Wednesday, August 7, 2013

PRIMARY COLORS: An Interview with Tyler Marchant

A Director's Inspirations

In 'ART,' the character Serge purchases a piece of contemporary abstract art: a white painting with white diagonal lines.  His substantial investment in the piece sparks a debate that threatens to shred three men's friendships with one another.

The play raises more questions than it answers.  What kind of piece could cause an argument which devolves rapidly from the quality of a canvas to the worth of a human being?  Does a strong reaction to a work of art, positive or negative, automatically imply quality?  Does a strong reaction to a friend's choice imply care or its opposite?  What lies in the space between?


As MCT rehearses Yasmina Reza's provocative piece, director Tyler Marchant took a few minutes to share his own passion for 'ART.' In initial conversations with the production's design team last December, Marchant confessed that he has loved the play since he first became familiar with it.  MCT Education, irresistibly curious as to why, couldn't resist mining the story behind the work in process in the rehearsal hall:

This is Piet Mondrian's Composition of Red, Blue, Yellow, and White: Nom II, 1939. At The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles Found at

MCT: What first captivated you about this play? MARCHANT: I've always wanted to direct this play.  You could say it was on my "bucket list" of plays which I desperately wanted to direct.  I think the play is stylish, smart, and incredibly funny.  It also uncovers a wonderful metaphor between art and friendship.  I've always connected to the play in terms of the three men having to re-define and re-imagine their friendships-if they are to survive.

MCT: 20th century artist Piet Mondrian's work is a fundamental influence on the design of this production and on how you have framed (no pun intended) the relationships among the characters therein.  How did you come to connect to this specific body of work as inspiration for exploring the style and design of this work?  For you, in what way(s) does Mondrian's work illuminate the story of 'ART'? MARCHANT: In investigating the play, I started to think of the metaphor of art and hit upon the idea of distilling it down to the primary colors.  3 men… 3 primary colors…  I started to muse on this, and eventually it took me to the work of Piet 51.1309_ph_webMondrian.  I had always admired Mondrian's work without ever fully grasping it entirely.  I loved the search his art brought out in my own work and imagination.  It started to make sense when I thought about the play: a white space separated by black lines started to look like a myriad of canvasses.  I started to see how the three men could become the primary colors that so often permeate the work of Mondrian's canvas.

This is Piet Mondrian's Tableau 2, 1922.
Copyright 2007 Mondrian/Holtzman Trust
Found at

MCT: Are you a fan of abstract art in general?  Who are your favorites, if so? MARCHANT: Yes.  I have to say my first real visceral connection to it was the Mark Rothko room in the Tate Gallery in London.  I was studying there as an undergrad, and when I stepped into the room, his paintings seemed to dance.  I sat in that room for a long time, and a new sense of awe about the art world started to come into my 180px-Rothko_No_14being.  Rothko's paintings taken in alone are one thing, but when one is completely surrounded by them, it becomes another experience.  That was the beginning.  I love art that challenges me intellectually and emotionally-Rothko did that in every way.  I still search that out, and I still am thrilled when I encounter it.

This is Mark Rothko's No. 14 Held at the San Francisco Museum of Modern ArtImage found at

What Will We See?

Are you a fan of contemporary, abstract, and/or contemporary abstract art?  Enjoy the following inspirations and leads which both the design team and MCT friends have shared on the kind of work we might expect to see onstage in Serge's purchase:

  • For initial designs, Tyler Marchant recommended seeking out the work of artist Robert Ryman, who works in white and texture.

  • Visit YouTube.  Barbara Brown Lee, former Chief Educator at the Milwaukee Art Museum, hosts a series of fascinating short lectures on works held by the MAM.  Episode 1, "My KID Could Do That!," features work resonant of the style of Serge's painting:

  • Visit the Milwaukee Art Museum.  If on display, the works discussed in Barbara Brown Lee's lecture are held right down the street from MCT, from Agnes Martin's white canvas Untitled #10 to Ellsworth Kelly's Red, Yellow, Blue II, featuring three panels of primary colors.

  • Michael Wright turned up an article about abstract expressionist painter Barnett Newman, whose blue canvas garnered over $40 million dollars at auction.

See you soon-when visual art takes center stage-in the Cabot Theatre!