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The Lyric Stage Company of Boston Announces the Third Generation of Leadership

Courtney O’Connor, Artistic Director and Matt Chapuran, Executive Director

Ron Ritchell and Polly Hogan, Founders (1974), Artistic Directors (1974-1997)

Spiro Veloudos, Producing Artistic Director (1998-2019)

The Lyric Stage Company of Boston announced today that Courtney O’Connor has been named as the third Artistic Director of the Lyric Stage Company of Boston.   Matt Chapuran continues on as Executive Director, a position he attained in August, 2019.

Matt Chapuran and Courtney O’Connor both came of age in the Boston theatre community at the same time as the Lyric Stage and they have a rich history with the company. In the 1990s, Matt performed at the Lyric Stage as part of the US Improv Theatre League, and he was an intern for Lyric Stage’s Teen Neighborhood Theatre during the tenure of Ron Ritchell and Polly Hogan. Courtney was given some of her first directorial opportunities by Spiro Veloudos, including acting as Associate Director on the award-winning production of Nicholas Nickleby, Parts 1&2, and directing numerous productions herself including the recent The Cake.

Goals to be expanded upon by the new leadership:

  • Building on the intimacy, variety, and excellence that Lyric Stage audiences have come to expect.  
  • Leading the way in creating an inclusive, diverse, multi-generational, open atmosphere
  • Continuing to create a space for actors to pursue careers in Boston, and expanding that opportunity to other artists who work behind the scenes.  
  • Creating a program through which seasoned design professionals mentor new designers.  
  • Growing the Lyric Stage’s commitment to representation for women and people of color on-stage and behind the scenes (designers, stage management).   
  • Entering into the world of new play development, and actively exporting Boston’s theatrical voices nationally. 
  • Continuing partnerships with The Front Porch Arts Collective, Fresh Ink Theatre, Pao Arts Center 
  • Committing more resources to City Stage (now under the auspices of the Lyric Stage) and its educational programming, bringing live theatre to more schools and classrooms in the city of Boston and continuing the rich program at the Children’s Museum.

Courtney and Matt say that Season 2020-21, their first curated season, will be joyous, relevant, open. Seven productions – two large musicals and five plays – will all be directed by women. The inherent intimacy of the Lyric Stage’s 240-seat venue demands that the audience enter into a relationship with characters.  So, the stories that the Lyric Stage likes to tell are character-driven, intense, layered, complex human stories from many points of view – stories that come from the heart. The 2020-21 season will be announced in late February.

Members of the Lyric Stage community weighed in on this important announcement:

Jo-An Heileman, President of the Lyric Stage Board of Directors

“The Lyric Stage board and I are thrilled that the third generation of leadership for the Lyric Stage is now in place.   Matt and Courtney come to us with new ideas, new energy, and a sense of tradition and renewal in equal parts.   We look forward to their first curated season, which should be announced in a little over a month.

Dawn M. Simmons Co-Founder of The Front Porch Arts Collective

“It has been my great honor to work with the team at Lyric Stage Company over the last decade.  The Lyric Stage has been an artistic home, giving me my first professional show and championing my work.  The partnership with The Front Porch has been a model for collaboration and the future of theater in Boston.  Our co-production “Breath and Imagination” was the inaugural production for The Front Porch Arts Collective and set the tone for the quality of work we want to produce and the opportunities we want to open to Boston’s theatre makers of color. We are so excited for the future of the Lyric Stage with Courtney shaping the artistic vision of this influential institution. 

Pam Eddinger, President of Bunker Hill Community College:  

“From its inclusive casting to play choices that reflect a multiplicity of voices, the Lyric Stage has been a leading cultural institution. I expect those commitments to only deepen under Matt and Courtney’s leadership. Just as Bunker Hill is a home for local students, the Lyric Stage is a home for local artists.  Buckle up for thought-provoking, sometimes uncomfortable, but always timely rides!”

Bios:

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.

