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.
HIPSTER BLAST FROM THE PAST: 25 years ago, the Twisted Hipster had a play running Off-Broadway that got 17 rave reviews, including from the NY Times. He got a call to come pitch movie ideas to Dustin Hoffman, at that time the Hipster's favorite actor, who had won the Oscar for Rain Man just a few years before. He quickly concocted four stories with lead roles that Dustin could play. The Hipster and Dustin were the only ones in the room - a surprise. Dustin liked one story and hired the Hipster to develop it for his company Punch Productions - then left to make two movies back to back (Outbreak and American Buffalo). Punch was run by the playwright Murray Schisgal, who was one of three writers credited with authoring Tootsie (Academy Award nomination) ten years before. Murray kept urging the Hipster to make his screenplay more like Basic Instinct, a big hit at the time, famous to this day for Sharon Stone's vag flash. The Hipster resisted, but he wanted Dustin to make his movie, so he eventually caved. Soon Dustin returned, read what the Hipster had written and called for a meeting, attended by Murray too. Dustin to Hipster: "I don't know, it reminds me a lot of something I've seen before." Murray: "It's a lot like Basic Instinct, right?" Dustin: "Jesus, I hope not, I hated that movie." Oh shit.
Damien Chazelle has said that his primary goal in LA LA LAND was to recreate the Hollywood Musical for the modern age. And there's no doubt that he has succeeded to a large degree, at least in commercial terms, which (let's face it) is Hollywood's favorite term. (Worldwide gross to this point is over $400,000.)
While LA LA LAND famously did not win Best Picture, Emma Stone won Best Actress for her portrayal of struggling Hollywood actress/barista Mia Dolan. But how do actual Hollywood actresses feel about Emma/Mia and about Chazelle's depiction of their struggle? And what about Mia's one-woman show, So Long, Boulder City?
In the last posting of this column, three different actresses presented three very different viewpoints. Here are several more, which, again, are presented unedited. To quote a great playwright, "Attention must be paid." And keep reading. Who knows, maybe you'll run into someone you know.
Total BS -- Her ONE WOMAN SHOW -- sorry sister, but anyone with roommates does not have the money to rent a beautiful 99 seat theater to "put on a run of my show" ....Totally fake. No way. How about the posters, staff, lighting, set, props, tickets...and with no job -they needed to show her have a national commercial running and getting residual checks or something practical. Ridic!...it completely made the reason she was "discovered" ring false for the entirety due to the fact that show never happened -- Emma did an excellent job at trying to buy it herself though.
Many of my actress friends didn't feel it spoke to them, but having been a person who was more or less "discovered" doing a show I wrote for myself in the theater, it made me very nostalgic. I, too, was the girl that flew home thinking my career was over, only to be summoned back when my theater company decided to do this show. I, too, have been the odd girl out at those fancy house parties in the Hills when I was trying to figure out how to get a foot in the door. My experiences in Casting Director offices haven't been quite as harsh as what Emma Stone's character went through, but I understand that some of those scenes were based on her experiences. Of course it was a fantasy version of Hollywood, but it reminded me of what can make the town seem magical. Most people don't experience the success that this character eventually achieves, so I can see where it could leave a bitter taste in the mouth of some people who are still figuring out how to even get an audition. But for me, it was a nice reminder of how hopeful I felt years ago when I moved to LA from Louisiana, not knowing a single person, because that dream seemed achievable
I definitely related to the scene where she's in Nevada saying that maybe she would never make it and that acting for her was a pipe dream... I think all LA actresses feel that way now and again. Working on the WB lot is a coveted gig so it's funny to me that it was portrayed as a "down and out" job. It was miraculously Hollywood that her first attempt to produce her own play was seen and from there she made it big, that would be the best case scenario. But all of that is more a critique of how removed the writer/director is from the reality of trying to make it in LA. I am biased because I like Emma as an actress and I thought she did great. I have always favored acting ability over a voice. Working in this industry is an emotional roller coaster, and this film was more of a throwback to the old school movie musicals versus a commentary on how being an actor in LA actually is.
So here are my thoughts on Mia in "La La Land". First off, very relatable. I too am an actress by trade, barista by day (one of many jobs), so the first time we see her at work interacting with the "famous actress" and her boss etc., it really hit home for me in a big way. In turn, when the roles were reversed in the end and they showed a nearly identical shot with Mia as the successful actress interacting with the barista in that same shop I was nearly brought to tears out of sheer hope and encouragement and excitement. It was my favorite moment of the film.
The many auditions Mia goes on were relatable in the sense that they are often interrupted, extremely short, etc. And the office settings were pretty accurate it seemed as well. She must have an awfully good agent though to be going out as often as she does, which is never really touched on but I guess that is ok.....
