a thing he called the ‘edifice complex,’ where he sees breaking into theater or the entertainment industry as a process where you have to get inside an existing building, as opposed to building your own thing,” Lyons said. “I took that to heart, and now I’m finally at a place where I have built something myself and it is breaking down walls.” A performance highlight from this period was landing the leading role of Alex in a Stray Cat Theater production of “A Clockwork Orange,” based on the novel by Anthony Burgess. “That was just a dream come true, being 21 or 22, playing Alex,” Lyons said. Robert Pela praised Lyons’ performance in a review for the Phoenix New Times in 2004, as “a swaggering recital that’s equal parts Iggy Pop and Joan Crawford.” After graduating from ASU, Lyons relocated to New York City intent on pursuing his dream. He soon landed a job working for a mask puppetry theater. Inspired by the elaborate papier-mâché masks he encountered there, he created his first large rat mask. A theater in Brooklyn hosted a night of 10-minute dance and movement-based plays, and Lyons create a piece for it. “The rough idea was that an old man in a New York apartment dies, and a giant rat eats his brain and becomes a human,” Lyons explained. “Then he notices the audience and realizes he’s a naked rat and puts his clothes on.” 36 JAVA MAGAZINE After the performance, Lyons continued developing the story, using his anguish over a recent heartbreak as creative fuel. He gave his Kafkaesque anthropomorphized vermin a darkly ironic profession and tragic arc worthy of a German Romantic opera. He submitted it for a program at the HERE Arts Center, which provides subsidized space for new works. Lyons staged roughly a dozen performances of “The Tenement” at the Dorothy B. Williams Theatre in 2009. The judges for the New York Innovative Theater Awards were in the audience and liked what they saw. “The Tenement” received nominations in many categories, and Lyons won for Outstanding Original Short Script. In 2013, ASU commissioned a new and expanded version of the show, which Lyons wrote in collaboration with another playwright, Matthew Keuter, who helped with dialogue. Around this same time, Lyons began working with renowned puppeteer Basil Twist – recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Grant in 2015 – on the Broadway staging of “The Addams Family Musical.” Lyons continued to work with him over the next few years on productions such as “Petrushka,” “The Rite of Spring,” and “Symphonie Fantastique.” Twist became a mentor and role model for Lyons, who was inspired by how Twist developed unique works on his own terms that were both critically and commercially successful. “I’ve absorbed so much from him that’s led to my ability to write, produce, and perform in my own work,” Lyons said. In 2011, Lyons joined the Blue Man Group, a unique performance art company famous for their stage, film, TV, and even audio work. Being a member of such a well-known production group changed his status within the industry. It was also a reminder that truly unique acts could succeed. Lyons’ next original project, titled “Enso,” made use of Bunraku puppetry, a traditional form of Japanese puppet theater where a single puppet is operated by three individuals. Lyons was inspired by Philippe Genty’s famous work “Pierrot,” in which a marionette puppet slowly becomes cognizant of its strings and the one who pulls them. “Enso” was to culminate in a scene where three Bunraku puppets, operated by a total of nine puppeteers, would pick up and operate a fourth one. Though he received a grant from the Jim Henson Foundation, the project didn’t advance far past the developmental stage. In 2012, Lyons joined the cast of “Sleep No More,” an award-winning New York City production by Punchdrunk, a London theater company. An example of promenade or interactive theater, the show’s stage sprawls over several floors of the McKittrick Hotel, a
enovated warehouse in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. The audience wears masks as they follow performers through psychedelic sets in a show inspired by Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” Alfred Hitchcock movies, and the 1697 Paisley witch trials. Also in 2012, Lyons began forming a barbershop quartet with another Valley transplant, Cameron Malstead. Their first performance was in a show held in the Manderley Bar, a venue within the McKittrick Hotel with a 1920/30s theme. Having recruited Zach McNally, another actor, to be the third member, they still needed a tenor. In the dressing room while preparing, they asked Lily Ockwell, another “Sleep No More” performer, if she would don a mustache and striped vest. She accepted, and the Apple Boys’ first incarnation was born. A few years later, at a cast party, Lyons discussed his vision of a musical built around the Apple Boys with actor and writer Mat Fraser (who has thalidomideinduced phocomelia and appeared in the third season of “American Horror Story”). Fraser told Lyons to stop worrying and just write a draft. This encounter proved the final impetus. Lyons approached composer and lyricist Ben Bonnema from “Sleep No More,” who agreed to write the music and songs. Lyons then wrote the rest of the script (called the “book” in musical parlance). Tired of schlepping puppets, masks, projectors, and other props, Lyons wanted this project to be performance driven and require minimal set-up. “I decided I’d do it as long as everything fit into one suitcase,” Lyons said. The story is set on Coney Island in the first half of the 20th century. The four protagonists are drawn from American and New York lore, with Lyons himself portraying Warren Lincoln Travis, the world’s strongest man. Throughout the play, the four actors portray more than forty characters. Even before it was finished, the pair started submitting it to various development projects. “It got rejected from basically everything,” Lyons said. Finally, they secured a venue for August of 2016 and staged what would become the first act of “The Apple Boys.” The next spring, they held a number of table reads. With their tenor Ockwell unavailable, Emily Skeggs, a Tony-nominated stage and film actress, was recruited to fill in. She drew further attention to the project. Then one April afternoon, while working on “Symphonie Fantastique,” Twist turned to Lyons and asked what he wanted to do with “The Apple Boys.” “I said, ‘Honestly, I’d love to have a production in the Dorothy B. Williams Theatre in December,’” Lyons recalls. Twist informed him of an available slot due to another show’s cancellation. Lyons and his team wasted no time, submitting a proposal that was quickly accepted. The full musical ran from November 30 through December 23 of 2018, garnering overwhelming positive reviews from critics and audience members alike. Famous stage and film actor Alan Cumming said the show “managed to reinvent the barbershop form for the twenty-first century.” “Our hope is that next year we can be produced by an established off-Broadway company or maybe an out-of-town production,” Lyons said of the show’s future. “With the right reviews and the right advertising, we could really run for a while.” However far his dreams and craft may take him – whether performing in shows such as Anthony Minghella’s “Madama Butterfly” or harmonizing his own creations – the commitment and focus Lyons honed in school and community theater productions in the Valley will ensure he’ll never forget where he’s going – or where he came from.