American expressionist artist Mark Rothko’s studio is the setting for the two-man play, Red, written by Academy Award-nominee John Logan (The Aviator, Gladiator). Directed by Olivier winner and Tony Award-nominee Michael Grandage (Frost/Nixon, Hamlet), Red is a moving and compelling account of an artist's struggle for integrity amidst fame and self-doubt.
This highly acclaimed production, currently in previews, opens on April 1 at The Golden Theatre on Broadway, direct from the Donmar Warehouse in London, with the same two stars: two-time Tony Award-nominee Alfred Molina as Rothko and Eddie Redmayne as his assistant.
The challenge for the design team—Neil Austin, lighting, Adam Cork, composer and sound, and Christopher Oram, set and costumes—was recreating Rothko’s studio. To do so, the stage is totally exposed up to the grid, with a small truss tucked away at the top for a backlight position 65’ high.
"We have the smallest rig on Broadway," says Austin, who worked with associate LDs Rob Halliday and Pamela Kupper on the transfer. "There are no moving lights. There was no need." PRG Lighting supplied the small rig, which encompasses ETC Source Fours that have been painted a gritty white to blend into the set. "The set is very realistic. You shouldn’t see any of the lights," Austin adds. A Strand 500 series console provides control, with production electrician John Lawson sharing board op duties with Tom Lawrey.
In addition to the Source Fours are period fixtures, which add another touch of reality. "Rothko blocked the windows in his studio," explains Halliday. "He used scoops on stands to control the light." The designers found vintage fixtures in London for the Donmar production and brought them along to NY, including three rows (front and sides of stage) of Strand Sunray and S-Battens circa 1940s-50s, and old Altman scoops, like the ones seen in photos of Rothko's studio. "When Altman told us they haven't changed this fixture in 50 years, we were actually deslighted," Halliday adds. Another touch copied from the studio is a paint-spattered blue Adirondack chair.
There is also a vintage Mole Richardson scoop on a stand that the actors move around the stage. "The actors have learned how to change the bulb if need be," notes Austin, pointing out there is an extra hidden on stage. He also gave the actors notes on how to move and focus the scoop on stage to make sure the right thing was lit and the light wasn't in the other actor's eyes.
Hanging overhead are 15 fluorescent fixtures, used in one scene only, when the actors switch on the lights in the studio. "The paintings look dead under these lights," says Austin. "It's a lighting designer's dream. We get a chance to show them what it would look like under work lights. Then they know what we are really doing."
The period lighting is certainly something to look forward to when seeing Red.