The big "Audition" number/scene was annoying to me though. First of all, I'm sorry but what casting director is magically going to get in touch with some girl who put on a poorly advertised, one night show and all of a sudden provide this enormous opportunity - and have no sides at all (even if the script isn't done, wouldn't she still read something?) and the way she just stood there so meekly like a deer in headlights - she was so dull! She just stood there awkwardly and told this story, and now all of a sudden she books this one job and becomes a full blown movie star? I recognize that there is probably more implied, I'm sure one job led to the next etc, but the way it all happens is just so far fetched from reality. Sidebar - the casting associate calls her boyfriend as a secondary number to get hold of her? Hello.... If she's going on all those auditions (including/especially the TV show audition) as I mentioned previously she MUST have an agent! Why wouldn't they call the agent to begin with? And if she doesn't have one, she wouldn't be going out for TV shows. Just saying.
Overall I really enjoyed La La Land. I appreciate the genre of movie musicals coming back onto the radar in such a big way. I think it was well done and a really lovely film. I think it would be interesting to hear the music performed with stronger singers though... But in some ways Emma Stone's mediocre voice actually kind of worked for her character. It wasn't bad, it was just... fine. Honestly the thing that impressed me the most in the whole film was Ryan Gosling's piano skills, but I suppose that's a whole other subject entirely.
Even through these very large stretches from reality made certain aspects of the film a little hard to buy, it still captured the essence of what it is like to be a struggling artist with a big dream and tangible goals, and for that I am very appreciative. In a lot of ways I feel like my life was captured in this magical, musical form. Non-actor friends were able to catch a glimpse into what my life as an actor is like. I only hope that one day that stroke of magic and luck hits my career, and that I team up with an agent as hard-working and impressive as Mia's invisible one.
The early scenes in the movie certainly are familiar to any actress who auditions in Los Angeles. Overworked casting directors often do eat, text/email on phones/computers, barely glance up, allow interruptions by associates, all while the actor is opening her heart and doing her best to play with a reader who has no connection to the material. It does hurt. It is humiliating. It's what we do.
And we do what Mia did. We use our imaginations to persevere, believing in a future that won't hurt us or humiliate us if we work hard enough, meet the right people, generate some luck. We go on. We do our best. We dream.
Until it hurts too much. Until it's not worth it anymore. Until we give all we have to give and decide to give up.
Mia's dream to produce and star in her own play? Not surprising that she didn't think it was really possible before Sebastian made the suggestion. She's a “girl.” She's young. She has time. She can wait. Actors feel powerless in the business of acting. Not my responsibility if I don't work – I can blame “them.” Some even believe, “If my dreams don't come true, I can do something else.” Some can. Many of us can't.
I produced and starred in a play I wrote last fall. Hard? Yes. Exciting? Yes. Crazy? No. It took me over 25 years of working regularly in this business before I was ready to put myself out in that way. It proved to be empowering, fun (sometimes) and very well received. Unlike Mia's play.
Skip to the end of the movie and Mia becomes a star in five years? OK, eleven counting the six years spent auditioning. That's fantasy for most actors. But Mia and Sebastian both realize their dreams – she's a successful actor and he owns a jazz club. But these dreams may never have happened without the gift of each other. Being together forever was the dream that didn't come true.
TRACY ANN CHAPEL
I have had auditions where people were on the phone talking the whole time while I was emoting my best work! The role was very realistic. I can also say that lots of us dream of doing our own "one woman show." The relationship where a musician leaves an actress because they can't commit and live in different cities is spot on. I was in one just like that for years. We finally had to break -up. He now lives in San Francisco and I in LA. The distance is still to far our lives now are so different. We get together once and a while. And because he was there when I was starting out; he takes a big place in my (heart) life. I will never forget him. In fact, I called him up and told him to see the film. He did, and I asked him did you see us? and he said "Yes."
I really enjoyed La La Land for a nice romanticized version of what happens in L.A. I thought some things they touched on were definitely similar like putting a lot of effort into a show or project and having no one come and see it. Going to auditions where it seems like they could care less if you're there or not with a bunch of girls who seem like a better version of you. A lot of people definitely think there are some things wrong with it like being plucked from obscurity and starring in a feature film. It does seem far fetched to me as well but I feel like this is a town where anything can happen and maybe it might not be to that extent but it's nice to think it's possible!
I loved the movie as fluff fantasy and never thought it purported to represent reality beyond the notion that few find success in Hollywood. To probe too deeply is to ask why Bambi talks or how it was that Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang could fly.
Whether the arc of the Emma Stone character is a true depiction of what happens to a real actress coming to tinsel town? The answer is no for several reasons: Most aspiring actresses don't dance and don't sing and if they do either, they don't do it on pavement in the Hollywood hills. Most don't get gigs based on only telling a story after having been seen in a self-produced show in Santa Monica by just the right casting agent (do CDs even go to one person self-produced shows? NO). Most actresses don't have multi-ethnic roommates with just the right primary color dress to present a rainbow coalition while dancing and singing their way to a party. On the other hand, the asshole giving the party was very real. But I digress. The movie was not a documentary and shouldn't be judged on the reality spectrum.
