The Idea of a Theatre –
Some Thoughts and Questions

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I was recently asked if I’d like to blog here.  The invitation came as part of an interview about Rogue Machine, the theatre I helped found.  I had given Janet Thielke a letter I had sent out to about 30 friends as we began contemplating starting Rogue Machine and a second letter I sent at the beginning of the second season.  I had called those letters The Idea of a Theatre – this was an homage to the book by Francis Fergusson  which inspired me so much when I was in college and to Andrew Jolly, the professor who introduced me to that book.

The Idea of A Theatre – some thoughts and questions

Most of us have worked in a number of the theatres in town and quite often it’s been in the better theatres, at least as far as the quality of the productions is concerned.  Many of us, certainly this applies to me, are still motivated by the idea that it can be done better, not just better quality but better management.  This isn’t a reason to start a theatre but it is undeniably a motivating factor.

Why isn’t the probable success, the ability to run a theatre better, enough?

If the only reward we can guarantee is the approbation of our peers and self satisfaction, if that is all we aspire to, then we might as well continue to be vagabonds, working for those very theatres we think to challenge because, achieved or not, most of them started with an idea, with great expectations.

If we are to be artists we must ask ourselves what our work means?  What is the nature of theatre as art and art as a part of society?

Forgive me the quote… I can’t begin to say it better.

“… the purpose of playing, whose end, both first and now, was and is, to hold, as ‘t were, a mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.”

Some people believe theatre is dying; the audiences are aging, new audiences are not being developed; theatre has lost its relevancy yet, across America, there are theatre companies that inspire excitement in their communities, some of these theatres have even achieved national prominence.

There are some very good theatres in Los Angeles.  In the last two years The Actor’s Gang has sponsored more than 1 million dollars in equity tours – they’ve played in Australia, Greece, Edinburgh, NYC, and in universities across America.  The Fountain Theatre has been to NYC, Edinburgh, and Canada.  I’ve also seen fine work at PRT, Circle X, The Road, Moving Arts, 24th St.,  and The Odyssey. Other theatres have also done well.  For a time even The Mark Taper did important work.  It’s not that Los Angeles doesn’t have a voice but it is only a whisper of what it could and should be.

Can all of us together change this?  Who knows?  Can we add another voice?  I think so or I would not be contemplating trying.

How do we hold this mirror up to nature?  How do we add our voice?  Why? What should be our goals?  Our stated artistic purpose?

This is what I’d like to discuss with those of you interested in this endeavor and with anyone else you know and respect who might be interested.

I know that development is and must be an important part of the process -  new playwrights, new stories, new adaptations of old stories that still resonate.  Equally important though, is audience development.  What needs to be said in this world, how do we say it in such a way that audiences will come to hear us, to laugh with us, to rage with us and cry with us?

And theatre is also a business.  Can we run a 99 seat theatre?  Sure?  But the question is can we be more?

Theatre is communal.  It is we not I.  This is part of the challenge and part of the reward.   If you have something to say don’t hesitate to address it to all of us.  Just hit the reply to all button.  If you think you know someone who would like to be a part of this discussion, forward it to him/her.

I look forward to the discussion.


John Perrin Flynn

John Perrin Flynn