All the world’s a stage …
West Scranton’s Michael Flynn has always wanted a career in theater. If he looks familiar, it may be because you’ve seen him in productions at The University of Scranton, where he majored in theater. From taking center stage in The Grapes of Wrath as part of Scranton Reads to the notable show Columbinus, Flynn enjoyed starting his theatrical career in Scranton. A little over a year ago, he moved to Hoboken, N.J., when the opportunity arose to be the swing in an off-Broadway production of Freckleface the Musical. In between Freckleface shows, he’s been returning to his Scranton roots to launch the first Scranton Shakespeare Festival with REV Theatre Company, with help from a board of dedicated local volunteers and advocates for the arts. The festival will feature a free, outdoor production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Saturday, June 30 and Sunday, July 1 at 6 p.m. in Nay Aug Park. REV has presented the production in New York, Philadelphia and Connecticut to more than 6,000 people, and now we’ll have a chance to enjoy the show under the stars, too. We recently caught up with him in Nay Aug Park to talk about life in the theater, and his role as co-founder and executive producer of this upcoming show. (And don’t worry, you’ll see him acting in the show, too!). Meet Michael Flynn…
Tell us about the show you’re currently wrapping up.
It’s an off-Broadway production of Freckleface the Musical based on the Julianne Moore book Freckleface Strawberry and we’ve had about an eight to nine month engagement. We’re closing at the end of this month, but it’s been a really good run. We got to work with Julianne Moore a little bit which was pretty cool and we got to meet some pretty interesting people, so it was nice.
For those who aren’t familiar with the role of a swing, can you tell us what you do?
As the swing, I understudy the three male roles in the production.
Learning three parts at the same time must be challenging.
There were certain days when I would concentrate on one role and then certain days when I focused on the other roles. With this show in particular there are only three men, so it’s not like you’re understudying for a chorus and you know the dance and wherever you stand you’re doing the same thing – just in a different place. Every single one of them is doing something different, so it was a challenge. I’ve done Shakespeare, I’ve done Summer Stock, which is putting up a musical in seven days, and I’ve done a lot of theaters of the absurd and I keep telling people — and they think I’m joking — that this children’s show has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. (Laughs). But it’s been going well. It’s a good run. And fortunately the way the performance schedule works — because it’s a more family-oriented show — we do a lot of performances on the weekends, which means I’ve been able to rehearse here (Scranton) during the week with the company.
Tell us a little bit about the show we’ll see in Nay Aug Park.
It’s going to be top notch. It’s a really accessible show. I think it’s one of the most accessible of Shakespeare’s works because it’s not too lofty, it doesn’t have too much historical content, plus the way that our director trimmed it down to two hours and incorporated some musical numbers and slapstick gags into it — she did a really terrific job — it’s going to be really accessible for children and families.
I read that this show will offer an “urban” take on Shakespeare. Can you talk about that?
Well, for instance, our fairies are not very nymphlike and ethereal. They’re more like Lady Gaga, punk rock, vixeny. And there are kiddie pools and water guns in it, and we’re not wearing Elizabethan clothing. We’re wearing modern clothing. It’s a little bit more in the present. Originally, REV Theater Company did this production in, say, parking lots because one of their missions is — which we’ve also adopted — that it be accessible to people of all socio-economic backgrounds. It’s not an elitist production; it’s a production everyone can go to, which is why we don’t charge for it — ever. And they use a saying that I really like: “It’s not your Grandma’s Shakespeare.” It’s still heightened, but there’s music in it like Hey Nonny Nonny, Mr. Sandman and a few other fun poppy Latin numbers, too. And what’s interesting about it is that even though we’re using all these fun things like water guns and kiddie pools, there’s still so much integrity to the text.
Sounds like you’re having a lot of fun with this. When did you know you wanted a career in theater?
It’s interesting. It was never a conscious decision; I always knew it. I remember being 4 years old and going to pre-school and there were all these blocks. I remember saying, “I want to build a stage.” I have no idea why. My parents provided us with culture, but it wasn’t as if we were going to the theater every week. So I don’t know where it came from. My older siblings weren’t involved in it. It’s kind of weird when you think about it. I have a friend whose grandmother remembers asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up when I was in pre-school or kindergarten, and she was expecting I’d say a firefighter or a cop and I said, “I want to be on Broadway!” She remembers that to this day, which is really funny.
I also think maybe being the youngest in a family where everyone was older and doing their own thing (had something to do with it). I got used to using my imagination and I was always that kid in the neighborhood who was orchestrating everything, whether it was a haunted house we would do in my friend’s garage or cops and robbers. I always had to be the person who was staging or organizing everything.
Sounds like good preparation for working as a producer …
This is the first time I’ve really taken on a producing kind of role. I really love performing and all my life I’ve wanted to be an actor, but lately I’ve been reading a lot of really terrific biographies of prominent historical theatrical people, one of them being Joe Papp who founded the New York Shakespeare Festival. It’s just so interesting when you read about these people who start off acting, then they start directing, and then the next thing you know they have one of the biggest nonprofit theater organizations in the world on its 50th year. So I think I want to explore more than just acting. Granted, I love it, but I’m kind of looking at more options instead of just exclusively acting.
— julie imel
Scranton Shakespeare Festival presents REV Theatre Company’s production of Midsummer Night’s Dream on Saturday, June 30 and Sunday, July 1 at 6 p.m. in Nay Aug Park. All performances are free. Bring blankets or chairs and a picnic to enjoy before the performance. For more information, visit Scranton Shakespeare Festival on Facebook or call 487-3954.