Spiro Veloudos Announces His Retirement as Producing Artistic Director of the Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Stepping away from the day-to-day operations of the theatre, he will focus on his greatest passion: directing.

Spiro Veloudos, legendary theatre director and Boston theatre icon, announced today that he is retiring from his role as Producing Artistic Director of the Lyric Stage Company of Boston.

“Ever since I started in this role in 1998, I promised to make the Lyric Stage ever more vibrant and to continually push my limits, producing shows that would challenge, entertain, and inspire our audiences. When I concluded my Sondheim Initiative with the production of Pacific Overtures this past spring, I took the summer off to contemplate what might be next, and I realized that it is time for me to focus solely on my work as a director and to let others manage the daily operations of the theatre and to guide it into the future. I am greatly looking forward to my productions of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express this fall and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder in the spring. And I hope that moving into this new chapter of my life will allow me more time to relax, enjoy being with friends and family, and focus more exclusively on my true love: directing.”

During Veloudos’ tenure, the Lyric Stage has won 40 Elliot Norton Awards, 69 Independent Reviewers of New England awards, and Veloudos himself has been the recipient of the StageSource Theatre Hero Award, the Elliot Norton Award for Sustained Excellence, and he was named Best Artistic Director by Boston Magazine. In 2017, Veloudos suffered a diabetes-related infection that caused him to lose his left leg below the knee.

Undaunted, Veloudos celebrated his 20th season as Producing Artistic Director and directed Camelot that spring. He is now energetically following his passion for directing, and will be at the helm of two productions at the Lyric Stage this season.

Matt Chapuran

The Lyric Stage Board of Directors has also announced that former Managing Director Matt Chapuran returned to the company on October 1 in the newly created position of Executive Director. Associate Artistic Director Courtney O’Connor will be serving as Acting Artistic Director.

Jo-An Heileman, Lyric Stage Board president, said, “We thank Spiro for his years of dedication and artistic achievements with the Lyric Stage. Over the last two decades, he has made the Lyric Stage into one of the most important and vibrant artistic institutions in Boston, providing intimate world-class theatre to nearly 40,000 audience members each season. We wish Spiro the absolute best on his continuing artistic journey. During Matt Chapuran’s five seasons as Managing Director, the Lyric Stage staff and board were energized with ambitious ideas and a desire to more deeply serve the city of Boston and to collaborate with other Boston artistic institutions. We believe in this new expanded role of Executive Director, Matt will take the Lyric Stage to the next level.”

Chapuran said, “Back in the mid-90s, I was an intern for an improvisational after-school program that Ron Ritchell and Polly Hogan had running at the Lyric Stage. It was my pleasure to be in Boston for the entirety of Spiro’s run at the Lyric Stage, where he really transformed the Boston theatre scene for the better. He staunched the flood of theatrical talent from Boston to New York, and took on impressive musicals that no one else would have had the daring or wit to stage in our intimate theatre. Working at the Lyric Stage was a joyful experience for me, and I’m so happy to be able to give back to a company that has given me so much.”

Spiro Veloudos’ Major Achievements as Lyric Stage Producing Artistic Director

Served 21 years as Producing Artistic Director of the Lyric Stage.
Directed more than 65 productions over 35 years.
The Spiro Veloudos Sondheim Initiative: directing 10 Sondheim productions in 20 seasons.
Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award, Salem State University, 2011
Elliot Norton Award, Sustained Excellence, 2006
StageSource Theatre Hero Award, 2003

