Spotlight Series: Meet Suzanne Mayes, a Native Angeleno Who Went from Future Astronaut to a Shining Star Onstage


This Spotlight focuses on Suzanne Mayes, who started out thinking she would pursue the stars as an astronaut and wound up shining onstage instead!


Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about your theatrical background?

Suzanne Mayes (Suzanne): I am what many call a “Unicorn” in LA: a true native Angeleno.

(SB): I am also a native Angeleno, both born and raised here, and no one has ever called me “Unicorn.”  Not sure where that term came from as it must be new, but it certainly applies to me!

(Suzanne): It’s funny, because being a native Angeleno, I grew up in a city saturated by the industry, with kids who were child actors and the children of A-list celebrities, producers, and writers. But although I was active in school performances and loved singing (especially in choirs), pursuing acting as a career was the furthest thing from my mind.

I was a true Space Camp nerd who had dreams of becoming an astronaut. Interestingly enough – and perhaps the universe knew better than I did – I chose a college that was known for its sciences, but also, coincidentally, theatre: Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. During my freshman year while I was a Midshipman in the Navy ROTC program (I was a hardcore Top Gun fan, what can I say…), I auditioned for a Scotch’n’Soda student-run theatre group production of Into the Woods and was cast as Cinderella’s Stepmother. One show by Sondheim and that was it. I was hooked.

I eventually dropped out of ROTC and performed in every single Scotch’n’Soda musical production made while I was there. A quick fun fact about Scotch’n’Soda: their alumni include Stephen Schwartz, who penned and directed an early draft of Pippin while still a student there!) My junior year, I was lucky enough to study abroad in the south of France, and had the privilege to study Voice under the international opera star, Marion Sylvestre, and sing with the adult chorale at the prestigious National Music Conservatory of Avignon.

After graduating from CMU with double degrees in Professional Writing and French, I wanted another adventure overseas, so I took a position teaching English to kids in Taipei, Taiwan. Apparently, they noticed during our teachers’ orientation that I loved to perform and sing, and the English school I worked for hired me to be a host for a live TV show on TVBS (their version of NBC) as a sort of “edutainment” section of the show. I sang with a dancing pig I had to introduce as “my special friend, Perry the Pig” on every episode. It was campy, hilarious, and so much fun! A few months later, I accepted an opportunity to be part of a musical tour for the Disney World of English products and travelled all over Taiwan, performing in gorgeous 2,000 seat theatres for little kids. It was such a special time.

I came home to Los Angeles the next year and put my theatre and singing aside. For ten whole years I pursued another path in Hollywood – first working for literary agents, then in development on movies such as Coach Carter and Dreamer and on TV shows like One Tree Hill and What I Like About You before working for one of the major studios, Universal Pictures. Somewhere in that chunk of time, a few of my Scotch’n’Soda theatre friends from college moved out to LA and we had the brilliant idea to put together a musical again, like the old days, and I played the role of Sally Brown in Snoopy The Musical!!! which I also produced as a fundraiser for Downtown Dog Rescue. I am so proud that our production raised thousands of dollars for the animal rescue, and that “fun reunion” of mine made some real magic happen.

And of course, once back on stage, I was hooked again. Theatre has a way of doing that to you! I dove headfirst into a lot of local community theatre and 99-seat Equity shows, including two back-to-back productions of Gypsy (both Richard Israel’s LA Weekly-nominated run and then as Dainty June in Conejo Players’ production in Thousand Oaks), High Street’s Seussical as Gertrude McFuzz, and Oklahoma as Gertie at The Met Theatre.

I even got to work with one of my theatre idols, the fabulous Kay Cole (as in the original Chorus Line as Maggie) in a new musical called Reunion at the (now defunct) NoHo Arts Center Theatre.

I then joined The Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks as a Company Member and participated in several productions a year, including their Dead Pilots Society”for which I was nominated for a Valley Theatre Award for Best Supporting Actress in the pilot Under Andrea written and directed by Emmy-winners Ken Levine and David Isaacs (known for some little tv shows called M*A*S*H and Cheers.) My last full musical run was playing Sarah in Company at The Morgan-Wixson Theatre in Santa Monica.

