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No Refund Theatre Presents: ‘Red’

No Refund Theatre is back for its fall catalog. This week, the organization presents ‘Red.’

Written by John Logan and directed by senior (and Onward State’s very own) Sam Fremin, the drama centers around the story of real life abstract expressionist painter, Mark Rothko. Set in Rothko’s New York studio in 1958, Red tells the struggle of the artist as he is commissioned for an extravagant, high-paying job of painting murals for the new restaurant at the Four Seasons. He works each day alongside his assistant, Ken, who is a young painter hoping to break into the industry. Rothko grapples with life, art, and everything in between.

As the experienced artist and future-facing ingenue clash and create, the story develops into a tale of enduring humanity in a superficial society, even more layered than a canvas of Rothko’s work. Painting a picture of the artist’s suffering, a clear theme emerges just as relevant as it was to Rothko’s real-life career — remaining true to oneself is priceless in the purchased, materialistic world. 

Bringing the script to NRT, director Sam Fremin reflected on his own time in the theatre when approaching the rehearsal process.

“The best directors that I’ve ever had have made things collaborative and have conversations,” Fremin said. “That’s really what I’ve done throughout the entire process…just leaving a lot of decisions onstage and offstage up to them because they are ultimately the ones who have to carry out the vision.” 

Echoing the value of collaboration, assistant director and sophomore, Hayley Weber, spoke to the joy of rehearsing despite the demanding timeline naturally accompanying the first production of the fall semester.

“We had three weeks of tech, but they were super fun, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Weber said. “Working with Sam and bouncing ideas off of everyone was such a collaborative and great experience.”

Within the quick schedule, the cast and directing team rehearsed every day since the beginning of classes. For many, this daunting task could become tiring, but senior and current NRT President Sam Austin summarized the reality behind the scenes.

“If I can still want to come to rehearsal for three weeks every day, that has to say something,” she said. “I still get excited to come here.” 

A veteran of No Refund Theatre playing the role of Ken, Austin acts alongside senior Nikolai Korbich as he portrays the torn artist, Mark Rothko. Countering his troubled, frenzied character with her stable, soft-spoken portrayal of Ken as a female in this version, Austin reflected on the uniqueness of the script and stage actions. Within the show, both actors utilize real tools and canvas to paint live on stage. 

“It’s cool and it’s something completely different than anything we’ve done in here before, which is awesome,” Austin said.

Layering paints atop a large canvas during each run, the actors build upon themes of the script. 

“We’ve just been adding every day, so it’s sort of an example of what they talk about onstage with art being a living and evolving thing,” Fremin said. “This show is never going to be the same, and the painting will reflect that as well.” 

Adding onto meta aspects, both Austin and Korbich can also be seen eating real food onstage, portraying the realities of sharing a meal with true honesty. 

“It makes it feel more real,” Austin said. “It makes it a lot easier when you actually feel like a real person, instead of pretending to be a real person.” 

Stacking onto the immersive environment, Forum 111 is unrecognizable as Rothko’s New York studio. As tarps cover surfaces, paint brushes and buckets are strewn about, and a record player sets the score, the stage is set dramatically to match the energy of the original script.

“The more we went, the more things got added,” Korbich said. “It’s become a comfortable space, especially for me as Rothko.” 

Playing the male protagonist in the two-person cast with demanding dialogue for all parties, Korbich illuminated his process for portraying real-life Rothko in the production.

“It was a lot of just looking at his art, because there aren’t a lot of recordings or videos of him out there,” Korbich said. “Having such a small team really let us focus on the meaning of every scene and every line, and we got to sort of investigate those things closer than we normally would get to with a larger cast.” 

Getting into character, Korbich also put a personal touch on the production, artistically prepping over the summer.

“He has a notebook full of a bunch of pieces that are similar to Rothko’s,” assistant director Hayley Weber said. “That’s what we based all the portraits on his own art based on Rothko’s art.” 

Using set pieces from countless NRT shows signed by previous productions as canvas, the cast quite literally makes its mark on the organization’s history. With art on the canvas and on the brain, Korbich worked through his process to become comfortable in the role.

“It really helped him get into the headspace and unsettled him a little bit,” Fremin said. “He pulled some of that out and put it on stage for us.”

Inspired by efforts both on and offstage, junior and assistant director Ally Setliff reflected on her first-ever involvement with No Refund Theatre. 

“Nick and Sam inspire me every time they do this show,” Setliff said. ”The work they put into it is immense.” 

Reflecting on the production, Fremin shared a concluding theme from the award-winning script.

“There’s a difference between being realistic and being a source of negativity for those around you,” Fremin said. “Finding optimism in cynical situations is what I would hope people take away.”

‘Red’ will play at 8 p.m. on Thursday, September 8; Friday, September 9; and Saturday, September 10 in Forum 111. A trigger warning is emphasized for death, language, and violence.

As always, all No Refund Theatre productions are free of charge.

Editors Note: Sam Fremin serves as one of Onward State’s associate editors. However, he was in, in no way, involved in the production or editing of this post.

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About the Author

Lizzie Palmieri

Lizzie is a senior majoring in Marketing and Psychology from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Ask her about Disney World, Diet Pepsi, or dancing on the Jumbotron at Beaver Stadium. When not causing general trouble, Lizzie enjoys playing golf, performing in the theatre, and being the CEO of reorganizing the fridge. Her favorite thing to do is hang out with her sassy sidekick, 19-year-old Italian Greyhound, Macaroni. Follow her on Twitter @lizziepalmieri if your deepest desire is bestie vibes only.

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