Courtney O’Connor is the Artistic Director of the Lyric Stage and a senior affiliated faculty member in performing arts at Emerson College. She has directed with several theatres in the Boston area, including the Lyric Stage, Plays in Place, The Nora Theatre, UBU Theater, The Bostonian Society, AIM Stage, Coyote Theatre, Emerson Stage, UMass Boston, Suffolk University, Brandeis University, and Commonwealth Shakespeare Company (intern company). Lyric Stage productions she has directed include The Cake, Buyer & Cellar, Stage Kiss, Red Hot Patriot, Stones in His Pockets, and The Miracle Worker. Courtney received the Elliot Norton award for her work as the Associate Director on the Lyric Stage’s production of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby and the Alan L. Stanzler Award for Excellence in Teaching. She received her B.A. from Cabrini University and her M.A. from Emerson College. courtneyoc.com

Ted Hewlett on Intimacy Direction

The Cake is the first production at the Lyric Stage to enlist an intimacy director. Intimacy directing is a new role to the entertainment industry and has become more prominent as productions seek to create a safe and comfortable environment for actors during vulnerable moments. We sat down with Ted Hewlett to discuss this emerging role and the significance of an intimacy director in the artistic process.

Can you describe the role of an intimacy director and its importance in theatrical productions?

Intimacy direction is a three-pronged approach and job description. First, we are advocates for actors in what is shown or revealed about their body, or how their body is interacting with other bodies. We want them to be able to approach their work with enthusiastic consent so that they can feel confident about what they’re doing. If there is not enthusiastic consent, we find another way to tell the story. There are dozens or hundreds of different ways to tell that story. The second part of our job is to set up protocols for a particular production, the theatre company itself, or an academic department with student actors, so that the performers are in an inclusive consent-based workspace and that other actors, directors, and producers use language that is not demeaning or othering. The third part is that we help to craft the moments of what the actual choreography is in order to tell the story as authentically and as deeply as we can. Just like a fight scene, intimate scenes that involve sexual touch need to be choreographed so that the performers know what to expect and not be surprised by changes from performance to performance.

What interested you in becoming an intimacy director?

It’s kind of amazing to me that in my lifetime of professional work, this position is such a recent idea to everybody, including me. As a professional fight director, I’ve long been called in to stage scenes of sexual assault because of the combative nature of the narrative. And sometimes I’d be asked to help with a moment of physical safety, such as when two actors who are kissing need to safely fall off the sofa and not bang into the coffee table, for example. But for far too long it has mostly been assumed that if the action between the characters is consensual, it must also be consensual between the actors simply because that’s what actors are expected to do— it’s in their job description. But those clearly aren’t the same things. And sometimes liberties can be taken or steps missed due to a lack of communication and a culture that thought it is in an actor’s lot to simply endure, to suffer for their art. A few folks (like Tonia Sina, Alicia Rodis, and Siobhan Richardson, who are the co-founders of Intimacy Directors International, the leading industry group) had been advocating for change, but weren’t getting much traction. Then in 2017 with the worldwide recognition of the #MeToo movement following Harvey Weinstein, the theatre and film industries suddenly started to pay attention. The national and international conversation about sexual harassment and consent in the workplace has put intimacy direction more at the forefront.

It seems like such a necessary role, why do you think it took so long for it to be at the forefront of theatre-making?

Traditionally, actors are at the low end of the scale as far as power dynamics. I think in many cases, it’s just simply not brought up, not through malice or ill-will, but through a lack of education or an understandable awkwardness that can arise during discussions of simulated sex and nudity. Sometimes actors are damaged in that process or are exacerbating trauma that they’ve already experienced. Intimacy directing is expanding our ideas of what is acceptable, what is healthy, what is required for the profession—we can treat people like people and not just like props.

It’s great that as a society, we are moving in a direction where that’s becoming more of a concern now.

In the past, we trained actors from the beginning that they’re not allowed to say “no,” that the only acceptable answer is “yes.” But if you look at the changes in society and education, even in preschools now, there is more talk about the fact that not everywhere on someone’s body is okay to touch—that you actually have to ask. Or that it’s not a healthy idea to force kids to kiss a seldom-seen relative, for example—it’s a confusing message to send that we only have agency over our own bodies sometimes, but that at other times it’s perfectly normal to be forced to do something that falls into the large spectrum of what could be considered intimate touch. The more that happens in young people’s lives, I think, the more that that will happen by the time people in middle school or high school are being introduced to the theatre.

