Rogue Machine Takes Big Risks and Growing Strong

LowRe Brian LetscherA good rule of thumb is to start as you mean to go on. For Rogue Machine it all started when TV and film producer John Perrin Flynn renewed his interest in directing for the stage and had big ideas about producing theatre in Los Angeles. After seeing Craig Lucas’ Obie-award-winning play “Small Tragedy” in NYC, he made several attempts to get the rights. For Flynn, this would mark the first step towards embarking on a big, risk-taking venture in the Los Angeles theatre community.

In the six months waiting to obtain the rights for Lucas’ play, Flynn came across a young unknown playwright looking for a director to produce his first play. He loved the script called “Lost and Found” by John Pollono, who went on to write one of Rogue Machine’s biggest hits, “Small Engine Repair” (winning “Best Production” awards from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle and Ovation voters), a play that moved Off-Broadway for a successful run.

Flynn directed Pollono’s “Lost and Found” and went on to his next project, “Small Tragedy” which made its Southern California premiere at the Odyssey Theatre with long time friend and colleague, Ron Sossi as producer. At the time, Flynn wrestled with the idea of continually staging new, edgier plays.

With the support of the Jabberwocky collective (Pollono’s group), John Perrin Flynn made a bold resolution to start a company with its mission to “serve the community.” This meant producing work by up and coming, contemporary playwrights otherwise ignored on the west coast. He viewed the startup less creatively and approached the dilemma with a pragmatic business model.

WillcoxFleischer1“I saw an ad by Jeff Murray offering the Theatre/Theater space. I negotiated a longer rental agreement. We needed the time. We upgraded the facility and have two spaces there. Rents being what they are, we had to think about revenue. There are practicalities to running a theater so we decided to start the late night show (10 p.m.) to keep ourselves from going dark while we ran our mainstage productions. We had to keep generating income and couldn’t run shows simultaneously. This is when we thought outside-of-the box and started running a variant schedule from the typical runs: Saturday at 5 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m. and Monday (gasp!) at 8 p.m.

“It was risky but that’s what we’ve always done, is take risks, and so far it’s paid off. Necessity is the mother of invention and the response from audiences and critics has been great. No one likes to talk about the traffic because it’s such a tired complaint but people from the Valley are much more likely to drive here for a show on a Saturday late afternoon and enjoy dinner afterwards. Mondays have been surprisingly tremendous!

Rogue Machine was officially born in 2008 and has since garnered numerous awards, including the Ovation award for Excellence in Theater, LA Weekly, Backstage Garland awards, Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle awards and critical acclaim from every major publication from Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and the Los Angeles Times to loyal websites and blogs championing their risk-taking mindset.

As to the journey, Flynn takes pride in what Rogue Machine has achieved thus far, but he’s not one to be satisfied by status quo or complacency. His mission is to bring what most theatre companies are unwilling or too nervous to take on, such as Enda Walsh’s “Penelope” or David Harrower’s “Blackbird.” This work speaks to the idea of people not falling into all good or all bad. We aren’t dealing with heroes and villains, or even linear stories.”
The World Premiere of “Nice Things” by multi-award winning playwright Vince Melocchi will open in the late summer/early fall of this season and be followed by taking another risk, when they present Mike Bartlett’s Olivier Award winning comedy, “Cock.”

The offshoot of Rogue Machine’s meteoric rise is their influence on other theatre companies to give new works, world premieres, and budding writers a chance to stage their craft. Growing a theatre in LA means sharing resources. Rogue Machine has co-produced with the Skylight Theatre Company and Co-Artistic Director Elina de Santos will be directing the Skylight’s next production, “The Sexual Life of Savages,” by Ian MacAllister-McDonald. “Simon Levy, at the Fountain Theatre, had found Enda Walsh’s “The New Electric Ballroom” and just thought it would be ideal for our sensibilities. Now, we’re running our second Walsh play, the often sold out “Penelope,” and offering the playwright a home where he knows his work will be done well. This is one of our goals, to form relationships with playwrights of this caliber.”

Flynn reminds us “there were already companies like the Boston Court doing original work. I like to use the surfing metaphor: we didn’t invent the wave but we rode it and now there are others riding that wave. We produce 4-5 plays a year (along with the Rant & Rave series, and Off-the-Clock late night series—where “Small Engine Repair” made its debut, and The Dramaturge’s Table spearheaded by literary manager Henry Murray), and we mix it up with West Coast premieres.”

He laughs as he spreads his hands out, leaning forward, unconsciously as if letting me in on a secret—the recipe for their success, perhaps? “I think it’s all about communication. We think about the audience and what Los Angeles deserves to see. We look for layered stories with a lot of depth. Our artistic obligation is to the now. Sure, young people can appreciate and enjoy say, Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” That’s fine but there needs to be a voice relating to the current generation. We need our own voices reflecting back to us. It means taking a risk, but theater has always been a risky endeavor. Why not do it big?”

Rogue Machine is one of the biggest titans in the local theatre community, from their preeminent productions, collaborative artists, and their ongoing relationships with playwrights both here in the city and beyond. More doors are now opening for them in New York and internationally. The benefits have long since proved to outweigh the risks.

Start as you mean to go on…Rogue Machine is a model of a startup theater company with big ideas, big ambitions and big success.

About Peter Finlayson

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Peter Finlayson is the Founder, Publisher and Editor-in-chief of FootLights magazine and footlight.click. While working on a prelaw program at the University of Michigan, he happily got involved with the theatre program. Much to his mother’s chagrin, law school never happened, but in a career spanning more than 4 decades, Peter has performed, directed or designed more than 150 productions. In his spare time, he is working on a new play. You can follow him on Twitter @Thtrdog .

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