PRODUCER MEREDITH LUCIO knows the exact moment she became destined for a theatrical career. Lucio was 6 or 7 years old when her family embarked on a road trip from her native Texas to visit relatives in California, taking a detour to Knott’s Berry Farm. “We saw a show in an outdoor amphitheater, and it looked to me like there were thousands of people there. It was some rock ‘n’ roll medley. I remember so specifically there were three girls in these gorgeous, long, pink sequin dresses, and they had on tons of makeup, big eyelashes, and big, beautiful Afros. They came out and sang all the girl-band stuff, the jukebox ‘doo-wop’ songs. Of course, I didn’t know what that was at the time, but I remember liking the music.

“They started coming into the audience and putting the mic in front of people to sing the ‘oohs’ at a certain part of the song, and one of the girls came up to me. It felt like I lived a life in the space of those few seconds. The mic was in front of me. She didn’t know if I was going to do it. I didn’t know if I was going to do it. Finally, I put my lips to the microphone, I sang ‘ooh,’ and it was like I’d been indoctrinated into the club. I’d pulled the sword out of the stone, basically.”

Broadway producer Meredith Lucio at the 2019 EdTA National Conference.

Broadway producer Meredith Lucio at the 2019 EdTA National Conference. Photo by Susan Doremus.

Fast forward to 2012, and Lucio earned what many would consider a career pinnacle: a Tony Award as co-producer of the revival of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, her Broadway debut. Seven years later, she’s both the producing director of The Assembly and back on Broadway producing The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical, running at the Longacre Theatre through January 5, 2020. The show is based on a popular young adult book series that follows the adventures of a teen struggling with the discovery that he’s the son of the Greek god Poseidon.

The Lighting Thief originated as a one-hour Theatre for Young Audiences performance at New York’s TheaterWorksUSA before being expanded to two acts to tour the U.S. “I was not in on the decision to do the national tour, but as soon as that came out — and that was really the first thing I could be part of as a producer — I jumped on it because I love the show,” Lucio said. “I love its messaging; I love what it gives families. And as a single adult, I found the show’s message resonated with me too: ‘The things that make you different make you strong.’ That’s so true and powerful, and a lot of kids could stand hearing that from a demigod … or from a demigod’s mom.”

Do you have favorite memories from your time as a Thespian in Richland High School’s Troupe 893?
I look on the work I did in high school as some of the best work I’ve done. In Texas, we have the University Interscholastic League One-Act Play Contest. You basically do a 45-minute show, and there are different levels. At least in my day, we went to zone, district, area, region, and state. The last eight shows from all over the state perform at the University of Texas. Any time we got to do the play contest was special because it was such a cohesive experience for those of us involved. We also got to travel and meet Thespians from other schools. Good friends of mine from college were in sister schools in high school, so they’re people I still rely on for my creative cabinet to this day. We also did a production of The Diviners that was just extraordinary. My family still talks about The Diviners.

I played the crazy innkeeper when we went to the state Thespian festival with Tom Jones, so that was fun. I also planned the spring banquet as the secretary of my Thespian club. So yeah, I have very fond memories of my high school experience.

After college, you moved to New York to pursue performing. When and how did you make the switch to producing?
I joke that I did one bad play too many. What frustrated me as an actress was that you often don’t know if you’re in work that inspires you until after you get the job. I realized that the one way to decide what story you’re telling is to be the producer. The Commercial Theater Institute has wonderful classes about the logistics of producing, particularly from a Broadway perspective. Then, I started taking other classes from a company called Theater Resources Unlimited, reading some books, and dipping my toe into the world of producing showcases in New York.

It wasn’t long before I realized I was always a producer. I was the kid who would say to the neighborhood kids, “OK, bring your parents over on Tuesday night at 7. These are the songs we’re doing. Now, let’s rehearse.” But something got lost.

When I was going to school, there weren’t as many opportunities for students to take initiative to produce their own work. When I got to New York, I discovered that most artists are their own first producers. The way to get someone like me as a commercial producer to back you is to give me a chance to see your work. I mean, yes, I can read it, but there’s nothing as powerful as seeing something. That means the work needs to get onstage, and many times that is done by the artists themselves.