What is your intimacy directing process like?

Ideally, I would have a script so that I can read it, and have conversations with whomever the creators are—whether that’d be the director or if there’s a living playwright that we are in collaboration with—so we can come up with at least some of what we’re thinking ahead of time. That way we can include known moments in the casting process, being upfront and clear with the actors so that they can make informed decisions about whether to accept the role. Of course, theatre and film are two of the most collaborative disciplines there are, so there will definitely be changes and discoveries throughout the process; but even then it’s not a one-sided conversation, and the actor’s voice needs to be included and considered. Since I’m sometimes brought on after casting has already happened, I usually want to be at the first rehearsal to be able to introduce myself and to have conversations with actors, hearing any questions or concerns they have from reading the material, and taking that back to the director, the costume designer, the stage manager, and whatever other personnel needs to know that information. I usually lead exercises early in the process, introducing some of the new protocols that largely haven’t been articulated in rehearsal rooms, whether that’s in an actor-training program or a professional production. But someday this won’t be so necessary as more directors, stage managers, and actors will have worked with an intimacy director before, and there is a widespread understanding and acceptance of working with consent. For example, I don’t need to do any of that as a Fight Director, because people are used to a specialist being brought in to choreograph fisticuffs or swordplay in order to keep people safe. Right now, we’re still introducing this shift regarding Intimacy Direction, but it’s encouraging because it’s changing so rapidly, and I hope it won’t be long before there’s less of a need to start from ground zero, and that more personnel already know what to expect.

Karen's Carrot Cake

Currently playing at the Lyric Stage until February 9, The Cake by Bekah Brunstetter centers around Della, a Southern baker who values her traditional roots, as she is faced with the task of baking a wedding cake for her deceased best friend’s daughter and her soon-to-be wife. What is The Cake without the obvious? Our own Karen MacDonald, who plays Della, is also a talented baker and shared her special carrot cake recipe with us!

INGREDIENTS:

For the cake-

  • 2 ½ cups of flour
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of dark or light brown sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon of nutmeg
  • 1 cup of vegetable oil
  • 1 stick of melted butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla
  • 2 cups of grated carrots (4 large carrots)

For the cream cheese frosting-

  • 1 stick of unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces of cream cheese
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon of salt
  • 4 cups of powdered sugar

TO MAKE THE CAKE:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, ground cinnamon, and nutmeg, stirring all ingredients together by hand.
  2. Add your vegetable oil and melted butter to the bowl, using a hand mixer to combine all of the ingredients together.
  3. Add one egg at a time to the mixture. Pour in one tablespoon of vanilla, and mix well.
  4. Take your grated carrots and add them to the mixture, using a spatula to mix all of the ingredients.
  5. Grease two 8-inch pans and flour the sides. Line the pans with parchment paper on the bottom, then fill the two pans with the mixture. Bake for 40 minutes. After removing both pans from the oven, let the cakes cool for 15 minutes.

TO MAKE THE FROSTING:

  1. In a stand mixer, beat the unsalted butter and cream cheese, making sure both ingredients are at room temperature.
  2. Add vanilla and salt to the mixture. Afterwards, add the powdered sugar gradually.

TO ASSEMBLE THE CAKE:

  1. Level the tops of each cake with a knife or cake leveler. Top one of the cakes with frosting and smooth it down into an even layer. Place the other cake on top and frost the top and sides of the cake.
  2. For an extra sprinkle of pizzazz, do crumb coating on the frosted cake. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.
  3. Do a final frost and decorate the cake as you wish. Slice up and enjoy!

Catch more scrumptious-looking pastries and see Karen MacDonald as Della in Lyric Stage’s production of The Cake, running through February 9.

Photo: Cake design by Lauren Corcuera

A model of Noah's Ark and animals rest atop the Noah's Ark cake

Our Props Take The Cake!

Two cakes sit on a counter, one withed flower icing and the other a chocolate cake. A bag of flour is in the background.

The Cake, a fresh and delicious play by Bekah Brunstetter, is now playing at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston through February 9th. Traditional Southern baker Della must confront her own strongly-held beliefs when asked to bake a wedding cake for her deceased best friend’s daughter Jen and her future wife, Macy. Humor and empathy are the icing on top of this heartfelt comedy.

