Alumni Stories: Greg Cuellar Returns to St. Louis for Role in Shakespeare Festival

Greg Cuellar, one of COCA’s Distinguished Alumni, recently returned to St. Louis to star as Oliver in As You Like It at the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival. During Greg’s time back in St. Louis, he paid a visit back to COCA where his passion for theatre ignited.

Greg in Once on This Island (Middle)

At age 14, Greg joined COCA and was part of the first COCA Theatre Company cohort under Ed Reggi’s direction. His involvements at COCA were marked by memorable roles in COCA Summer Musical productions including Annie, Once on This Island, Seussical, and Ragtime. Greg has also contributed to FLAME°, COCA’s annual recognition event for the Richard Baron Leadership Circle, through performing at the event and even hosting it one year.

One of Greg’s favorite COCA memories is his time as a teaching assistant for summer camps. Leading a Lord of the Rings themed camp for students ages 9–11, Greg encouraged campers to develop storylines and costumes. The result was a whimsical three-act performance titled Lord of the Shoes, that followed Bilbo Baggins’s birthday pursuit to return a pair of shoes that did not fit.

“I always said yes to them. […] I loved empowering students to create their characters, storylines, and costumes. They were always super excited, and it was very fulfilling,” said Cuellar.  

Greg at FLAME° (Far Right)

Greg describes COCA as a place of hyper-imagination and a safe space. COCA became a place where he felt celebrated and could meet friends who came from different backgrounds and experiences.

“COCA was always a safe space for me, especially as a young, gay kid in early 2000s which was an incredibly different climate than it is now. […] It made me feel that I could be bigger and greater than what I had inherited,” Cuellar shared.  

Supported by COCA scholarships, Greg’s pre-professional education was cleared of financial obstacles. He is grateful to donors and volunteers who give their money and time freely so that other students like him have the same access to COCA’s quality arts education.

Greg went on the pursue his studies at St. Louis University and earned his MFA in Acting from Columbia University, both through prestigious scholarships awarded for his outstanding achievements in the arts.

Greg spent seven years living and working in New York. Greg’s work included developing new works, such as the musical adaption of the Black Swan, performing in the production of It’s Only A Play at George Street Playhouse during the pandemic, and more.

Now residing in Los Angeles, Greg continues to fly back to New York for work. Greg is excited to continue his involvement in Initiative, a four-and-a-half-hour saga following seven teens throughout high school from 2000–2004, set to premiere in Fall 2025 at The Public.

Throughout his career, Greg has learned to navigate the challenges of the industry by maintaining a strong sense of self, resilience, and patience. He seeks guidance from his mentor Susan Barnes, a renowned movie and TV actor, and learns from his own experiences to drive him forward.

Greg advises aspiring performers to diversify their skills and maintain a trade to sustain their creative spirit, emphasizing the importance of artists being businesspeople to keep themselves afloat. He stresses the value of self-care, believing that day-to-day care allows creativity to flourish despite industry pressures.

“You need to have a deep sense of self-care and day-to-day care as a human first. All of that is going to allow your creative spirit to flourish. […] There will always be room in the industry and in our creative life for everything that you want to achieve,” said Cuellar.

More Images of Greg at COCA:

Greg in Once on This Island (Far Left)
Greg with his Plaque on COCA’s Distinguished Alumni Award Wall
Greg at FLAME° (Far Right)