[Lynn Meyers was the 2006 CEA Theater Hall of Fame inductee. This profile article originally ran in CityBeat on Aug. 23, 2006.]
The 10 years that D. Lynn Meyers has served as producing artistic director at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati (ETC) coincide exactly with the 10 years covered by the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards (CEAs), presented for 2006 in a ceremony Friday at UC's College-Conservatory of Music.
During that decade, Meyers has staged 46 regional premieres at ETC. She also helped establish the League of Cincinnati Theatres (LCT) and served in a leadership role during the league's early years.
Four times since 1996 Meyers has been called upon to step to the podium and induct someone into the CEA Hall of Fame, recognition that's linked to LCT's Award for Continuing Excellence. In 1999, she introduced Cincinnati native and Broadway regular Pam Myers; in 2002 it was veteran professional actress Dale Hodges; in 2004 she profiled Cincinnati Playhouse leaders Ed Stern and Buzz Ward; and in 2005 she introduced playwright Joe McDonough, whose writing she's championed at ETC.
All in all, it seems fitting that, for the 10th anniversary of the CEAs, Lynn Meyers herself is honoree to be inducted into the CEA Hall of Fame.
Meyers grew up on Cincinnati's West Side and didn't know much about theater. She aspired to be a writer while attending Mother of Mercy High School; the arts weren't a thread in her life.
"I grew up in a remarkable and eccentric and eclectic family," Meyers says. "Everybody had two and three jobs that they did really well. Work was a prize, not a burden. My grandfather worked at American Linen during the week, then at Findlay Market on the weekend. My grandmother went back to work and opened a kitchen when she was 70. My mom was a secretary, but then she was also a realtor. My dad was a cop, a good cop."
That foundation taught her the value of surrounding herself with dedicated people, people who possess what she calls "unbridled passion."
"I need people who want to come to work every day as much as I do," Meyers says. "If you have that desire, the rest of it happens."
She cites her lighting and scenic designer, Brian c. Mehring, another West Side product.
"He's brilliant, and he understands the gibberish of my language and turns it into something visual," she says. "There's nobody like that on the planet. I've been blessed to work with some really good designers, but he can read my mind and my heart. It's that passion I thrive on."
She laughs when she recounts how Mehring helped her learn to drive a standard transmission car two years ago.
"I couldn't get the idea of letting out the clutch and engaging the gears until he told me it was like a cross-fade," a lighting concept in which one set of lights fades while another one is brightened to reveal something new.
She describes her new technical director, Richard Sillen, who previously worked in New York City on conventions and meetings.
"He told me, 'I want to do work that matters! I can work anywhere and do good work. I want my soul in something,'" she says.
That's how Meyers conducts her artistic career - with her heart on her sleeve - and that's what she expects of those around her.
Why does Meyers continue to create theater in Cincinnati? After all, she has connections around the country from her tenure at the Cincinnati Playhouse during the 1980s. She's directed in Canada and New York City. She's abridged major novels and directed well-known actors in recordings of books-on-tape. She's been involved in casting major motion pictures such as The Shawshank Redemption and Milk Money. She knows performers and playwrights everywhere.
"I love the idea at the end of the day that the work I do adds up to making a difference," Meyers says. "I feel like Cincinnati is a town that keeps reinventing itself. If I didn't feel like the work was really challenging, I probably wouldn't be here. I'll wear the same old clothes and drive the same old car, but I don't want to do the same old thing.
"Ensemble Theatre gives me a freedom you don't find in other places. The best an artist can hope for is to continue to keep working. That's what ETC does for me."
Working - and working hard - is what Meyers is all about.
After graduating from Thomas More College in 1978, she was accepted for graduate study at Yale Drama School, but she couldn't afford to go. On the advice of a mentor, she wrote to 67 regional theaters with a note saying, "Here's a copy of my acceptance letter to Yale. I can't afford to go. Give me a job!"
She had two responses. One was from Alaska Repertory Theatre, which told her they admired her chutzpah but had nothing available. The other was from Playhouse in the Park.
"Someone once said I am 'intolerably annoying,'" Meyers admits. "I think that's how I got the job at the Playhouse."
She persuaded Artistic Director Michael Murray to hire her as his assistant. Over time she became casting director and eventually was associate artistic director when she left in 1990 to pursue new opportunities.
In 1996 ETC needed new artistic leadership. The board chair called Meyers, who had directed recent ETC productions of Lips Together, Teeth Apart and A Streetcar Named Desire. He asked her to come and help out for three weeks. Ten years later, she's still there.
"ETC caught me," Meyers confesses. "I was standing in this neighborhood where my grandfather had worked at Findlay Market - my mom, my grandmother, all these people had built this life for me. In this theater building that two loving people, Ruth Sawyer and Murph Mahler, had bought. I said to myself, 'You can't close a theater when you've got a building!'"
So Meyers is still at it. She refined ETC's mission to be "your premiere theater" and focused on bringing new works to the stage. She's built a reputation for ETC that attracts nationally known playwrights like Lee Blessing and Tony Award winner Warren Leight. ETC repeatedly has been the first theater in America to present a show after its New York City debut.
What motivates her to work in the theater?
"It's a way to begin again and re-create your life," she says. "With every show, with every production, with every moment that you get to create onstage, you get another chance. Theater is about maybe creating life the way it should be or could be or would be. Sometimes it makes the world we live in a much better place. That's why it's worked for me."
Of her recognition by LCT, Meyers is truly honored.
"The league represents so many diverse theater companies, where so many more people are now having a chance to do their craft," she says. "Cincinnati has always had wonderful community theaters, and today we have more professional theater companies and even more semi-professional companies. That's exciting."
Photo: It's all in the family at ETC: (Front row L-R) D. Lynn Meyers, Brian c. Mehring, Caitlin Wood; (second row L-R) Richard Sillen, Laura Berkemeier, Shannon Rae Lutz, Rick Diehl; (third row L-R) Matthew Hollstegge, Nicole Tuthill, Tamara Young and Officer Nick Ligon