Painting RED

ACC’s Black Box Theater held a production of RED last spring. Read about the Rothko-inspired show and the creative ways ACC’s Drama Department and Art Department collaborated to promote it.

On Feb. 17, in a tucked away art classroom at ACC’s Highland campus, several students could be seen spending their free time on a seemingly peculiar activity: painting various objects red with members of the Drama and Art department. This strange sight was a result of the two departments joining forces for the promotion of ACC’s showcase of Red, a stage play which took place over several weekends at the school’s black box theater during the 2024 Spring semester. 

The idea of painting objects red for an exhibit outside of the theater was both to reflect the play’s title – of course – as well as to reference 20th century artist Mark Rothko, the subject of the story. Everyone in the community was invited to partake in the activity, where participants chose any object of their liking to bring and paint red with the small group.

The red objects displayed outside of ACC’s Black Box Theater before holding a production of RED.

Written by John Logan, Red is set in New York City during the late 50’s, the story is about Rothko’s curious career in the modern art scene and follows the artist during a creative struggle with his assistant, Ken. The two men question one another about the deeper meanings of art and Rothko is challenged to discover how his paintings will fit into a materialistic world – a type of world he despised. 

Director Ryan Williams, a semi-recent alumni of ACC who has previously worked on other productions at the school, was excited to be a part of the 2024 project. He said, “The show involved the subjectivity of art and the concept of one’s perspective.”

The ACC based production took place at the school’s black box theater in the Highland campus and ran during weekends from Feb. 23 through March 3, where the actors Merrick Milburn (Rothko) and Julian Bennett (Ken) took center stage for the two-handed production. When it came to casting, the ACC drama department said they welcomed everyone, and auditions were limited only to people with an interest in participating. 

Rothko (Milburn, left) and Ken (Bennett, right) are engaged in intense discussion during a scene of the stageplay.

Additionally, the set and costumes were the projects of a small team of ACC students and alumni designers. In a letter for the review website CTX Live Theatre, Williams said this team, “put in so much love and hard work in creating the world that is RED, and without them there would be no show.” 

Wanting to have an exhibit that incorporated these artistic concepts and would immerse the audience, the director said his intention with the painting event was to “spark thought, memories, conversation, and most importantly, the feeling of red as folks walked into the space.” 

With art as a central theme of the story, Peter Bonfitto, the Director of The Art Galleries at ACC, called the collaboration between ACC’s Art and Drama departments a “natural fit”. At the painting event he said, “ It’s always good to collaborate and create a partnership with another department at ACC.” 

Not only was the collaboration beneficial in bringing attention to the play for people outside of theater itself, Bonifitto said, “It was also a great experience for students, faculty, and staff to get together to have a workshop and have some fun making a unique display for the college.”

 David McNiff, a student who attended the painting activity, was asked why he wanted to contribute to the project. He replied, “Because I like to support all of the various activities at ACC, I’ve been a long-time student, and I currently take any art class that I can that fits my schedule, and this seemed like a really fun project to work on.” 

Another student, Charles Scarborough, was approached with the same question and said,  “I just love exploring new ideas, and so this was something unusual that called to me… I also really want to support the art community at ACC, and this is such a nice cross-section of theater and art.”

Beyond just supporting the ACC art community, students who were a part of the painting session also wanted to come together to find and talk with others interested in doing the same. Adjunct Art Professor David Thorneberry had an appreciative response when asked about his reason for participating. “My favorite [part] about this was that it opened up art-making to the general public outside of the classes, and one of my big goals in teaching art is to make art accessible to everybody, not just talented people, but art is a thing everyone should do.”

The push at ACC towards further collaboration for creating or promoting projects across departments, seems like a clear result of the many artistic and creative communities that are active here at the school – and it has certainly been observed in the various projects and experience involved in producing Red. Gallery Director Bonfitto hopes that the projects have “set a new standard” for more similar collaboration in the future, which he emphasizes could be a benefit to the students involved.

Red items displayed at the Highland campus, this photo and others from ACC’s Drama website.

“Hopefully, it’s a way to build community and get students from other departments to meet and work together on something new,” he says.“They can learn about different programs and feel comfortable going to spaces that they don’t normally go to or meet in.” 

If you missed the chance to watch Red earlier this semester, there is no need to panic. ACC will be putting on other productions toward the end of the semester and in the summer. Curtain Call will open at the black box theater on May 9, and Hearts Like Fists will follow on the weekends of June 6 through the rest of the month. To find more information regarding upcoming productions, visit Information on exhibitions from the Art department is also available online here,