A pink cake with small flowers piped along the top. In the background is a carrot cake sitting atop a cake stand.

What would The Cake be without the titular treat? Props Artisan Lauren Corcuera designed and created the scrumptious-looking cakes for the play’s run, as well as other pastries that appear onstage. “I made twelve fake cakes including the one Della decorates at the top of the show, the red velvet she builds, and the ‘lumpy’ gluten/dairy/sugar-free monstrosity. I also made about 30 cupcakes, 15 chocolate drizzled buns, and about 25 madeleine cookies. That’s not even counting the real baked goods!” says Lauren.

A white cake with pink polka dot icing sits on a cake stand. In the background is a chocolate cake. In the foreground are small jars of sprinkles.

These prop cakes took much longer to create than the edible kind—a lot of them were made over the course of multiple weeks. Lauren used a mixture of lightweight spackle, white glue, and acrylic paint to frost and create piping details on the cakes. 

One of Lauren’s favorite cakes to make was the Noah’s Ark cake. With extraordinary detail placed on the hand-crafted giraffes, elephants, and other animals, the cake is a centerpiece on Della’s pastry display. Lauren told us that “the Noah’s Ark cake definitely took the longest to make. I could estimate around 6-8 hours between frosting (and re-frosting) the cake parts and sculpting, painting, and placing the animals. It went through a few iterations, but it was a very fun project.”

A Noah's Ark cake depicts a boat full of pairs of animals, including giraffes, elephants, and monkeys. In the background is a carrot cake.
The Noah’s Ark cake

When reflecting on the cake creation process, Lauren says “people have been asking if I’ve decorated cakes before or if I watched a lot of tutorials, but I really just picked up some piping tips and went for it. Looking at a few style reference images director Courtney O’Connor provided, then running from there and experimenting was incredibly freeing, fun, and a little nerve-wracking. I wasn’t sure how they’d be received before bringing them in to rehearsal, but they’ve been a big hit and all of the work on them has truly paid off!”

See these extravagant cakes and beautiful pastries in Lyric Stage’s production of The Cake, running through February 9.

A cake that is iced with a pink flower design sits atop a cake stand.

The Cake production photos

Photos by Mark S. Howard

Karen MacDonald as Della
Karen MacDonald, Chelsea Diehl, Kris Sidberry
Chelsea Diehl, Karen MacDonald
Kris Sidberry, Chelsea Diehl
Karen MacDonald, Chelsea Diehl, Kris Sidberry
Fred Sullivan, Jr., Karen MacDonald
Chelsea Diehl, Kris Sidberry.
Karen MacDonald
Chelsea Diehl, Karen MacDonald
Karen MacDonald, Fred Sullivan, Jr.
Karen MacDonald, Chelsea Diehl
Kris Sidberry, Karen MacDonald

The Theater Mirror: Theater Mirror Editors Favorite Theatrical Experiences of 2019

This post is an excerpt from The Theater Mirror.

Lillian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes”, presented by Lyric Stage. Bravo to the Lyric for taking on Lillian Hellman, who doesn’t get produced enough anymore. And what a taking on it was.  From Janie E. Howland’s set design to Gail Astrid Buckley’s costumes to the first-rate ensemble acting of this excellent cast, “The Little Foxes” was one of the more engrossing shows of 2019. High stakes and hidden motives were well played by all, but I have to give a special shoutout to Anne Gottlieb, who somehow managed to make me empathize a bit with her, despite some heinous behavior.

Lyric Stages’ “Little Shop of Horrors” – This one may not have the emotional weight of the other musical favorites on the list, but it was easily the most fun musical of the year on a mid-size stage (“Six” was a blast over at the A.R.T. too). Rachel Bertone and her creative team worked their magic again in the intimate setting of the Lyric, accentuating thecomic ingenuity of this underrated musical and making the most of its rockin’ score, much of which is delivered/augmented by the dynamite “Greek chorus” girl group featuring Crystal (Lovely Hoffman), Ronnette (Carla Martinez), and Chiffon (Pier Lamia Porter).Katrina Z Pavao killed in the role of Audrey, both comically and vocally, in what one hopes is a breakthrough role.

