Courtney O’Connor has been named artistic director of Lyric Stage Company of Boston, the latest in a wave of leadership changes at Boston-area theaters that has enlarged the presence of women and people of color in top positions.
“I am beyond thrilled,’’ O’Connor, 47, said of her appointment in an interview with the Globe. “The Lyric has always been a theater that I’ve had so much respect for: the company, the people, the work they have done. To now be in that position is a dream come true.’’
Previously the company’s associate artistic director, O’Connor had been serving as acting artistic director since Spiro Veloudos stepped down last year after 21 years. She is wasting no time in putting her own stamp on one of the city’s most established theater companies: In the 2020-2021 season, all seven productions at Lyric Stage will be directed by women.
The charismatic Veloudos managed to maintain Lyric Stage’s niche on the cultural map in an increasingly crowded theater environment — a task that will now be shouldered by O’Connor in tandem with executive director Matt Chapuran. When it came to choosing a new leader for the 244-seat theater on Clarendon Street, Chapuran said, “Courtney was my first and last choice.’’
“Courtney has such a love for the Boston theater community,’’ he added. “She’s such a collaborative and joyful person, and she is so smart. There was no really no doubt in my mind that the partnership she and I could put together would be exciting and rewarding and just a lot of fun.’’
A highly regarded director, O’Connor has helmed numerous shows at Lyric Stage, including “Buyer & Cellar,’’ “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins,’’ and the theater’s current production, “The Cake.’’ Her work with Veloudos as associate director on Lyric Stage’s 2010 production of “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Parts I and II’’ won her an Elliot Norton Award from the Boston Theater Critics Association.
While planning to stick with the theater’s modus operandi of two musicals and five plays each season, O’Connor said she hopes to stage more premieres and more works by Boston playwrights, to “better position Boston as a place that can export plays around the country as opposed to just importing.’’
Pledging to continue Veloudos’s commitment to racially inclusive casting, she said she wants to deepen Lyric Stage’s partnership with The Front Porch Arts Collective, a Black theater company, and increase the number of women and people of color in offstage roles like director, designer, and stage manager. “We really need to be so conscious of what are the voices we have on our stage, and we need to be thinking carefully about representation,’’ said O’Connor.
Other institutions appear to be doing the same: The picture of theater leadership has grown more diverse in the last few years as white male artistic directors have stepped down.
Michael J. Bobbitt is midway through his inaugural season as the first Black leader of Watertown’s New Repertory Theatre. Next month Courtney Sale will take over as the first female artistic director of Lowell’s Merrimack Repertory Theater. In 2017, Christopher V. Edwards, who is of mixed race and identifies as a person of color, became artistic director of Actors’ Shakespeare Project. David C. Howse, who is Black, is executive director of ArtsEmerson, an organization whose management team he joined in 2015.
O’Connor’s appointment expands the ranks of female artistic directors in the Boston area, which includes such veteran figures as Diane Paulus of the American Repertory Theater, Debra Wise of Underground Railway Theater, and Lee Mikeska Gardner of the Nora Theatre Company.