(SB): I remember that production and loved the way in which Kristin Towers-Rowles directed it. Here’s  my review from March 2017 about that stellar production.

And just last year, I joined Group Rep Theatre in North Hollywood. But I have taken some time most recently to focus on my TV career, so my stage performances lately have been mostly smaller readings and on- night shows. The theatre, though, has always been where I feed my soul and find my family, and it is heart-breaking to see the impact of this pandemic on our theatre community.

(SB): What production(s) were you involved with when word went out it needed to immediately be either postponed or cancelled?

(Suzanne): As a newer member of Group Rep (GRT), I had been dipping my feet into play readings and one-night cabaret style performances, but my focus during the early part of this year was on TV’s pilot season, which for me means a lot of co-star auditions. So, I wasn’t in any of GRT’s mainstage productions at the time everything shut down. However, they did have their closing weekend of their dramatic play, In My Mind’s Eye and I am so glad I was able to see that gem of a show before everything went dark. But the other productions that were just revving up for rehearsals are all in limbo now.

I was fortunate to see a dear friend’s wonderful production of The Wild Party at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre for their final tech rehearsal and I was there when the cast stood on stage for bows and their board of directors came out to tell them all the sad news that they would not be opening that weekend. My heart broke for every single one of them who had poured their hearts and souls into their show that was ready to open the next day. I truly hope that they get their run when things start up again.

(SB): I was scheduled to see that production on opening night. Now I am also looking forward to seeing it when it can finally be brought back to the Morgan-Wixson stage. But what future productions on your schedule were affected by the shutdown?

(Suzanne): I was really looking forward to auditioning for Group Rep’s Spring / Summer musical production of Applause which is a show that is so rarely performed and has such fun music. I know our board has been in discussions about reworking the schedule, and I think there is a chance Applause may be pushed into 2021’s season, but I don’t know. And it’s so difficult now because none of us know when things will be open again; and once they are, will people be willing to go to the theatre? Is it going to be even harder to sell seats to shows? Will people be afraid to sit in a theatre audience after all this? I know every business and industry is having to re-think and re-plan their business models, and I think the world needs live theatre. But I don’t know how it’s going to happen for the smaller theatres who are struggling right now to stay afloat.

(SB): I wonder about that as well.  As a theatre reviewer, I am not sure when I will feel safe about sitting in a crowded theater unless I can wear a mask and be at least 6’ from any other person.  But for a small house, that will really cut into their ticket sales if they have to abide by those spacing restrictions, as well as provide masks and hand sanitizer for all patrons. And will the actors have to perform with face masks on, which I guess could work if they are doing Greek plays. It’s so up in the air right now, and I am doing my best to stay hopeful. But I don’t see how small theaters will be able to survive - and it scares me too.

(Suzanne): I truly hope we can weather this storm.

(SB): But for now, like all of us survivors in the theatre world, how are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

(Suzanne): I have done a few of the self-taped auditions and monologue challenges being presented by several casting directors who are taking the time to get to know fresh faces, which I think is really cool. Also, a small group of talented ladies from my theatre company have been meeting almost weekly on Zoom to do private readings of plays. It’s been a fun way to reconnect and to look at material we weren’t previously familiar with that are female-driven, hoping we discover an amazing gem that we can present to the theatre company down the road for a future season’s production. And then there is my regular weekly acting class, which has shifted to Zoom, so I have been keeping up with that group as well to keep my craft in shape and stay ready for when things pick back up again.

(SB): What thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the L.A. Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

(Suzanne): Stay home if you are non-essential and have the ability to do so, and wash your hands often. I think there is this huge pressure to be super uber-productive as an actor right now, but honestly, we are in a pandemic – this is *not* normal life. It’s okay to feel icky and not have the energy to do the self-tapes and so forth. They are there if you want those activities and are someone who needs constant projects, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking the time to do what is best for *you* and to care for yourself. Please, please go easy on yourself. And be kind. We can all be kinder to our neighbors. Check in on those who are struggling. Please reach out to a friend if you yourself are struggling. To steal Sondheim’s words, “You are not alone. No one is alone.”

I am including some links to donate to some local theatres close to my heart. If you are able to donate, it would greatly help them out:

Save NoHo Theatres

The Whitefire Theatre

Morgan Wixson Theatre

And it you like you can follow me on Twitter and on Instagram and my cat would also like you to follow her on Instagram at PirateTheKittyCat.

