Spiro Veloudos loved to give people opportunities.
Whether it was the Emerson Performing Arts students he taught as an affiliated faculty member, the up-and-coming directors he hired at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, or an entire Boston theater ecosystem that he largely built and nurtured, Veloudos got enormous satisfaction from bringing people into his world, Courtney O’Connor said of Veloudos ’74, who died earlier this month at 71.
“When you were invited into that world – and it wasn’t an exclusionary world, it wasn’t a snobby world – but once you were in that world, you felt like you were part of the Boston [theatre] community,” said O’Connor, MA ’97, MFA ’20, producing artistic director at the Lyric and Emerson senior affiliated faculty member.
Veloudos studied acting at Emerson in the 1970s, but he was a director at his core, and would go on to lead the Publick Theatre, followed by the Lyric in 1998, where he would win numerous regional theatre awards and nominations.
In the late ‘90s, mid-size theaters like the Lyric tended to bring in actors from out of town, but Veloudos, who had performed himself in Boston and New York, knew he wanted to build a homegrown theatre community, and committed to hiring actors and directors and other artists from the Boston area, O’Connor said.
“And so truly, the theatre community that we have today was built by him. The fact that artists can graduate and not immediately decamp to New York or Chicago or LA, but that people would choose to stay here and say, ‘I can make a life as an artist,’ it started with him,” she said.
He also breathed new life into the Lyric’s repertoire, starting with his first musical at the Lyric, Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins (a show that is, coincidentally, playing at the Lyric again right now), featuring a dark topic and songs that “aren’t very hummable,” O’Connor said.
“That was risky, especially for an audience that was used to seeing Noel Coward and George Bernard Shaw and very classic titles,” she said. “I think that over the next 22 years or so, he was known for bringing in risky titles, challenging material,” which wouldn’t be considered especially edgy today, but helped to modernize and broaden the Boston theatre experience.
The Lyric has always had a close relationship with Emerson, thanks in large part to Veloudos, said O’Connor, who is Veloudos’ successor at the Lyric and a fellow alum, along with the Lyric’s co-founders, Polly Hogan and Ron Ritchell ’65, MSSp ’70.
Veloudos joined Emerson as a faculty member in 2004, and for the next 15 years, poured himself into teaching students, many of whom he would eventually give jobs.
“He loved Emerson and he loved working with students,” O’Connor said. “It was something he considered a part of his identity, he was really proud to be a mentor to students … Any time he could give someone from Emerson a chance, he was thrilled to be able to do so.”
O’Connor was one of the many Emersonians to whom he gave a break. About 20 years ago, as they were leaving a collective bargaining meeting, Veloudos called O’Connor over and told her, ‘Call me tomorrow, I want to talk to you.’
“I did, and we just never stopped talking. He hired me the next day for a directing job at his company.”
Make no mistake, Veloudos could be complicated and tough, O’Connor said, and he tended to “wear his emotions on his sleeve,” for good and bad.
“But his complexity was a part of who he was. The challenges of spirit were a part of his passion, and of what made him such a fierce person and so firm in his beliefs,” she said.
Veloudos’ passing will leave a large void in the Boston theatre community, said Performing Arts Co-Chair Amelia Broome.
“He was a titan with a giant heart, and it is hard to imagine Boston theatre without him. We are the strong community that exists now because of Spiro Veloudos.”