Spiro Veloudos has served 21 seasons as Producing Artistic Director of the Lyric Stage. During the last two seasons he directed The Roommate, Pacific Overtures, Souvenir, and Road Show. In previous seasons, he directed Company, Camelot, Sondheim on Sondheim, Peter and the Starcatcher, Sweeney Todd, City of Angels, Into the Woods (Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE) Awards for Best Director, Best Musical, and Best Ensemble), One Man, Two Guvnors, Death of a Salesman (IRNE Award for Best Play),The Mikado, 33 Variations, On the Town, Avenue Q (Elliot Norton Awards for Outstanding Musical and Outstanding Ensemble, five IRNE Awards including Best Musical and Best Director), The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (Elliot Norton Award for Best Production and Best Director, five IRNE Awards including Best Director), Big River, Superior Donuts, Animal Crackers, Blithe Spirit, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, and Kiss Me, Kate. Spiro received the Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award from Salem State College. He was the recipient of the 2006 Elliot Norton Prize for Sustained Excellence. During his tenure, the Lyric Stage has earned numerous awards and honors including Elliot Norton Awards for Outstanding Production (Nicholas Nickleby, Speech & Debate, Miss Witherspoon, The Old Settler), and Outstanding Musical Production (Sunday in the Park with George); IRNE Awards for Outstanding Production (Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Settler, Glengarry Glen Ross), and Outstanding Musical Production (Grey Gardens, Urinetown: The Musical, A Little Night Music, Sunday in the Park with George). His numerous directing credits at the Lyric Stage include A Little Night Music (IRNE Award for Direction), Glengarry Glen Ross (IRNE Award), Sunday in the Park with George (Best of the Year in Boston’s Globe, Herald, and Phoenix; Elliot Norton and IRNE Award for direction), Assassins (Best Production of 1998: The Boston Globe), Lost in Yonkers, Never the Sinner: The Leopold and Loeb Story (Elliot Norton Award, along with Assassins), and Speed-the-Plow (Elliot Norton for Outstanding Production). Mr. Veloudos received StageSource’s Theatre Hero Award (2003) and was named Best Artistic Director by Boston Magazine in 1999. He served as the president for the Producers’ Association of New England Area Theatres from 2008 to 2018, and is adjunct faculty in Performing Arts at Emerson College.

Matt Chapuran (Executive Director) was the Managing Director of the Lyric Stage from 2014 to 2018.  He was previously Managing Director of Stoneham Theatre, where he co-produced over 70 plays, musicals, concerts, and educational productions for an annual audience that grew to over 50,000. During his tenure, Matt ran the 2010 Boston Marathon with Producing Artistic Director Weylin Symes in support of Stoneham Theatre’s educational mission. At the Nora Theatre Company, Matt was Managing Director during the inception of a capital campaign that ultimately led to the construction of the Central Square Theater. Matt also managed institutional giving for the Huntington Theatre Company, and was most recently the Director of Development for Conservatory Lab Charter School Foundation in Dorchester. A graduate of Boston College with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Emerson College, Matt has performed, taught, and directed improvisation for over two decades, most recently as a part of Babson College’s M.B.A. program, as one half of the improv team The Angriest Show in the World, and as the director of Improvised History. He lives in Roslindale with his wife and their three daughters.

Production photos from Spiro Veloudos’ Sondheim Initiative:          

Below is a complete list of productions Spiro Veloudos has directed at the Lyric Stage, along with awards won for those productions.

1985-86 Cat on a Hot Tin Roof  
1986-87 Quartermaine’s Terms  
1987-88 The Common Pursuit  
1988-89 Not about Heroes  
1989-90 Otherwise Engaged
A Shaina Maidel
1990-91 Misalliance
1992-93 American Buffalo  
1993-94 The Substance of Fire  
1996-97 Speed-the-Plow Elliot Norton, Best Production
1998-99 Lost in Yonkers
Never the Sinner
Elliot Norton, Best Director
Elliot Norton, Best Director
Elliot Norton, Best Director
1999-00 She Loves Me
The Comedy of Errors
The Judas Kiss
2000-01 No Way to Treat a Lady
Curse of the Bambino
2001-02 Sunday In the Park with George
Glengarry Glen Ross
Elliot Norton, Best Director, Best Musical IRNE, Best Musical, Best Director
IRNE, Best Production, Best Director
2002-03Dirty Blonde
It’s All True
Side Show
2003-04Book of Days
The Spitfire Grill
Noises Off
2004-05A Little Night Music
Fully Committed
Shakespeare in Hollywood
IRNE, Best Musical, Best Director

A Number
THE GOAT, or Who Is Sylvia?
Kong’s Night Out
IRNE, Best Musical, Best Director

Arms and the Man
2007-08Man of La Mancha
Three Tall Women
The Importance of Being Earnest
IRNE, Best Musical

The Mystery of Irma Vep
Grey Gardens

IRNE, Best Musical, Best Director
2009-10Kiss Me, Kate
Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill
Blithe Spirit
2010-11The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby
Animal Crackers
Elliot Norton, Best Production, IRNE, Best Director, Best Production, Best Ensemble
2011-12Big River
Superior Donuts
Avenue Q

Elliot Norton, Best Musical, Best Ensemble, IRNE, Best Musical, Best Director
2012-13The Mikado
33 Variations
On the Town
2013-14One Man, Two Guvnors
Death of a Salesman
Into the Woods

IRNE, Best Play
Elliot Norton, Best Director, Best Production, IRNE, Best Director, Best Musical, Best Ensemble
2014-15Sweeney Todd
City of Angels
2015-16Sondheim on Sondheim
Peter and the Starcatcher
Road Show
2018-19The Roommate
Pacific Overtures

The Thanksgiving Play production photos.