Lastly, I send out a special thank you to all of our First Responders – especially all those in healthcare and those who are making sure we have food in our supermarkets, and to all the parents and teachers out there who are home-schooling their kids on top of everything else -- you are all heroes!


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



COVID-19 Theater Series: Rogue Machine's Journey Beyond Adversity - An Interview with John Perrin Flynn


Leading one of L.A.’s most prestigious theatre companies for twelve years, John Perrin Flynn has nurtured Rogue Machine from the seed of an idea into a group of over 300 artists with an impressive array of accolades and awards. Most recently, he helmed two epic productions, the American premiere of Tom Morton-Smith’s Oppenheimer and the west coast premiere of Mike Bartlett’s Earthquakes in London. John received the LA Weekly “Career Achievement Award,” just one of over one hundred awards during his tenure with the company. He was the executive producer and director of Lifetime’s award-winning series Strong Medicine and has produced two other series and 14 television movies or miniseries, including the Emmy nominated Burden of Proof. John took time from his busy schedule to interview in April 2020.


When did Rogue Machine First Begin? Were you involved from the start? Who/what/where was it founded?

John Perrin Flynn:  Our inaugural production was in 2008. The prior year, I had happened to read a new play by a young playwright who was looking for a director. The play was called Lost and Found and the playwright was John Pollono. As soon as I read it, I knew that I had to direct it. We ran it at the Lounge Theatre. Later that year, I directed the West Coast premiere of Craig Lucas's Small Tragedy at the Odyssey Theatre. Afterwards, I was invited to pitch plays at a couple of local venues. By then, John Pollono was working on another new play. I had also begun to work with Henry Murray, developing his Tree Fall; and I quickly learned that none of the companies that I was approaching were interested in producing new work.

Cast of "Pocatello" - Photo by John Perrin Flynn

I brought together three disparate groups: theater friends I had made during my time as a television producer; theater friends I had made doing the two plays I had recently directed; and theater friends from the time I was artistic director of Theater Exchange in North Hollywood. We all felt that there were already too many theaters in Los Angeles. At the same time, there seemed to be a need for one which would produce new work and the edgier kind of new work which was then coming out of Chicago, New York, and London. In early 2008, the opportunity to share the Theatre/Theater space on Pico Boulevard opened up and we decided to take the leap.

Ron Bottitta and Tucker Smallwood in "The Sunset Limited" - Photo by John Perrin Flynn

How about a brief timeline of changes at they occurred?

JPF:  We began running our monthly salon “Rant and Rave,” which has continued to be one of our most popular programs. We converted a classroom at the space into a second smaller stage. Our programming for that stage brought us a great deal of attention. We opened Cormac McCarthy's The Sunset Limited with Tucker Smallwood and Ron Bottitta. Stephanie Kerley Schwartz designed the small one-room urban apartment set that worked brilliantly. The show became an LA Times Critics’ Choice and ran for five months. We modified that set and opened John Pollono’s third play as a late-night show. It was Small Engine Repair, which ran for six months until we had to move it to open Joel Drake Johnson's Four Places, for which we received our first Ovation Award for Best Production.

Small Engine Repair swept the Los Angeles Award season, winning best production and many other awards. Our fifth season brought us the long-running hit Dirty Filthy Love Story by Rob Mersola and our first collaborations with playwrights Samuel Hunter and Enda Walsh. The sixth season brought us Pollono’s Lost Girls and Kemp Powers’ One Night in Miami, which became our largest box office hit ever. It ended up having multiple productions around the world, including at the Donmar Warehouse in England. We closed that season with Christopher Shinn’s Dying City, which won us our second Ovation award for best production. The eighth season was an abbreviated season because rent increases forced us out - but not before we did our second Sam Hunter play, A Permanent Image. We moved to The Met Theatre in our ninth season and opened with a strong season of multi-award nominated productions, including Hunter’s Pocatello, and Greg Keller’s Honky and Dutch Masters.

