In the days leading up to the opening of the 2016 Outside the Box Festival, I sat down with artistic director and Nicholas Sparks enthusiast Georgia Lyman. Over a delicious lunch at Trident Booksellers on Newbury Street, we discussed just what goes into producing an arts festival, my favorite 1930s screwball comedy, and whiskys with umbrellas in them.
Kyle Thomas Hemingway Dickinson: So, your family is basically the Barrymores of Boston...
Georgia Lyman: [Laughs] That’s a hell of an opening!
KTHD: Have you ever acted with your dad [high-wattage superstar Will Lyman]?
GL: Not. Once. We’ve done some readings together but that’s it, no one will cast us! No one will cast me as my father’s daughter! Apparently we’re not believable as a family!
KTHD: Is it true he’s the voice of the Dos Equis guy?
GL: He is! My father is the voice of the Most Interesting Man in the World.
KTHD: So, you’ve been around for a hot minute or two, and you’ve done everything, it seems. Producing, acting, directing... What do you think is the coolest thing you’ve ever done?
KTHD: I’m not afraid to just lead in with the tough questions here.
GL: This, the festival [Outside the Box], is absolutely the coolest thing I’ve ever done. It has the chance to be a real game changer. I think that producing one show at a time or acting in one thing at a time is selfish, in a way. It’s an outward experience, you’re putting something on for other people, but it’s very much still you involved in it. Presenting and putting together this huge event—I’m sure it can look from the outside like a selfish project—but for me, I get to call 900 artists and say “I’d like to pay you to perform in front of thousands of people.” There’s nothing quite like that feeling.
KTHD: You started as Associate Curator of Outside the Box and now you’ve become full-blown Artistic Director. How’d that journey happen?
GL: Originally, I was hired by Sherrie Johnson, who’s based in Toronto, and she’s a huge presenter and producer. I was introduced to Ted Cutler at a Commonwealth Shakespeare Company event and at the time I was kicking around the idea of doing a fringe festival in Boston. I mentioned it to Ted and he said “I’m already doing it! Call my office!” Direct quote.
So I did, I called his office and was put in touch with Sherrie and we had breakfast and she said “You’re coming with me!” She brought me on as associate curator, which was sort of like having the top of my head taken off. I’ve been producing at a fringe level, and all of a sudden my days are like “Let’s go have breakfast with Mikko Nissinen of the Boston Ballet.” Okay! But it was also about learning what it takes to put something of this magnitude together, it’s a completely different world and I love it.
Sherrie and I actually resigned from the first festival because we had some management differences. Ted invited me back last year because I think he really wanted to get back to the roots of this being a celebration of local artists. We streamlined it and honed it a little with the same tech crew, the same operationss crew, a new management team, and I figured “I guess I can do this,” and here we are in my second year as Artistic Director.
KTHD: What are the things you’re most jazzed about bringing in this year?
GL: We have co-presenters that help with our evening mainstage headliners, with lots of thematic evenings. I’m really pleased with my own curation of Sunday which has an international flavor. It was an important goal to get diverse, international flavors and to really represent the City of Boston. I feel great with the lineup, we start with a local band called Kina Zoré, then the Mexican Consulate is helping me present Mane de la Parra who I had never heard of but I’ve been listening to his Spotify nonstop, then Red Baraat who’s been described as “the ultimate party band,” and we close out with Zap Mama who’s in a stage in her career where she isn’t performing a lot of big shows anymore so this is a great opportunity to see what she does!
We’ve got Lea Delaria coming…
KTHD: I’m so excited!
GL: She’s doing House of David: Bowie + Delaria = Jazz. A jazz David Bowie tribute.
KTHD: I fell in love with her as a singer a long time ago, and she’s been a staple in the theater world forever. It’s so wonderful to see her on Orange is the New Black and to see the rest of the world sort of catching up to what we’ve known about her for years
GL: I think this is what I’m so excited about because I get to be like “No! Guys! She’s a jazz singer!”
KTHD: She's a super jazz singer! Exactly!