In educational theatre, not everybody can be the lead. There are issues of funding, time, and capabilities. So, if a 16-year-old really wants to try something creatively, they should try it. Try it in their garage or their basement or their black box theatre. Don’t let however many shows you get in your school production season keep you from doing something you really want to do. There’s infrastructure in place. All you have to do is ask.

You made your Broadway debut as a producer with Porgy and Bess. How do you find projects, or how do projects find you?
I had done some Off-Broadway work, and I knew I needed to do something on Broadway in terms of my career trajectory. And it’s funny because, the partner who got me into Porgy and Bess, he’d asked me four weeks before, and I had passed on the show. He called me again, and I guess I heard the pitch in a different way, and I thought, “This is something that can be done.” The business of the show was in good shape for me as a businessperson to say yes. Also, I have such a strong relationship with Gershwin’s music. I’d done a choral tour in college where we went to Russia to sing on these major historical stages, and we did selections from Porgy and Bess. In the play St. Joan, which I produced later Off-Broadway, Joan talks about how the voices in her head are like bells, and it’s kind of like that. It’s like a bell rings, a switch flips, and I think, “Yes, this is the project for me.”

I saw The Lightning Thief in its last performance at the Lortel Theatre in 2017 and fell in love with the show. So, I chased The Lightning Thief, whereas I feel like Porgy and Bess came to me. With The Lightning Thief, I immediately understood its potential and its relevance, both commercially and artistically.

So, it’s different for every show. I will say, there are people I trust who have great taste. When they say, “You should check out this show. I think you might like it,” I will always listen because they’ve steered me well in the past.

Can you explain what being a Broadway producer means on a day-to-day basis?
There really is no such thing as a typical day. There are creative producers who develop shows. There are lead producers who are sort of captains of the Broadway ship, which means they are the ultimate decision-makers. Then there are co-producers who, depending on the show, have advisory capabilities. As producers, we can certainly take initiative to help solve issues or do what we can to make the show more successful.

But the one thing that is true at every level, no matter what kind of producer you are, is that you are expected to raise money. I try only to get involved in projects where I can have a voice in the room. That’s important to me because I feel I have a fiduciary responsibility to the people who invest with me to be aware and speak up if I have an idea or see a potential pitfall. But not all Broadway shows are collaborative like that with producers. You can be a producer on Broadway and only raise money. The Lightning Thief happens to have a very collaborative, dynamic group of producers who are all working together with our different teams — our management team, press team, digital media team, and our lead producers — to bring this show to as many people as possible.

What advice would you give Thespians interested in pursuing a career like yours?
I would say — and this is true for anybody pursuing a dream, but particularly in the arts — be curious and follow that curiosity. Going back to that mantra “The things that make you different make you strong,” well, the things that make you different also make you interesting and make you uniquely valuable in any collaborative work. So, if you’re interested in science, don’t cut yourself off from that because you feel you must dedicate yourself to musical theatre. It’s those things that interest you outside of theatre that feed and inspire your creative soul. Part of the nature of being an artist is seeing the world around you and elevating and amplifying that world for people who aren’t artists. That means we must engage in the world as much as possible. The best artists are the ones with a lot of curiosity.

Also, if I were a demigod, my superpower would be to ensure all arts majors have some business component in their degree plans. Artists are independent businesspeople. And I’ve seen the fear of not knowing how to handle the business side of things get in the way for many artists. It’s not that it’s complicated or difficult; it’s just not art, so many artists find it either scary or dull. But if you pay attention to the pragmatic side, it will help you make prudent choices as you pursue your art career. As an artist, you are your own marketer, your own press, your own accountant, your own legal expert. If you want to be in the business of theatre, you should have some acclimation to theatre business.

Finally, people who are successful have two things in common. One, they were not alone. They had a mentor. They had people who believed in them. They had people who helped. Nobody achieves any measure of success by themselves. Seek out people you trust. Seek out mentors. And, likewise, be a mentor when you can. The other element all successful people have is that they’ve all failed, probably more than once. Fear of failure can get in the way of our achievements. You must expect with anything that is risky or feels scary or that you’re doing for the first time that you’re going to come up against that fear. Failure is not fun, but it is one of the best ways to learn something. Be smart, be prepared, but take the leap. Invest in yourself, then let the chips fall where they may. Even if you fail, it’s a win because you likely will have learned something valuable.

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