Shari Gardner Desean, Kevin Terry, and Jelani Blunt in "Les Blancs" - Photo by John Perrin Flynn

Our tenth season featured the first ever professional production of Lorraine Hansberry’s Les Blancs in Los Angeles, as well as a collaboration with the Getty Villa of a modern-day refugee version of Aeschylus’ The Suppliant Women.

We were forced to move once again during our twelfth season, but not before we produced the American premiere of Dionna Michelle Daniel’s American Saga: Gunshot Medley Part I. We moved to the Electric Lodge in Venice and in the fall, where we opened Tom Morton-Smith’s Oppenheimer and Joe Gifford's Finks. We closed our latest season with the world premiere productions of Disposable Necessities by Neil McGowan (an LA Times Critics’ Choice) and Mike Bartlett’s Earthquakes in London.

Over the past few months, how has COVID-19 impacted your theater?

JPF:  We were fortunate that we had closed the twelfth season in early March. At that time, we weren’t sure if we would open again until July. Now we have no idea when theaters will be allowed to reopen and we don’t know what the final damage to the economy will be. Fundraising may be more difficult. We understand our existence is imperiled; but all of us, Rogue Machine’s Board and staff, are determined to survive. There is a proverb that “Adversity creates opportunity.” Many theaters are attempting to build an online audience during this period of isolation. We will be offering some programming as well.

Corey Dorris and Josh Zuckerman in "Dutch Masters" - Photo by John Perrin Flynn

Are you doing anything right now to keep your live theater going? Are you streaming shows? Having virtual meetings? Are you planning for your next show when you reopen?

JPF:  We have most of our next season in place. We will open with a world premiere production of Justin Tanner’s Little Theatre, directed by Lisa James and starring Jennie O’Hara. We are also planning to produce the American premiere of Timothy Daly’s Man in the Attic, with French and Vanessa Stewart and Rob Nagle.

I am participating in weekly meetings with LA area artistic directors to see what we can do collectively, now and in the future, when theaters reopen.

John Pollono, Jon Bernthal, Josh Helman, and Michael Redfield in "Small Engine Repair" - Photo by John Perrin Flynn

What do you think will be the impact of COVID-19 on live theater in general in Los Angeles? Do you forsee any permanent changes?

JPF:  I suspect that some organizations will not be able to survive this shutdown, particularly if they have leases and rent to pay. I think it might be a long time before things return to a semblance of how they were. Some people that were key to how intimate theatre operated may be forced to take up other careers.

What do you need right now to keep going forward? What would you like from the theater public?

JPF:  Funding. I am concerned about our employees. We have applied for the SBA paycheck protection loan, but the funding ran out before we were approved. If more funding is forthcoming, we will be able to offer some employment to the staff, all of whom have been laid off. I want our theater public to stay safe and come out of this healthy, and hungry for the common bonds that live theater encourages.

Joshua Bitton, Burl Moseley, and Jennifer Pollono in "Dirty Filthy Love Story" - Photo by John Perrin Flynn

What are some of your future plans?

JPF:  We plan to do some online programming, which includes a joint project called “Common Ground” with The Road Theatre. We may also stream some live readings and something with “Rant and Rave.” In addition to the plays that I mentioned, we are hoping to do another Samuel D. Hunter play; and we are reading a number of new plays during this forced hiatus.


This article first appeared in Splash Worldwide.



Rogue Machine Leaves MET in October 2018

Finishing Season at Electric Lodge in Venice, CA
Opening October 6th - "Oppenheimer"

Press Contact: Judith Borne
(310) 305-7888 or judith@borneidentities.com

Rogue Machine Leaves The Met in October
Opening “Oppenheimer” October 6
and “Finks" 
on November 10, 2018

at the Electric Lodge in Venice, CA
Rogue Machine at Electric Lodge - 1416 Electric Ave, Venice, CA 90291

