SPARTANBURG, S.C. – For Mark Ferguson, director of Wofford Theatre, working with associate professor Colleen Ballance and assistant professor Dan Day on the troupe’s performance of John Logan’s “Red” is a “once-in-a-career opportunity.”

The performance, starring Day as Russian-American painter Mark Rothko and local professional actor Tim Giles as his fictional assistant Ken, opened this week and runs through Saturday at 8 nightly, with performances also scheduled on Tuesday and Wednesday, Oct. 14 and 15, at 8 p.m. All performances will be in the Tony White Theater in the Campus Life Building. Tickets are $12 for adults and $5 for students; call the box office at 864-597-4080. 

“This is essentially a faculty showcase,” Ferguson says. “I am directing and sound designing; Colleen is designing lights, costumes and set; and Dan is playing the lead.” 

“Red,” the 2010 Tony winner for best play, is about Rothko being commissioned to paint a group of murals for the expensive and exclusive Four Seasons restaurant. He gives orders to his assistant, Ken, as he mixes the paint, makes the frames and paints the canvases. Ken questions Rothko’s theories of art and his work on such a commercial project. Ultimately, Rothko stops working on the project and returns the money, deciding that the Four Seasons is an inappropriate place for his murals to be seen. 

“While we have occasionally invited special non-student actors to fill a role, Wofford Theatre has never done a faculty showcase before,” Ferguson explains, noting that students have significant involvement on the technical side of the production. “Our primary mandate as a producing body is education. Students who want to be actors often learn the most by taking on a role in a production.” 

Ferguson notes that the seven students in the class working on the production behind the scenes “are getting a lot of specific experience that is usually not available to them since many of them, especially those majoring in theatre, have to be on stage all the time. These competencies will be invaluable when they start their own companies – theatre or otherwise. Our program is set up to educate, motivate and inspire students to work harder than they think they can to excel in whatever area of endeavor they ultimately choose.” 

The play provides an important message as well, Ferguson says. “The play is brilliant. It tells the story of painter Mark Rothko, the importance of art in a society, the responsibility of artists to society, and the costs of aspiring to actual greatness. The message of the play alone is an unbelievable advertisement for a liberal arts education.”

The real story is the actors, he adds. “Dan is a fantastic professor, but he is also unbelievable on stage – a master artist. Tim moved back from New York City about a year ago, and is a star as well. These people are of a caliber that we just don’t see on stage in this part of the world – and we happen to have them here now.”

Most importantly, Ferguson notes, is that the faculty showcase gives students “the opportunity to see their professors ‘put their money where their mouth is’ in a sense. It is one thing to stand in front of a class or a cast and preach or demand a certain level of engagement, focus and commitment; it is a completely different – and potentially far more powerful – thing to demonstrate and model that behavior every night in rehearsal and for two months.

“For Colleen, Dan and me, this is a once-in-a-career opportunity to come together on a project that was so timely and that we all believed in so much,” Ferguson adds. “That Tim was available and willing was the final piece of the puzzle.”