John Perrin Flynn of Rogue Machine Talks About Theatre in LA
By Rose Desena
It is no surprise that I am a fan of the Rogue Machine Theater Company. John Perrin Flynn and his merry troupe of men and women have succeeded in taking on the LA Theater scene with an unstoppable enthusiasm that has earned them a reputation for being one of the hottest tickets in town.
Members are well versed as storytellers, writers, actors, directors, producers, and in many of the other aspects of launching a production. One of the best parts about getting hooked on Rogue Machine is sensing that their success comes from an unconditional love for each other, and their dedication to the company and its mission. The group has consistently produced award winning, entertaining, and thought provoking shows. Hopefully, they will continue that tradition for many seasons to come.
Is Rogue Machine a successful product of the 99-seat Plan, which is currently under fire? I wanted to learn a little more history about this amazing theatre group and their plans for the future. I tracked down Rogue Machine’s Artistic Director, John Perrin Flynn, to get his perspective of the company’s journey and his thoughts about the future of LA Theater.
Rose: Hi John, thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions. I want to introduce my readers to you on a more personal level and to start by getting a quick history lesson on RMT. The company seems very close, were you friends with many of the members before your first season in 2008?
John: Yes, I had worked with many of the founding members either in Television (I was an Executive Producer of Lifetime’s Strong Medicine) or in other theater ventures. In 2006 I answered an ad of a young playwright who was looking for a director. I really didn’t think the play would be good but I was bored. I read the play and was blown away by it. When I was finished, I called the playwright and said I’d love to do this play. The play was “Lost and Found,” and it was John Pollono’s first full-length play.
In 2007 I was invited to pitch plays at a couple of theaters, but both of those theaters said they were not interested in doing new works. I wanted to continue working with John and I had a new play called “Tree Fall” by Henry Murray that I wanted to do. I began talking to friends, theatre people I knew from television and some folks from the time I had done theater before my television career. I had been meeting with people about starting a new theater but I was very hesitant because I thought there were already too many theaters here in Los Angeles. I definitely thought that we could offer Los Angeles something different.
We had a number of meetings – sometimes there were as many as 80 people there. We began looking for space. When Jeff Murray advertised that he was looking for someone to share the Theatre/Theater space with him we decided to move forward.
Rose: One of the things that I most respect about you is your relentless pursuit of the RMT vision. Your mission statement says that “the company draws upon the diverse and extensive experience of its collective while creating high-quality productions by contemporary playwrights who specifically address our culture and time,” and you seem to plow ahead, regardless of the “commercial” value of a play when scheduling your season. Have you taken a hit from that, financially?
John: Yes. But, it is vitally important to the community we serve and to theatre to pursue excellence and to choose work because it is trying to say something important about who we are and how we live and not because it will make money. There is a real problem regarding the commercialization of theatre. I don’t know if you’ve seen this interview?
The way theatre is done in this country is changing – the paradigm. It may be that intimate theatre will be the only place where new playwrights can get produced.
Rose: You take a lot of chances producing new and edgy work that might otherwise not be produced in Los Angeles. You are now known for this style of entertainment. Was this a branding plan from the start?
John: Yes, although I would say that there were plays that I thought were important plays that were not being done – plays that are often dark and often very funny. What attracts me to these plays is that they expose our, I’m not sure what to say, souls? They look at what drives us, what’s important, how we survive, and what survival costs us. I do think it’s very important to do new plays, to open us to playwrights who are considering life now. The classics are classic and, yes, are often still relevant but there are so many wonderful new playwrights and we need to experience what they see, and what they say. I don’t see our work as edgy, although I can see how some people might describe it that way; I see it as being necessary.
Rose: I don’t want to go into too much detail, but speaking of producing local writers and taking chances, about all the talk regarding our current 99 seat plan for LA Theater. I understand both sides of the argument, and the debate should be usefulness. Theater companies like yours will certainly be affected if the suggested changes are implemented. Has Rouge Machine prospered under the current 99 seat rules, and would you be here without them?