GL: This was also the first time I was able to do an interdisciplinary open call. I set up panels of professionals and supporters in music, dance, and theater to help me jury the process, because I’m one person, and I don’t want to just put the people I know up on stage. It's not just my friends in the festival, I don't want to do that. We had almost 300 applications and about 50 slots, and we found a way to get a whole bunch of them in, and it was really cool to dig in with them. We got some really incredible stuff. Valerie Stephens is doing a Nina Simone tribute. The Poets’ Theatre is coming. A former classmate of mine is doing a staged reading of a new play he’s writing.
KTHD: I’m dizzy listening to you talk about all of this and I’m not even living it.
GL: That’s just some of the pieces that I have. There’s so much happening.
KTHD: So I’ve invented a game for us to play today. It’s just for you and I, and this is likely the only time it will ever be played. It’s called: Outside The Box, Inside Georgia’s Purse. I have a series of three questions to ask you about the contents of your purse, starting with what is the most surprising thing currently in your purse?
GL: A Nicholas Sparks book.
GL: The only one I’ve ever read!
KTHD: What is the thing inside your purse that you cannot live without?
GL: My phone, because it has all my credit cards, my ID, business cards, a $5 bill, and my Charlie Card. I literally can’t live without this.
KTHD: You’d be deported if you lost that.
GL: Probably! They’ll come and get me!
KTHD: And finally, what inside your purse would be the most helpful to you on a desert island?
GL: A Nicholas Sparks book? [Laughs]
KTHD: Next, I’m going to ask you about something selfishly but I’m going to assume my readers want to know about it. You were once in my favorite play that has ever existed ever, I’ll give you three guesses as to which one it is, with the most amazing embarrassment of riches cavalcade of Boston actresses at SpeakEasy Stage Company…
GL: [Interrupting with a big smile] I assume you’re talking about The Women?
KTHD: YES! Can you please tell me about this magical experience? I didn’t see it and that remains in my list of most regrettable decisions ever.
GL: Okay, so here’s the deal with that. Scott Edminston directed a cast of 19 local actresses...
KTHD: And not just actresses...
GL: Oh it was everybody. Maureen Keiller. Aimee Doherty. Kerry [Dowling]. Nancy [Carroll]. Liz Hayes. Anne Gottlieb. Everybody.
I had just moved back to Boston, and I was trying to get back into theater. It had been about five years since I had done a show. I went in and auditioned, and I got this part [Crystal Allen] with literally the best one-liners that are ever spoken on the stage.
KTHD: And I had no idea that was sort of your introduction to the Boston theater scene!
GL: It was! Being in that cast was like going to grad school. I learned about honesty from Anne Gottlieb. I learned about comedy from Kerry Dowling. I learned about deadpan from Nancy Carroll—nothing about her face changes and the audience dies laughing. And Maureen Keiller was just the best scene partner, it was so much fun trying to outdo each other every night. It was like nine weeks of grad school, and that’s all I needed.
KTHD: We’re just three questions away from the end of our time together, and I promise that none of them have to do with your purse! Other than what we’ve discussed, what is one thing most people don’t know about you?
GL: That I want people to know about me? I played piano for 20 years and I was a varsity fencer in high school.
KTHD: Outside of everything you’ve been adjudicating for the festival, what’s the last really cool #bosarts thing you experienced?
GL: Anything from a gallery show in JP to a Ruby Rose Fox show and some crazy solo dance performances at the Dance for World Community Festival last month. I’ve been sitting in my ops meetings for Outside the Box [on Newbury Street] and there are these buskers that set up right over here and serenade us through our meetings, and every week someone says “You’ve gotta hire them!”
KTHD: That must make meetings much more bearable.
GL: It does!
KTHD: And finally, and possibly most importantly, what is your favorite cocktail?
GL: It varies, it cycles. For the last six months I’ve been on Manhattans, but lately I’m definitely diving into rum. The warm weather makes me want to drink rum, just because I feel like I should be on a beach somewhere, and that helps with that because I’m not. I also go for super girly things like Mai Tais, anything with an umbrella in it.
KTHD: There is nothing girly about a Mai Tai. That’s a strong fucking drink.
GL: I know but it’s colorful and it’s pretty. I’m not talking wine coolers and shit. I’m Irish, so…
KTHD: So it’s just straight whisky.
KTHD: I mean, you could put an umbrella in a whisky, too…
GL: You can, but that’s an insult to the whisky. The whisky doesn’t care what the weather is.
This interview has been edited and condensed.