Lessons from Lyssie  // By Cody Renard Richard

Stage Manager Cody Renard Richard opens his own doors on TG’s LYSISTRATA JONES.

🎵🎵 Give it Up!  Whatever’s keeping you from being you!
Give it Up, just let your heart be free!
Give it Up!  Whatever’s keeping you from being you!
Give it up, you gotta just believe! 🎵🎵
I first heard these lyrics almost 10 years ago to the day.  These are the lyrics from the closing number of Lysistrata Jones, which opened Off-Broadway at The Gym at Judson Church, produced by Transport Group, in the summer of 2011.  Revisiting these lyrics after all these years instantly puts a smile on my face.  Lysistrata Jones still remains the show with the most heart out of anything that I’ve ever worked on.
🎵 Give it Up!  Whatever’s keeping you from being you! 🎵
In the summer of 2011, I was still trying to find my footing in New York.  I had recently moved to NYC from St. Louis with big dreams of making it on Broadway, but I had no idea how to actually get there.  Transport Group Artistic Director Jack Cummings hired me as a Stage Management Production Assistant for Lysistrata Jones after working on their production of Hello Again in the same season, and I was so grateful!  At that point in my life, I was just happy to be in the room.  To be surrounded by people making theatre in NYC–I was in heaven!  I would do whatever, because I believed more than anything that I was where I was supposed to be.  Little did I know that this show would play a major part in shaping my journey.
🎵 Give it Up, just let your heart be free! 🎵
Lysistrata Jones was the first time that I worked with a company of people that felt like a family.  From the band to the creatives to the cast—there was this mutual sense of love and respect, which allowed everyone to come into work and have FUN.  Because we all respected each other and would hang out outside of rehearsals, there was no sense of ego in the room.  I don’t know if it was the source material of the script, the combination of the right people, or the atmosphere that was cultivated by our Director, Dan Knechtges, but there was definitely a sense of magic in the air.
🎵 Give it Up!  Whatever’s keeping you from being you! 🎵
Rehearsals were underway and the cast was getting into the groove of learning music.  And in comes Liz Mikel (who had to join the production late due to a preexisting conflict), this gorgeous 6’1” queen fresh from Texas with a personality that could fill a football field.  The room stopped to welcome her and rightfully so–her energy and her presence were infectious.  I was immediately enamored with her, and she soon became everyone’s favorite.  After a couple of days of rehearsal, I finally worked myself up to strike up a conversation with Liz.  You see, contrary to popular belief, I used to be a bit shy, and at times I would be quiet until I felt comfortable coming out of my shell.  I remember approaching Liz and telling her that I was also from Texas and that I liked what she was wearing that day.  She gave me the biggest hug and said “Shut yo mouth.”  In that moment, I was immediately put at ease and the rest was history.  We were glued to each other.  Liz made me feel comfortable in more ways than I can even count.  She opened up her heart, her home, and her kitchen (thank God) to me.  She allowed and urged me to open up.  I can still hear her saying “Work yo jelly, Cody” anytime that I did something that she was proud of.  Liz may not know this, but she was my saving grace multiple times, and I’m so grateful that this show brought us together.
🎵 Give it up, you gotta just believe! 🎵
When Lysistrata Jones got the notice that it was transferring to Broadway, we were all ecstatic!  What this moment meant is hard to put into words, because this show was a labor of love for so many of us.  Dreams were being realized, and it affirmed the magic we were all feeling was real!  Dreams!  Well, as I mentioned, I was a Stage Management Production Assistant for the show and with the Broadway transfer the Off-Broadway Stage Management team ended up being replaced with Broadway Stage Managers who had more experience.  This news devasted me.  I was, of course, happy for everyone, but was so sad to see this show slip away.  The thought of not being able to celebrate and continue to work with this new family as they stepped into this monumental moment really hit me hard.  And in the moment of sadness, I decided to not wallow in it, but instead fight for a chance to transfer with the show.  I knew in my heart this is what I was supposed to be doing–so I e-mailed our Director, Dan, and our Associate Choreographer Jess Hartman, and I even sent a Facebook message to our Lead Actress, Patti Murin.  I was determined to figure out a way to be brought on to the Broadway transfer.  Essentially, I let them all know what this opportunity meant to me and how much of an asset I could be to the new Broadway Stage Management team, coming with knowledge of the show and the people.  I’m so happy I followed my gut and did that, because they all responded enthusiastically and got me an interview with the Broadway Stage Manager, who ended up hiring me for the Broadway transfer of Lysistrata Jones!  I was in shock and elated and I’m sure I cried–but I was able to make my Broadway debut alongside my new family, which was absolutely life changing.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I needed this show, these lyrics, and this family.  Thank you, Lyssie Jay.  You will always be my girl!
🎵 Give it Up!  Whatever’s keeping you from being you! 🎵

About the author:

Cody Renard Richard is an advocate, educator and professional Stage Manager with a career that spans many genres including Broadway, Television, Cirque Du Soleil and Opera.  On Broadway, he has worked as a full-time and substitute Stage Manager on 12 productions, most recently serving as the Production Stage Manager for Freestyle Love Supreme.  Other Broadway: Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, The Lion King, Cirque du Soleil’s Paramour, Kinky Boots, If/Then, After Midnight, Motown the Musical, Ghost the Musical, Cyrano de Bergerac and Lysistrata Jones.  TV: 2019 Tony Awards, 2020 & 2019 MTV VMAs, Jesus Christ Superstar Live!, Hairspray Live!, The Wiz Live!.  Cirque du Soleil: OVO, Wintuk.  Off-Broadway/NY: Porgy and Bess (Metropolitan Opera – Assistant Stage Director), Candide at Carnegie Hall, 5 productions with NY City Center Encores!, The Public Theatre, Atlantic Theatre Company, 2nd Stage, Transport Group, Pearl Theatre Company. Selected Regional: Lempicka at Williamstown Theatre Festival, The Kennedy Center, The Muny, TUTS, Stages STL, Kansas City Rep, Alley Theatre, Repertory Theatre of STL.  In addition to his production credits, he has served as adjunct faculty at New York University, Columbia University and Fordham University.  As an advocate for change and equity, Cody has appeared live on CNN and has been interviewed on WNBC.  Cody has been featured by Variety Magazine as one of their 2020 Broadway Players to Watch, Out Magazine as a 2020 OUT100 honoree and in Forbes.  He launched The Cody Renard Richard Scholarship Program in partnership with Broadway Advocacy Coalition in Sept of 2020 and holds a BFA in Stage Management from Webster Conservatory. www.codyrenard.com @codyrenard