City Stage, the longtime children’s educational theater program based in the South End, and the Lyric Stage Company of Boston have announced plans to merge this season. The partnership comes after the death of City Stage’s artistic director, Larry Coen, earlier this year.
“Larry was my friend and frequent collaborator as an actor and director at the Lyric,” Lyric Stage producing artistic director Spiro Veloudos said. “My interest is in preserving Larry’s legacy and seeing City Stage and the Lyric both thrive.”
City Stage, a small nonprofit that relies on grants and donations, has been operating in Boston since 1974, the same year Lyric was founded. The company has given opportunities to many young actors in its efforts to bring participatory theater productions to Boston neighborhoods, working with Boston public schools and operating KidStage, in partnership with the Boston Children’s Museum. Coen, an award-winning actor and director as well as an accomplished playwright, worked with the company for 35 years, often writing many of the scripts.
Company cofounder Susan Gassett, who retired as artistic director in 2007 but returned this year in an interim capacity, said the planned merger is the result of long-term relationships between members of City Stage and the Lyric.
“We have a unique style and technique,” Gassett said. “And it was important to us that people understand our participatory point of view. But I’ve known Spiro for ages, and Matt [Chapuran, managing director at the Lyric] was one of our actors and is a current member of our board.”
Courtney O’Connor, the Lyric’s associate artistic director, will manage the day-to-day operations of City Stage, including overseeing SpotLit (the in-school program led by Chandra Pieragostini, which begins in October), KidStage at the Children’s Museum (which runs 15- to 20-minute participatory plays in conjunction with museum themes and exhibits), and the neighborhood touring program (run by Michele Proude), which performs at community centers and other locations around the city. The company closed its administrative office in the Boston Center for the Arts earlier this year and moved to Lyric’s home at 140 Clarendon St.
“We’re excited about the opportunities this merger will provide both companies,” O’Connor said. “The Lyric has run educational programs for young actors and performances geared to younger audiences, and this is an opportunity to build on that foundation and add more performances both within our theater and beyond.”
Veloudos said he and O’Connor are reviewing scripts, thinking about the opportunity for bilingual shows, and expanding their reach to mixed audiences of kids and families. They say the merger allows them to explore the possibility of presenting an adult-themed production on the Lyric’s mainstage while children see a kid-friendly show across the lobby.
Both Gassett and Veloudos emphasized the two companies can take their time this year to make sure they are in sync. They both agreed that providing opportunities to participate in theatrical experiences can be inspiring to many young people. Some former City Stage actors who have gone on to busy professional careers in TV and film include Brian Gallivan, creator of TV’s “The McCarthys” and the Web series “Sassy Gay Friend”; Teresa Huang, writer (TV’s “Knight Rider”) and actress; and Opus Moreschi, former head writer for “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.”