News Column

Next stage of his career: Michael Bradshaw Flynn juggles Scranton Shakespeare Festival and Broadway demands

July 20, 2014

By Caitlin Heaney West, The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa.

July 20--Michael Bradshaw Flynn answers Broadway's call, but he refuses to hang up on Scranton.

In just the four years since he graduated from college, the city native has mixed working on New York City's stages with giving back to the community he loves. And now, he finds himself busier than ever balancing the two passions.

This summer, Mr. Flynn once again returned to Scranton as producing artistic director of the Scranton Shakespeare Festival, an annual free theater production he founded in 2012. In addition to acting in the festival's "Twelfth Night, Or What You Will" earlier this month and directing "The Pirates of Penzance" for it next month, the 26-year-old will commute to New York City from Scranton to work as assistant director on "It's Only a Play," which will begin previews on Broadway in late August.

It makes for a lot to handle, but, Mr. Flynn said, "How am I going to complain about all of these awesome opportunities that I've gotten?"

Early start

From building stages out of blocks as a preschooler to proclaiming in elementary school that he planned a career on Broadway, Mr. Flynn had clear intentions from early on, and they never wavered. His family -- including his uncle, the late Matthew Flynn, who ran Scranton Cultural Center at The Masonic Temple for many years -- respected and exposed him to the arts.

"My father and my uncle, yes, they were both those Irish storytellers, raconteurs who were very much into the art of storytelling, as is my grandmother," Mr. Flynn said, sitting outside in the shade on a sultry July morning at his alma mater, the University of Scranton. "All of my family, I would say, is very expressive. ... My uncle was very close to me, he was very supportive, but he and my father both, I think, shared that kind of love of the old American musical."

That adoration passed to the aspiring thespian, who took on theatrical opportunities from Arts Alive and summer stock to Scranton Preparatory School and the U of S. After earning his theater degree and working locally for a year, Mr. Flynn moved to Hoboken, New Jersey, and started auditioning for shows in New York, working in a restaurant to support himself and performing.

During one such show -- a production of "Hamlet" in Binghamton, New York -- he started talking to the director about possibly presenting Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in Nay Aug Park. Mr. Flynn knew if they used local actors and some of the director's students they might have a shot at putting together a low-cost show they could offer for free.

Hundreds of people attended that first year of what became the Scranton Shakespeare Festival.

"That's when I was like, 'OK, this isn't a one-summer kind of event,'" Mr. Flynn recalled. "This is something that there's a need for here."

The festival has grown in each subsequent year, while at the same time Mr. Flynn's career in New York started picking up thanks to Douglas Carter Beane, a Tony-nominated writer who spends summers nearby at Lake Carey. When Mr. Beane needed an assistant and called U of S theater professor Richard Larsen for suggestions, he received Mr. Flynn's name.

"He just had the right mix of enthusiasm and a knowledgeable manner," Mr. Beane said.

Making his way

Mr. Flynn began helping Mr. Beane with "The Nance," a play starring Nathan Lane that ran on Broadway from March to August 2013. He sat in on auditions and helped with script rewrites, all the while exposed to Mr. Lane's comedic skills, Mr. Beane's wit and "some of the best designers in the business." Mr. Flynn compared the time there to a master class.

"It was just like sit down, shut up and absorb as much of this as you can, because these are ... the people that I need to learn from to continue American theater," he said.

That experience led to his upcoming gig on "It's Only a Play," which "The Nance" director Jack O'Brien also will helm. It stars Mr. Lane, Matthew Broderick, Stockard Channing and other stage and screen veterans.

"It's a big step, so that's exciting," Mr. Flynn said. "And I also think it will be a learning experience for me because I've artistic directed but I've never assistant directed, and I think it will give me a perspective of, 'Is this the route that I want to take on this trip?'"

Mr. Flynn's success has not surprised Simone Daniel, his friend since sixth grade who called him "probably the most charming person I've ever met in my entire life."

"I've never had a moment where I've thought to myself, 'Oh, I wonder if Michael's going to be OK,'" Miss Daniel said. "He'd figure it out. He always does."