Los Angeles, CA (August 9, 2018) – Multi-award winning Rogue Machine Theatre (Best Season Ovation Award this year; Best Production Award 2013, 2011 and 2010; Excellent Season Award 2016 and 2011 - Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle) is on the move…to Venice, California.
In October, Rogue Machine begins a new journey by launching two productions at the Electric Lodge. OPPENHEIMER, by Tom Morton-Smith, is slated for October 6th and FINKS, by Joe Gilford, is scheduled for a November 8th opening.
OPPENHEIMER (Opening October 6th) is the American premiere of a play first produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon, and then in London. We see the personal cost of making history as J. Robert Oppenheimer struggles to cast off his radical past beliefs and hold onto opposition of power and authority. Directed by Artistic Director, John Perrin Flynn.
“A dazzling spectacle, ambitious and triumphant. Packed with fascinating nuggets and bristling ideas” - The Daily Telegraph
FINKS (Opening November 10th) is a play about the blacklisting, will open and begin playing in rep with Oppenheimer in early November. Michael Pressman will be directing. Both Joe Gilford's FINKS and Tom Morton-Smith's OPPENHEIMER examine socialism and communism in America in the 30s, 40s and 50s. These movements were driven by the universal ideal that we could be better than we are. Who are our friends? Who are our enemies?
This season our plays explore what haunts us. Why are we as we are? Can we be better? How can we be better and still survive in a world that is increasingly nonsensical? One of Rogue Machine's most important missions is to offer visionary playwrights a professional platform and we are honored to do just that, by presenting these important Los Angeles premieres from established playwrights” – John Perrin Flynn; Artistic Director
Rogue Machine Theatre won the Ovation Award this year for “Best Season” - 2017 and received, for the second time, the Polly Warfield Award for Outstanding Season from the LA Drama Critics Circle – 2016. The company was recognized with 12 Ovation Award nominations, including one for Best Season and two for Best Production. KCRW's nod to Best Theatre was a highlight of the 2016 season, as was receiving a Shubert Foundation grant awarded to select theatre organizations for their artistic achievement, administrative strength, and fiscal stability along with the company's development of new work and other significant contributions to the field of professional theatre in the United States. A recipient of the American Theatre Wing's 2014 National Theatre Company Grant, given only to 12 theatre companies in the country, Rogue Machine (BEST PRODUCTION for three years – Ovation and LADCC Awards) presents plays that are new to Los Angeles. They recently received support from the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, and the company garnered recognition for their work in upwards of 75 awards and nominations.
Continuing at the Met this through September, audiences can enjoy:
RANT & RAVE (Chapter 88: "Losing") on Monday August 27th at 8pm. $15 online, $20 at the door.
AMERICAN SAGA-Gunshot Medley: Part 1 opens at 8pm on September 8th at the MET Theatre and run Fridays, Satruday, and Mondays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm through September 23rd. It then moves for a two week run at WLCAC Theatre, 10950 S. Central Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90059 beginning on Friday, October 5th, with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm through October 14th. Rogue Machine is located at The Met, 1089 N Oxford Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90029. Tickets are $40 at the MET and $35 at the WLCAC Theatre with Pay-What-You-Can for Watts local audience at the door. Performances on Oct 5, 7, & 14 feature a guided tour of the Civil Rights Museum. Group discounts for 15 or more through Julie at AmericanSagaGroupTix@gmail.com. Reservations: 855-585-5185 or at www.roguemachinetheatre.com
Description: A lyrical and mystical new play, with live music, about the struggle against systemic racism. Set in a haunted North Carolina graveyard this intricately crafted work brings past and present together in a soulful tale of lives destroyed by deep-seated tensions and conflicts that have marred America's history from antebellum south to the present day.
AMERICAN SAGA-Gunshot Medley: Part 1: https://youtu.be/tl4orG0sRrk
Rogue Machine Moves: https://youtu.be/YEMAHu4B6Ls
Rogue Machine is moving to the Electric Lodge at 1416 Electric Ave, Venice, CA 90291, beginning in October 2018. For more information and tickets for performances: 855-585-5185 or online at www.roguemachinetheatre.com
Follow us on Twitter: @RogueMachineLA FB: https://www.facebook.com/RogueMachineTheatre


Ashton's Audio Interview: The cast of The Interference @ Rogue Machine in association with Pepperdine Scotland

Enjoy this interview about the "Scotsman Fringe First Award for excellence" & "Broadway Baby Bobby Award for exceptional work" winning play The Interference at Rogue Machine Theatre, which closed Jun 8th. You can listen to this YouTube interview while commuting, while waiting in line at the grocery store or at an audition, backstage and even front of the stage.  For tickets and more info  Click here.