[This interview was done and in an email for Arena Stage subscriber’s prior to the rehearsals of the Arena leg of the run.]
Arena Stage sat down with actor Edward Gero, who plays Mark Rothko in the Tony Award winner, Red, to discuss this visceral production, artistic integrity vs. profitability and, of course, painting.
Arena Stage: You’re getting ready to go back into the rehearsal room for Red after completing the run at Goodman Theatre in Chicago. What are you looking forward to exploring for the Arena part of this co-production?
Edward Gero: By the end of the run in Chicago, Patrick (Andrews) and I came to recognize a synergy with each other and the audience specific to each performance. The evening came to life in the moment of the playing which was impacted by the energy from the audience. Were they more sensitive to the irony or taken back by the harshness of the exchanges? We would begin each evening wondering “what is it going to be tonight?”. I look forward to exploring what Arena audiences will bring to the evening and how they will influence each performance.
Arena Stage: Did you know anything about Rothko before Red? What kind of research did you do for the role?
Edward: I knew a bit about Rothko beforehand, but I admit, not much. I spent a year researching, reading biographies, meeting his former students, talking to artists, curators, spending time with his paintings in person at The Phillips Collection and the National Gallery. I even taught a performance class at George Mason and had my students work on the play for an entire semester, researching, designing, rehearsing and performing scenes. I chronicled the process on a blog, which I have never done before, and encourage readers to explore it – The Making of Red at https://geroasrothko.wordpress.com
Arena Stage: Rothko was known as a tortured artist and you’re so easy-going. How did you find that explosive temperament?
Edward: I’m glad you think I’m so easy-going but underneath… Actually, I recognize a deep frustration in Rothko that comes from wanting to be understood and feeling thwarted, either by a sense of defeat that comes from feeling alone or isolated in his artistic process. I think we get angry when we want others to feel our hurt underneath. We want the world to feel our pain so we inflict it, project it, on others. I think too that we express anger about the things we reject in ourselves, or when we have expectations that aren’t met. I certainly recognize those times in my life and connect that to Rothko’s struggle. Rothko had enormous expectations of the world and his viewers, and felt enormous obstacles through his life that thwarted him. There is plenty of seismic fuel in him for a volcanic temperament.
Arena Stage: What’s your favorite thing about performing Red?
Edward: Favorite thing is the trust that has developed with Patrick. We have come to a place where we instinctively know where we will move physically, emotionally. We respond to each other’s rhythms moment to moment. The play is a pas-de-deux and I am grateful to have Patrick (a trained ballet dancer by the way) as my partner. Patrick is a wonderfully physical actor, who throws himself into the doing of a role with great aplomb and, at the same time, connects emotionally. His gifts belie his young age. It’s great fun inhabiting and attacking this play with him.
Arena Stage: Red centers on Rothko’s struggle between artistic integrity and profitability. Have you experienced that struggle yourself as an actor?
Edward: Fundamentally theater is a collaborative art, theater practitioners are trained to be teamplayers. However, it’s only natural for individuals, actors and directors, to have different impulses or points of view about what or how a moment or a scene should go. It’s a tricky thing to know what battle to pick when it comes to asserting one’s artistic integrity. Is it “selling out” to concede something for the good of the production or company that you feel strongly about? It’s been my experience to defer to the director’s vision on the “what” of the story and to stand for the individual notions of the “how.” I think the tension of that struggle between the individual artistic impulse and the responsibility to the collective impulse is more frequent in theater than one between personal integrity and profitability. I will, however, be happy to get back to you on that issue when the three picture deal offer or that HBO series comes around.
Arena Stage: What’s next for you after Red at Arena?
Edward: At the moment, I think I will be selling pencils on the street corner. Actually, I have a break coming up. This has been a busy 12 month period that started last winter at Arena with The Chosen, then going on to Amadeus in the spring, Red in Chicago, back to D.C. for the third go-round as Scrooge, then back to Red. So I am looking forward to some time off to spend with my wife, Marijke, and do some catching up.
Arena Stage: What does red mean to you?
Edward: Red is heat and passion and love and life and danger and speed and destruction and earth and stone and…
Arena Stage: What is the most (and least) fun about painting?
EG: The least fun is the preparation, the clean-up, getting the paint out of the nail beds, the ears, the hair. The most fun is the sheer abandon and freedom that comes in the physical act of getting that thin stain-like liquid from brush to canvas. Like acting, it’s about the letting go of all the intellectual prep and just diving in and letting the moment happen and seeing what results. Painting, acting, dancing, making music… it’s all the same. Sheer joy.