Photos by Glenn Perry

Jesse Hinson, Amanda Collins, Grace Experience, Barlow Adamson. Photo by Glenn Perry.
Jesse Hinson, Grace Experience, Amanda Collins, Barlow Adamson. Photo by Glenn Perry.
Amanda Collins, Jesse Hinson, Barlow Adamson. Photo by Glenn Perry.
Jesse Hinson, Amanda Collins, Barlow Adamson, Grace Experience. Photo by Glenn Perry.
Jesse Hinson, Amanda Collins. Photo by Glenn Perry.
Jesse Hinson, Barlow Adamson, Grace Experience, Amanda Collins. Photo by Glenn Perry.
Jesse Hinson, Amanda Collins, Grace Experience, Barlow Adamson. Photo by Glenn Perry.
Jesse Hinson, Grace Experience, Amanda Collins, Barlow Adamson. Photo by Glenn Perry.
Grace Experience, Amanda Collins. Photo by Glenn Perry.
Amanda Collins, Jesse Hinson, Barlow Adamson. Photo by Glenn Perry.
Amanda Collins, Grace Experience, Barlow Adamson. Photo by Glenn Perry.
Jesse Hinson, Amanda Collins, Grace Experience, Barlow Adamson. Photo by Glenn Perry.
Amanda Collins. Photo by Glenn Perry.
Jesse Hinson, Amada Collins, Barlow Adamson, Grace Experience. Photo by Glenn Perry.
Jesse Hinson, Amanda Collins, Grace Experience, Barlow Adamson. Photo by Glenn Perry.
Amanda Collins, Jesse Hinson. Photo by Glenn Perry.
Amanda Collins, Grace Experience. Photo by Glenn Perry.

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.


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.


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

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?


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

Little Shop of Horrors Production Photos

All photos by Mark S. Howard

Lovely Hoffman, Carla Martinez, Pier Lamia Porter, Katrina Z Pavao, Dan Prior
Remo Airaldi, Katrina Z Pavao, Dan Prior
Dan Prior, Lovely Hoffman, Carla Martinez, Pier Lamia Porter
Katrina Z Pavo and Audrey II
Dan Prior, Katrina Z Pavao with Audrey II
Dan Prior, Remo Airaldi
Dan Prior, Audrey II
Katrina Z Pavao, Dan Prior
Jeff Marcus, Dan Prior, Katrina Z Pavao
Remo Airaldi, Pier Lamia Porter, Dan Prior, Lovely Hoffman

Culture Pass Program

We are happy to offer four free tickets to Lyric Stage mainstage performances through the Boston Public Library’s Museum Pass program.

“We strongly believe that art belongs to all people and we’re so pleased to be part of the BPL’s Museum Pass Program, which we hope will help provide access to live theatre for many members of the Boston community.”

Courtney O’Connor, Associate Artistic Director

Each pass must be reserved in advance online through the Boston Public Library (BPL), printed, and brought in person to the Box Office to claim your tickets 30 minutes prior to showtime.

Passes are not exchangeable, have no cash value, and must be redeemed by at least 30 minutes before the performance start or the seats may be released.

Our space is fully accessible, close to the T and multiple garages, and we have put together a handy newcomers guide to help you if this your first time visiting!

Learn more about our season and our performance dates at

About the Boston Public Library

Boston Public Library provides educational and cultural enrichment free to all for the residents of Boston, Massachusetts and beyond, through its collections, services, programs, and spaces.

Established in 1848, the Boston Public Library is a pioneer of public library service in America. It was the first large free municipal library in the United States, the first public library to lend books, the first to have a branch library, and the first to have a children’s room. As a City of Boston historic cultural institution, Boston Public Library today features a central library and twenty-five neighborhood branches, serving nearly 4 million visitors per year and millions more online. Boston Public Library is a department of the City of Boston, under the leadership of Mayor Martin J. Walsh.

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.