Mr. Flynn has earned respect, too, an important aspect in show business, Mr. Beane said. Mr. Flynn has been steadfast, good and loyal to him, he added, and Mr. O'Brien and Mr. Lane feel the same. Mr. Beane remembers how he, Mr. O'Brien and Mr. Lane would sit together discussing ideas for "The Nance" and Mr. Flynn would throw out some suggestions, too, impressing everyone in the room.

"It wasn't like, oh, I liked him but everybody hated him," Mr. Beane said. "Everybody liked him. ... He really had a real knowledge of the history and theater traditions and had a thirst and hunger for it."

Mr. Flynn's latest job involves serving as a liaison between Mr. O'Brien and the show's different departments, while at the same time he still must fulfill his duties with the Shakespeare festival. This year, it has three shows instead of one, including the world premiere of Mr. Beane's play, "Fairycakes."

"That's what I admire about him, is that he's thinking. ... He's not doing the flash musical that people want to see right now," Mr. Beane said. "He's finding classic plays from the canon of world theater, and he's putting them on and allowing new generations to see them."

Bringing in actors from around the world to perform with locals shows a vision on Mr. Flynn's part, that he believes his hometown is worthy of an international theater company, Mr. Beane said. He believes Mr. Flynn has the right mix of New York sensibility, moving forward with his career there and his home. He wants to bring the theater to Scranton, Mr. Beane said, "and that only impresses the New York theater people more."

"Scranton should look at this and know that's who he is. ... There's a history of people coming to Scranton with showbiz stories, taking the money and running, but this is someone who is from here, knows here (and) knows what the people like," Mr. Beane said.

Mr. Flynn wants to make a living working in the theater and hopes "to create something that becomes bigger than I am and lasts longer than I do." That has kind of happened with the Shakespeare festival, he said, noting how he seeks input from his peers about how they can improve it.

"There's a very dangerous misstep that a lot of people my age can kind of get into when they're going on with these endeavors," Mr. Flynn said. "Out of their insecurities, instead of saying, 'I don't know this, so I've got to figure it out,' they kind of go, 'I've got all the answers,' and they quickly plow through. I'd much rather take inventory of the company and see what we're doing right and what we're doing wrong and how we can improve."

Showing how much creative influence comes from behind-the-scenes, Mr. Flynn's experience thus far has altered the direction of his career. He would still love to act, but he said his jobs have shown him "there's a lot of opportunities and a lot of excitement in all kind of avenues of this business we call show."

Even with Mr. Flynn's recent successes, Miss Daniel pointed out, he has remained true to himself.

"There are a lot of people who are driven and ambitious and they would step on other people and they would forget where they came from and turn on their friends, and that's just not the kind of person he is," she said. "And I think that speaks highly of him."

He attributes a lot of his work ethic to the people of Scranton.

"I would say that there was a lot to learn here," Mr. Flynn said. "And I think a lot of my success -- even though it's still fairly small, I haven't won any Tonys or anything like that, so I don't want to sound bizarrely pompous -- but a lot of it is attributed to the people and professionals I've met here."

Contact the writer:

cheaney@timesshamrock.com,

@cheaneyTT on Twitter

Meet Michael Bradshaw Flynn

Age: 26

Residence: Formerly of Scranton, he now lives in Hoboken, New Jersey

Family: Parents, Martin and Virginia Flynn, and siblings, Marty, Katie and Bridget

Education: Graduate of Scranton Preparatory School and University of Scranton, where he studied theater

Professional experience: Founder and producing artistic director of the annual Scranton Shakespeare Festival; assistant director for the upcoming Broadway play "It's Only a Play."

'It's Only a Play'

Stars: F. Murray Abraham, Matthew Broderick, Stockard Channing, Rupert Grint, Nathan Lane and Megan Mullally

When: Previews begin Aug. 28, and the show will open Oct. 9 and run through Jan. 4.

Where: Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St., New York City

Details: Visit www.itsonlyaplay.com.

Scranton Shakespeare Festival

What/when: "Fairycakes," Friday and Saturday, and "The Pirates of Penzance," Aug. 8 to 10, all at 6 p.m.

Where: McDade Center for Literary and Performing Arts, University of Scranton

Details: Admission is free. Visit www.scranton shakespearefestival.org.

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(c)2014 The Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pa.)

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