John: I don’t think there are two sides, and I think the opposing side is seriously misinformed. No theatre is prospering here in this economic climate – we have lost money every year. What has occasionally prospered here at Rogue Machine, and at some of the other really wonderful theaters here in Los Angeles, is art. We are a collective of artist. Rogue Machine is such a collective and the greater intimate theater community here in Los Angeles is a collective. We all choose to do this. The actors who work at Rogue Machine choose to be there, they are not being exploited. They are artists pursuing their dreams. Do I wish that we artists could be paid? Absolutely, but the plight of the starving artist is endemic, it has been with us for centuries and artists are particularly devalued in the current American economy. Art is viewed as a luxury not as something deeply necessary to our existence and our evolution. Are there problems in the LA Theater community? Of course there are. Are there abusers? I’m sure there are but they are significantly less frequent than some people would have you believe.
Rose: You launched John Pollono’s multi-award winning “Small Engine Repair.” Recently it had another successful run in NYC. Same with Kemp Powers play “One Night in Miami…” slated for more productions around the country, and numerous productions of Henry Murray’s “Tree Fall” regionally. How has the success of those shows helped Rouge Machine?
John: I think they have helped us build our credibility and given us a national presence. This year we were awarded the prestigious American National Theatre award from the American Theatre Wing. The American Theatre Wing also bestows the Tony Awards. This is the quote we’ve been using from their letter:
“This program incubates the most innovative minds in our national network of theatre. We provide institutional support for twelve cutting edge theatre companies recognized for outstanding new play development, education, and community engagement. Our investment helps these industry-changing companies to enhance resources, build infrastructure and create new initiatives.”
However, all the many awards we have won have not translated into widespread financial support and it is very difficult to keep the theatre alive. Because of the way the business of theatre has been constructed, codified, we receive very little remuneration from these subsequent productions.
Rose: What would you like to see for Rogue Machine over the next few years?
John: We would really like to grow to be a small midsized theatre but continue to do the kind of work we do. We’d like to be something like the Public Theater or Playwrights Horizons when we grow up. We’d like to be the Landmark or theLaemmle of legitimate theatre. The odds are against us but we intend to keep trying.
Rose: I love both those theater companies, as a matter of fact on my Thanksgiving trip to NY I caught “ Straight White Men” at the Public, the show rocked but what amazed me was that it was sold out on a Tuesday night. That kind of community support is what makes NY Theater so viable.
Rose: Looks like you’re continuing with several hit shows (Cock, Uploaded, and Dorothy, a Current Account) through mid-December? I need a good scoop; can you give me any information about next season?
John: We have a new play in development by John Pollono , it’s called “Rules of Seconds.” We will be doing a reading/Rogue Machine benefit of this play on 13 December, and tickets will be $30. We also have plays by Kemp Powers and Henry Murray in development. I am presently wading through about 50 plays and have found more than a few that are intriguing.
For those who wish to support our merry troupe of artists, we are also offering our GONE ROGUE 2015 Calendar, themed THE BARD GONE BARE! It’s the second year that our team members have organized a nude calendar fund-raiser for Rogue Machine. So, for only $25, your readers really can get to know us on a MUCH more personal level: https://squareup.com/market/rogue-machine-theatre/gone-rogue-nude-calendar or through our website.
Rose: You mean I get to see some of the Rouge Machine hotties in the nude, heck sign me up for a half of dozen.
John: (Chuckle) You got it.
Thanks John it’s been enlightening and always a delight to touch base with you. I wish you and the crew the best in 2015.
Rouge Machine (in Theatre/Theater) is located at 5041 Pico Blvd., LA, CA 90019.
Reservations: 855-585-5185 or at http://www.roguemachinetheatre.com/
The current shows at RMT are,” Cock” by Mike Bartlett, “Uploaded” by L.R. Gordon, and “Dorothy, A Current Account” by Virginia Carter.
Check out recent reviews www.thelosangelespost.org/theater