Well, over the holidays, my daughters and my husband and I were picking a film to see, and when we finally settled on LA LA LAND, my elder daughter declined. "I'm so not in the mood for a heteronormative romantic fantasy," were her exact words. So we went without her, but her description was just so apt it kind of was ruining the film for me. (Just desserts: I used to assure them when they were little and something scary happened in a film, that I was friends with the bad guy and he was actually very sweet, and they would yell at me that I was always ruining scary movies.)Anyway, this was at the Landmark. There was a bomb scare about 20 minutes before the end of the film, the whole theatre was evacuated, and we never went back to see the end.
As for my take as a film actor who also does theatre in LA, well, the idea that a casting director would bother seeing theatre, even less actually cast someone who wasn't setting the town on fire, is hilarious.
I guess it's the point--a fantasy--but it seems cruel in a way.
I think every actress in LA can relate to pouring your heart into an audition and being cut off halfway through or being briskly told “THANKS” after barely finishing your last word. It's a particularly cruel, time-driven industry where if you haven't performed the exact way the director wants you to or if the day is running late or the casting director is in a bad mood because they haven't eaten lunch, they can shuffle you out without a single comment. And even if you understand this and know it's “just business,” it's not personal, there is something heartbreaking about baring your soul over and over (as you must do in every audition) just to be told, in one of a myriad of ways, "no.”
I think it's easy to fall into the trap of going to parties with the hopes of being ‘discovered' or meeting someone who might change the path of your career. Especially when you are new to the city. I think every actress can attest to that. And for the most part, those parties are full of douche-bags who have no desire to help you. On the contrary they will use you and take from you whatever it is that they can. At the same time, I have met multiple wonderful directors, writers, managers, agents and producers at parties and had fascinating conversations. Years later we are still friends, although more often acquaintances and in a few instances I have ended up working with them. Though this was further down the road and not an instant route to anything.
I think that another truthful element in Emma Stone's character's experience is that of taking her fate into her own hands with her one woman play. And I feel that it was poetic that this, albeit badly attended and reviewed, performance is what led to her big break. So many actors take the well trodden route of getting an agent, auditioning and waiting for the phone to ring (or the email to ping.) But I feel that an alternate, more empowering route to success is through creating your own work. I, myself, produced and starred in a play in London and have written, produced and sold my web series GIRLS LIKE MAGIC. I also have three features which I have written in various stages of development with myself attached to star. Whether or not this will lead to my ‘big break', I don't know, but at least I'm taking matters into my own hands and creating something.
One thing that a lot of actors took issue with [in LA LA LAND] was how easy it was for Emma Stone's character to ‘make it' when she eventually did break through. Now I can't personally attest to how truthful that is, as I'm not at that stage in my career but I'm hopeful that yes - all it takes is that ONE role. I've seen it happen to many of my friends and as long as I'm in this game, I've got a shot at it happening to me.
The main thing I think about Mia in Lala land - was that she never stuck me as that good of an actor....
And so it also felt a bit sad to me that she ended up "making it " because I think the movie could have rewarded a character who maybe was a better performer.
In terms of her life- I loved all of the moments she had in audition rooms, but I do think it was a glamorized version of the truth. Most of the actors I know spend more time trying to get into rooms than actually in them auditioning.... it would have been interesting to see her do this rather than just get cut off mid sentence.
Hey there! Despite the fact that they hired non actors/singers for a musical (hello Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady and Natalie Wood in West Side Story), I thought it was fluffy, but fun. I'm not a fan of the "starving artist" mentality. I will not buy you a drink cuz you be broke cuz your "agent isn't working for you." Most actors, and the ones in the movie, are educated and it's a lifestyle choice. Figure out a way to support yourself. Know the ride you're getting on. It's a struggle. We all know this. But we CHOSE IT. That being said, I felt their relationship was sweet as it developed, but what got me was the scene where Emma goes to the John Legend concert to see Ryan play. It's packed. It's huge. They're rock stars. Its a BIG FUCKING DEAL. And instead of wrapping her arms around him and fucking him all night, she says he's a sell out, and is disappointed. Hated that part. Of course it's not the jazz he was used to playing, but being on Full House gives you the ability to be in The Squid and The Whale for scale. It's not a sell out. Going back to my previous point, you do what you have to do to get the funds to create art. You can't do a goddamn thing but pontificate if you're broke. That John Legend tour would've given Ryan's character the credibility, exposure, and financial means to facilitate both his and her dreams, and her myopic approach and inability to see that was a real hole in her character. Would I play in a shitty band and travel the world if it put half a mill in my pocket? You're goddamn right I would. Would I come home and produce a play that's not a comedy...the hardest to produce and get made...you're goddamn right I would! Does that make me a sellout? Fuck no. It makes me an astute businesswoman. And that's a fact Jack.