BY R. J. DONOVAN
SPECIAL TO THE BIR
Where do tomorrow’s actors, directors, and theater professionals come from? Many teenage theater students start in programs such as that of Lyric First Stage.
Lyric First Stage is a unique, five-week summer program operated by Lyric Stage Company of Boston for 25 young artists, ages 14 to 20. The program creates an environment where a company of enthusiastic teens, working alongside professional mentors, can explore and refine their confidence and artistry. Participants generally come from local communities. However, past seasons have included young people from as far away as Israel and Mexico.
The intensive program involves workshops, rehearsals, and behind-the- scenes exploration. It culminates with the participants stepping into the spotlight (August 7-11) to present two plays, a Shakespearean classic and a musical, in repertory at Lyric Stage Company.
This year’s productions are Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” and the musical farce “Lucky Stiff” from Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, who also wrote “Seussical,” “Once On This Island” and “Ragtime.”
Now in its ninth season, the program is led by actor, director, and educator Peter A. Carey. No stranger to Boston audiences himself, Peter has directed productions from The Publick Theatre to New England Light Opera and appeared from New Rep to North Shore Music Theatre. At Lyric, he’s appeared in shows ranging from “Follies” to “Big River,” “Lisbon Traviata” and “Arms and the Man.”
Two Lyric productions have been particularly close to his heart. He played Newman Noggs in Lyric’s award-winning production of “The Life and Adventures Of Nicholas Nickleby.” And he received raves plus an IRNE Award for his portrayal of John Adams in “1776.” His performance as Adams was so indelible that it led to his being offered the opportunity to repeat the role in The Goodspeed Opera House production, garnering him The Connecticut Reviewers’ Award for “Outstanding Actor in a Musical.”
Sufficient to say, Peter knows his way around the footlights. The Boston native grew up in Randolph and describes himself as a quiet kid. It was in high school that he took to the stage, encouraged by the school’s drama director, Don Nelson.
“I was in the chorus,” he remembered, “and someone said they’re auditioning for the musical. A good friend on the street was going to audition . . . I went and I was very, very nervous about performing live in front of anybody. It was one of those stereotypical dreams. In lieu of embarrassing myself, maybe I might have overacted. But to hear the audience laugh when you did something, or applaud – it was very, very exciting.”
He wound up doing four shows a year in high school, including what was then called The Boston Globe Drama Festival.
Of his childhood years, he also remembers his father keeping the family busy. “My Dad would say ‘Let’s do something on the weekend,’ often for free. ‘Let’s walk around Castle Island. Let’s hop the boat and go to Georges Island. Let’s go down to Marshfield, to Green Harbor, and watch the boats come in.’”
Many years later, Peter sees First Stage having a similar function. “I don’t want kids sitting at home during the summer,” he said. “Ten weeks sitting at home, we’re all asking for trouble. There’s way too much time, boredom, and what not. As well, this is a remarkably good experience.”
Some kids are draw to the program purely for the fun of it. Others have a more serious objective. Either way, Peter says the program offers valuable real world experience and benefits.
“I say to the parents, ‘Many of your kids are not going to go into this business, but I guarantee them self confidence and pride in their work. That is something I can give you . . . I can give you remarkably different kids at the end of the five weeks. . . . When they become teachers, or lawyers or managers of a store, they can apply some of this text or some of the lessons learned in group building and the way things have to happen as an ensemble.’ “
Lyric First Stage grew out of what was originally Project Shakespeare, a summer educational program created by Deborah Thurber as part of her master’s studies. She invited Peter onboard to direct one of their two Shakespearean productions. When she relocated to New Hampshire, she turned the reins over to Peter who, in turn, had a conversation with Spiro Veloudos, Lyric’s Producing Artistic Director, about basing a new program at Lyric.
The concept for Lyric First Stage was reconfigured slightly to have the students produce one musical theater piece and one Shakespearean piece. In August, the students display the fruits of their labor on a fairly tight schedule. Peter said, “The kids open on Wednesday night with Shakespeare. Thursday night they do the musical. And Friday they do Shakespeare (again). Saturday is my favorite day because the kids are either worth their salt or they’re not. They do each – Shakespeare in the afternoon and the musical at night. Its real repertory.”
Interestingly, entry into the program is not based on auditions. Peter feels that process favors the more competitive kids, which is not necessarily what the program is about.
“There are those kids who are not sure of who they are or what they do,” he said. “And they walk in the door as one kid on day one and they leave a remarkably different kid five weeks later . . . It’s those quiet kids that come in and they’re like, ‘Wow.’ They discover a sense of identity . . . If we were to do an audition process, they wouldn’t make it. You don’t hear them initially.”
In terms of his own roots, Peter has a growing interest in learning more about his heritage – a topic that was rarely discussed growing up. He also wishes he could locate a certain phone number that’s been lost. “Just before my Dad passed, he got a call from someone who identified herself as a cousin, said she was from South Boston and said, ‘Did you know that your father, John Carey, was one of eight or nine kids?’ My father didn’t know that – his Dad, my grandfather, never really talked much about his family.”
With a smile, he acknowledges that a certain generation of immigrants were unwilling to discuss personal history. “As my grandmother (who was a Lally) would say, ‘It’s none of your damned business.’” So if you happen to be that long lost caller, Peter would love to hear from you.
In the meantime, rehearsals continue and Peter’s company of young artists are eager to perform for you in August.
R. J. Donovan is Editor and Publisher of wonstageboston.com.
Lyric First Stage, at Lyric Stage Company, 140 Clarendon Street in Boston; presenting “Twelfth Night” and “Lucky Stiff” in repertory, August 7 - 11. Tickets: 617-585-5678 or via lyricstage.com.