all end well?   Well, it IS a comedy!

A co-production with Actors’ Shakespeare Project.

“If music be the food of love, play on, Give me excess of it.”  – William Shakespeare