Interview: Ruskin Group Theatre's Michael Myers' AN EXTRAORDINARY MAN Putting On More Than ONLY A SHOW!

Next up for the Ruskin Group Theatre, 2 shows in tandem – John Colella’s An Extraordinary Ordinary Man & Paul Linke’s It’s Only a Show!, both opening January 13th

By: Jan. 13, 2024
Interview: Ruskin Group Theatre's Michael Myers' AN EXTRAORDINARY MAN Putting On More Than ONLY A SHOW!

Interview: Ruskin Group Theatre's Michael Myers' AN EXTRAORDINARY MAN Putting On More Than ONLY A SHOW!

Next up for the Ruskin Group Theatre, two shows in tandem – John Colella’s An Extraordinary Ordinary Man and Paul Linke’s It’s Only a Show!, both opening January 13, 2024. Got the chance to ask Ruskin’s producing artistic director Michael Myers a few questions on Ruskin’s current shows and early beginnings.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Michael!

As the producing artistic director of Ruskin Group Theatre, do you have the last word in the selection of Ruskin Group Theatre plays? Or do you share that responsibility with a committee?

John Ruskin and I have had a strong partnership for over 22 years. We pick the shows together. We try to follow the adage, "Would we go see this twice?" If the answer is yes, then we move forward.

What aspects of John Colella’s An Extraordinary Ordinary Man called out to be a Ruskin Group Theatre production?

John Colella and I have worked together since 2005. He is one of my favorite actors and the consummate storyteller. Many of us have encouraged him to do a one-man show on his family for years. During the pandemic, John, myself, and the great Michael Matthews started talking about how this might come together, and it organically took shape from there. I am also privileged to have known his father, the main character of John's play. John Sr. was a beautiful man who couldn't have been a more supportive father. I can't wait for John to share his tribute to him with the world.

What about Paul Linke’s It’s Only a Show?

John Ruskin walked into the Tiffany Theatre in the early 1990's and saw Paul do his powerhouse show Time Flies When You're Alive in 2003. Shortly after opening the theatre, a good friend of John's introduced us all and Paul did a limited run of Time Flies at the Ruskin. This planted the seed to what is now a two-decade relationship of working with Paul. He is truly singular in what he does, and this show will make you grateful to be alive and make you immediately want to pick up the phone and call the people who've shaped who you are. 

Interview: Ruskin Group Theatre's Michael Myers' AN EXTRAORDINARY MAN Putting On More Than ONLY A SHOW! Besides Paul and John, you must have crossed artistic paths with Edward Edwards and Michael Matthews during Ruskin’s 22 years as part of the Los Angeles scene?

I have worked with Paul, Edward, and John many times over the last 20 years. They are all some of my favorite artists.  I have been a fan of Michael Matthews’ work for years. His direction of Cabaret at Celebration theatre was one of the best productions of any show I've seen in 20 years. He is one of Los Angeles Theaters brightest stars and I a feel privileged to get to work with him. 

What was the thought process of running these two shows in tandem?

Given that both shows were so wonderful and so different I thought it would be fun to run them together. They're both so moving, funny and entertaining. I also thought that they could help each other build an audience. 

What would your three-line pitches for both shows be?

For Paul's show, it would be "Who do you carry with you in your back pocket?" Who are the people that shape the choices that you make today? Bring those people either spiritually or physically to Paul Linke's show. 
For John's Show--- It's a show about the fruits that one person's sacrifice yields and how one man's selflessness can shape generations to come. 

How hands-on or hands-off are you during pre-production?

I am hands-on for all parts of the production. My goal is to be of service to the director, writer and playwright. That takes different shapes depending on the talent so it’s always exciting. 

Interview: Ruskin Group Theatre's Michael Myers' AN EXTRAORDINARY MAN Putting On More Than ONLY A SHOW! Whose idea was it originally to check out the Santa Monica Airport as a possible theatre space? Yours or John Ruskin’s?