Lyric Stage’s “The Little Foxes” – Most years, there is at least one production of a play or musical that feels more like a theatrical achievement than simple entertainment, and in 2019 it was the Lyric Stage’s masterful staging of the Lillian Hellman classic. Superbly directed by Scott Edmiston, with a beautifully detailed set by Jane E. Howland in the intimate space of the Lyric, this portrait of a wealthy but soulless Southern family was a stunning reminder of the effect that the pursuit of money and power has on ethics and morals. The entire cast was exceptional, and nine months later I can still see and feel the horrifying demoralization experienced by Birdie, the alcoholic sister-in-law played so despairingly well by Amelia Broome. It may well have been the year’s best supporting performance – on any stage.

The Boston Globe: For new faces, a key role in 2019

This post is an excerpt of The Boston Globe’s Theater Pages.

In September, just a few months after Katrina Z Pavao received her MFA from Boston Conservatory at Berklee, she stole the show as flower-shop clerk Audrey in “Little Shop of Horrors’’ at Lyric Stage Company of Boston. The poignantly yearning quality Pavao, 25, brought to the character culminated in her heart-piercing, you-could-hear-a-pin-drop rendition of “Somewhere That’s Green.’’

WBUR The Artery: 12 Plays And Musicals That Mattered In Boston This Year

This post is an excerpt of The Artery.

The Wolves

Lyric Stage Company of Boston

The cast of Lyric Stage Company's "The Wolves." (Courtesy Mark S. Howard)
The cast of Lyric Stage Company’s “The Wolves.” (Courtesy Mark S. Howard)

This 2016 play, a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize, marked an impressive dramaturgical debut by writer Sarah DeLappe, who used her youthful experience on a girls’ soccer team to create a microcosm of female adolescence. In the playwright’s words, the work is “a portrait of teenage girls as human beings” that, in the Lyric staging, proved a stretching, kicking, jumping-jacking whole and the sum of its idiosyncratic parts. Taking the form of a series of chatty warm-ups by the titular team, neatly packed into the 90 minutes allotted a soccer match, the play features random, overlapping dialogue that pings around faster than even the most deftly propelled ball. But what is most striking about it, even if you don’t catch every word amid the shifting alliances and butt kicks, is that it takes its nine strong, budding personalities seriously even as it lays out the near-comic cacophony in their heads — fed by parents, politics, schoolwork, social media and a lifetime of shared pop-cultural references. A. Nora Long was at the helm of the fast-moving, high-prancing production set on an AstroTurf slope surrounded by protective netting. And the nine Wolves, most portrayed by recent graduates of respected actor-training programs, were convincing in both their ferocity as a huddled, howling pack and their vulnerabilities as individuals bravely groping toward adulthood.

— Carolyn Clay

The Metro West Daily News: Shows that lit up area stages this year

This post is an excerpted from The Metro West Daily News’s Best Theater of 2019

“The Little Foxes,” Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Director Scott Edmiston assembled a superb cast – including Anne Gottlieb as manipulative Southern matron Regina, Remo Airaldi as her morally bankrupt brother Ben, and Amelia Broome as her kindhearted, heartbreaking sister-in-law Birdie – for a perfectly wrought production of the 1939 Lillian Hellman classic that is destined to be talked about for years to come.

The Arts Fuse: Best Stage Productions of 2019

This post is excerpted from The Arts Fuse Theater Feature.

The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman, staged by Lyric Stage Company, Boston. Scott Edmiston directed this blemish-free production starring the sublime Anne Gottlieb as Regina Giddens, who, circa 1900, engages in psychological warfare to reclaim her share of the American dream. Hellman planned to write a trilogy about this pernicious Southern family, but completed only two entries. Her prequel, Another Part of the Forest, hasn’t been performed in Boston in years (read: decades). The Lyric Stage production of Foxes was a critical and financial success. Will someone conscript Edmiston (and cast) to stage the Hellman prequel in 2020?

Kinson Theodoris, Amelia Broome, Cheryl D. Singleton in the Lyric Stage production of The Little Foxes. Photo: Mark S. Howard.
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