PCS Blog

Red: Behind the Curtain

Posted by Kinsley Suer | 01 March 2012

In honor of our current production of Red, we've compiled some behind-the-scenes photos and insider tidbits detailing the production's rehearsal process, set construction, props and more. The show runs through March 18. Miss it and you might be seeing RED! Okay, bad pun...but we couldn't resist.
Rehearsals began for the production on January 24. As with all of our productions, as the set was being built on the Main Stage, the cast was busy rehearsing in our third floor Rehearsal Hall. And what a mess of it they made! After only a few days, red paint was splattered all over the floor, walls, ceiling and even the actors themselves. As much of the room as possible was protected with plastic sheeting, including the sound boards that along the walls of the Rehearsal Hall. These sound boards are a nifty little invention that deflect as much sound as possible back into the room; they’re especially important because the PCS administrative offices are also located on the third floor of the building. They particularly come in handy when musicals are rehearsing…and plays that require a lot of screaming.
During the show, the actors a required to paint a huge 11'x14' canvas mounted on a wooden frame. This process had to be perfected during the rehearsal period. Normally the rehearsal props and scenic pieces are carried through the doors of the hall, but this canvas piece was so large that it actually had to be built in the Rehearsal Hall. It couldn’t fit through the doors! Patrick Alparone, who plays Rothko's assistant, Ken, physically stretches and mounts the canvas during every performance. And yes, there will be painting onstage. Before rehearsals began, Daniel Benzali, who plays Mark Rothko, prepared for the role by taking some painting classes at the Art Institute of Portland (located just across the street!). In addition, both actors were trained by local artist Stephen Scott Smith throughout the rehearsal process. Every evening, our fabulous Production Assistant Lydia Comer would thoroughly wash every paint brush in preparation for the next day of rehearsal. The actors went through a lot of brushes. We greatly admire her dedication!
Red is a very prop-heavy show. More than 100 jars and cans of paint pigment appear onstage during each performance, as well as more than 35 canvases – our “faux” Rothkos. The actors also work with muslin to build the canvases, which is ordered on a nine-foot roll. By the end of the run of Red, we will have used over 2,400 square feet of muslin. Red is considered a "work play" because the actors have to do all of the work themselves on stage. They mix the pigments, stretch the canvas and paint the huge canvas in front of a live audience.
In addition to paint, pigment and canvases, props for this show range from art books to a record player to fake cigarettes. Mark Rothko was definitely a heavy smoker throughout his lifetime. In fact, almost every photo of Mark Rothko that we could find shows him with a cigarette in his hand, which would have been common in his day. The stage cigarettes used in the play are a light, herbal cigarette that are both nicotine and smoke-free.
Pictured above are photos of the set design model for the production. Resembling a diorama, everything is built perfectly to scale. The scenic designer for Red is Daniel Meeker, who also did the lighting and set design for The Real Americans this season at PCS. Our lighting designer, Diane Ferry Williams, was last seen at PCS doing some incredible work in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, for which she won a Portland Drammy Award. The set is chock full of canvases, several of which resemble Rothko's work. In reality, they are the work of local artist and teacher JoAnn Gilles, who also happens to be a big Mark Rothko fan. Sadly, through our agreement with the Rothko Foundation, all of the replicas must be destroyed at the end of the run. So enjoy them while you can!
As the set was being constructed on the Main Stage a few weeks ago, we snuck in to the theater to snap a photo of the action. Here is a peak at the actual set as it was being constructed. Meeker designed an incredibly beautiful set, meant to represent Rothko's art studio in an old gymnasium in New York City in the 1950s. The entire stage is framed by a set piece bursting with shades of red.

Red runs through March 18 on the Main Stage. Tickets are on sale now!

Special thanks to Group Sales and Promotions Manager Mandy Hamilton for providing these awesome photos & tidbits.

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