Pepperdine University’s long-standing history of performance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival has encouraged collaboration for unique opportunities with students and organizations in the UK and the US. It is an impressive model for outreach in the arts, and a skill displayed in Rogue Machine’s Gateway Project as well. Likeminded in goals, to inspire and connect youth to the theatre arts, the two have come together to present the American premiere of The Interference, by Lynda Radley. This will be one of four 2017 Hollywood Fringe offerings at Rogue Machine, themed in social issues.
Director Cathy Thomas-Grant, Professor of Theatre, started the Pepperdine-Scotland partnership program by reaching out to Scottish organizations and playwright Peter Arnott with the intent of creating an exchange that supported and connected young theatre artists in both countries. It resulted in Arnott’s award winning play Why do You Stand There In The Rain?, taking The Scotsman Fringe First in 2012 for innovation and outstanding new writing.
Scottish based playwright Lynda Radley’s The Interference was Pepperdine’s next Fringe First winner, which was placed on the final shortlist for the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award. The play explores the aftermath of a reported rape and the disturbing attitudes, within our contemporary society, towards the crime. The title refers to American football rules allowing players to block opponents who try to tackle their teammate. It highlights the seemingly infinite sources of opinion, commentary, social media shaming, and distorted information that become routine in the aftermath of reported sexual assaults.
Rogue Machine Theatre prides itself in introducing important works to Southern California, and is currently excelling in just that with their Los Angeles premiere of Lorraine Hansberry’s lost masterpiece, Les Blancs. It is a destination to see important work, The Interference seems an apt choice to run in rotation there with In the Valley of the Shadow by Katherine Cortez, a searing anti-hate drama set in an LGBT club and tender homage to the Pulse nightclub victims, We Are Not These Hands by Sheila Callaghan, about a dystopian society spawned by greed, and The Pleasure Project by Ava Bogle, a testament to feminine activism and expression, in a comedy that balances these dramas by posing that female sexuality can ultimately save humanity.
On the long road to Rogue Machine The Interference became an outstanding example of the success that can be achieved when tenacious youth, guided by industry professionals, tap into the power of collaboration.
Cathy Thomas-Grant talks about that journey in a recent interview:
Ester: Why is “The Interference” being produced in Los Angeles at this time at Rogue Machine?
Cathy Thomas-Grant: After its success in Edinburgh and a workshop of it in Malibu, we wanted to make sure that it lived on. When Rogue Machine offered their support, how could we refuse? There is something about this piece, perhaps its timely subject matter and social message, that has connected and captivated audiences – we, as a company, are certain that this show is not only vitally important, but also able to reach a variety of audiences through its performance style. We are staging it in Los Angeles to introduce it to new audiences. Rogue Machine saw the potential for extending the reach of this production through performances at the Hollywood Fringe, and we are grateful to be able to draw attention to this topic, engendering open conversations about it.
Ester: Tell us a bit about how Pepperdine’s Theatre Department is expanding their international program, and the significance of that?
Cathy Thomas-Grant: What began as a cultural exchange, where students from Pepperdine’s Theatre Department were given the chance to experience another country’s way of making theatre and try their hand at making it themselves, has since become a viable artistic enterprise. While the aforementioned is still a part of the Pepperdine Scotland program, the program itself has expanded to encompass the professional production of new work.
Thanks to the success of Why Do You Stand There in the Rain? (Pepperdine Scotland, 2012) and The Interference, Pepperdine Scotland has become known to the Scottish theatrical community, which has enabled the program to draw other established playwrights and more opportunities for future artistic endeavors.
Ester: Are you purposely focusing on current issues of social justice with the plays that you pick to produce in Edinburgh each year?
Cathy Thomas-Grant: Theatre has always been a vital cultural instrument for social change – as a faith-based university with a mission of service and leadership, it is our duty to create art that challenges the issues we face in our society and draw attention to injustices faced by those who do not always have an opportunity to speak for themselves. Scotland has a rich tradition of agitprop theatre, so it is no great stretch of the imagination to foster this type of theatrical expression with the Pepperdine Scotland program. Studying and producing pieces which focus on issues of social justice, is an important part of an education in the theatrical arts.
Ester: Have you found this generation of college students to be more open about engaging in conversation and resolutions regarding rules of consent?
Cathy Thomas-Grant: On the whole, yes. The conversations that many in the company have been having with their peers have been encouraging. This generation seems to be not only open to talk about consent and its relation to the sexual assault epidemic, but eager. While this isn’t true across the board, responses to The Interference, by college students, has been overwhelmingly positive. For many students, they now feel a sense that there is something concrete to be done in solving this issue. Talking about it is the first step.
Ester: Do you think that social media has effected the way in which these crimes are being reported, and the outcome?
Cathy Thomas-Grant: Social media has an undeniable effect upon the ways in which these crimes are being reported and how they are being responded to. You only need to look at sites such a Facebook, where posts about these crimes are commented upon with slurs and degrading remarks, to see the effect. Facebook is one of the tamer social media sites.
While doing research for The Interference, time and again we were confronted with the social media aspect of these cases. The play does not stretch or exaggerate anything – many of the lines from “Online Commentators” are drawn directly from what has been seen and read online. Social media has such unique potential for helping solve this issue. It simply has to be put to good use.
Ester: What do you hope for audiences to gain from seeing this play?
Cathy Thomas-Grant: First of all, we hope that it brings a better understanding of the magnitude of this issue. Our culture has been inculcated with misogyny. It is up to us to react against it when we experience it. By acknowledging the problem we can start to solve it. The Interference encourages audiences to talk about these issues. It is essential that we as a culture begin the fight to ensure that every person is given the respect that they inherently deserve. This is what basic human rights are about.
The Interference is one of four plays new to Los Angeles in Rogue Machine’s Hollywood Fringe offerings.
The cast includes Christopher Bozzini, Will Craig, Addyson E.L. Culpepper, Dakota Dickerson, Mallory Erwin, Jacquelyn Ferguson, Alexandria Garrett, Parker Johnson, Buddy Kennedy, Brittany King, Caroline Pitts, and Brandon Ruiz.
The Interference runs at 8:00pm on June 66th & 7th, and at 6:00pm on June 8th at Rogue Machine Theatre as a participant in the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Located upstairs at the The Met theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90029. Information: 855-585-5185. Tickets are $12. Reservations here.