John Ruskin loved the airport and ironically, I grew up working events here as a high school student. It was John’s idea to check it out but I think both of us can safely say we couldn't have opened the theatre without the other. 

How would you describe the Los Angeles theatre scene in 2002? Were you one of the first theatre companies?

The theatre scene in 2002 was exciting. People like Marylin Fox, Ron Sossi, Gary Grossman & Tim Robbins, to name just a few, had, at that point, already established really vibrant theaters. We were very inspired by those artistic directors to be crazy enough to try and do the same thing. 

What were the hurdles you overcame to produce Ruskin’s very first show Career on Valentine’s 2003?

What hurdles didn't we overcome? Ha! We needed more power to run the lights when we opened, so it was 50-50 whether we would make it through the opening night without a glitch. I sat in the corner by the exit door. About 45 minutes into the play, the lights tripped. I urgently and quietly left my seat and ran to the electrical room to reset the breaker. John stayed in the theatre as he had directed the show, and due to how strong of a bond he had created with that particular cast, they covered it so well that the audience thought it was part of the play.

What inspired you to create the Ruskin Group Theatre L.A Café Plays?

John Ruskin was on staff at The Neighborhood Playhouse for many years, and when they did their 24-hour A-Train plays where writers sat on a train and wrote for actors, and directors and actors rehearsed for 12 hours, he went back to New York City to direct. When he returned and told us how much fun it was, Markus Flanagan, Michael Laurie, Erin Kelly, and I brainstormed how to execute that here. Remember in 2003 there was no train but lots of coffee shops so we decided to set it in a coffee shop and cut the day in half. Writers get 4 and 1/2 hours, and actors get 5. 222 installments later, it's still going strong and selling out monthly. The other part of the inspiration was the belief that the harsh deadline would force all involved to trust their instincts. 

Interview: Ruskin Group Theatre's Michael Myers' AN EXTRAORDINARY MAN Putting On More Than ONLY A SHOW! With over 80 shows and hundreds of café plays, is there one particular show that you are most proud of Ruskin Group Theatre producing? (challenges, debut performance, premiere)

Each show is like a kid, so it's hard to say which is my favorite. The wildest ride we produced was the world premiere of Sideways: The Play by Rex Pickett, directed by Amelia Mulkey. The play went through 29 development drafts, so it was a labor of love. The fruits of the labor were enjoyed by experiencing over 6 months of sold-out performances and the fact that every pinot noir maker in Santa Ynez felt so indebted to Rex that we had free world-class wine tastings every night. I am talking about cases of high-end pinots. Good times.

How has your position on the Santa Monica Arts Commission attributed to the longevity of the Ruskin Group Theatre?

I served on the arts commission from 2008-2020 and chaired the commission for 10 years. By helping lots of different nonprofits and arts businesses in the city, I learned the value of arts advocacy and ensuring that cities adopt policies that codify and protect the arts. The greatest cities in the world are remembered more than anything for their art and that's something that our elected officials need to continue to hear. 

Do you have the upcoming season planned out yet?

We are constantly reading plays and looking for that gold that both John and I love. With the passage of AB5 and the increased costs associated with that law, we are more judicious in our selection. Our picker has, for the most part, been good to the degree that our shows extend. So the answer is there are lots of things cooking but nothing that I feel confident about discussing just yet, but stay tuned.

What’s in the near future for Michael Myers?

My future is wrapped up in building a new theatre. We just signed a long-term lease on the old Santa Monica College Building two doors west of us. We are converting the space into a 78-seat theatre and a 66-seat theatre along with classrooms and rehearsal rooms, so that's taking up a sizable amount of time. If you want to see the renderings and see updates check out https://www.ruskingrouptheatre.com/capital-campaign

Thank you again, Michael! I look forward to seeing Ruskin’s latest productions.

For tickets for either An Extraordinary Ordinary Man or It’s Only a Show! through February 2, 2024; click on the button below:




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