Columbus Makes Art Presents Michael Garrett Herring and Red Herring Theatre
Michael Garrett Herring is founder and artistic director of Red Herring Productions, which produces shows at the Franklinton Playhouse, 566 W. Rich St. This is the second time that Herring, a Columbus native, has established a theater company in Columbus. The first was Red Herring Theater, which existed from 1993-2007. Herring resigned in 2001 and then moved to Chicago. While in Chicago he earned his master’s degree in nonprofit management and a second master’s in information systems. He returned to Columbus in 2014. With Red Herring’s production of Dirt opening Feb.14, we visited him at the Franklinton Playhouse to learn more about his process of once again opening a theater in Columbus.
Ruth: You were away for quite a while. What brought you back?Michael:I came back to be closer to my mom. She’s getting older and while Chicago isn’t far away it’s far enough that I couldn’t spend as much time with her as I would have liked. I also wanted to pick up where I had left off in 2001. I build theaters, it’s part of my DNA, actual theaters and institutions. While in Chicago I built on my previous experience and developed my administrative skill set. I got the formal training that I needed from Columbia College and the practical experience from working at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Goodman Theatre. Those experiences gave me the expertise to tackle my dream of building a professional residenttheater here in Columbus.
Ruth:Tell me about the Franklinton Playhouse.
Michael: When I moved back to Columbus Red Herring was producing out of the Riffe Center. Our audiences were small and were dwarfed in those spaces. Some nights we’d have like 200 empty seats. It just didn’t make sense. I started looking for a warehouse that I could convert into an intimate theater space. That search lead me to Franklinton and 566 W. Rich St. We got the property rezoned and the Franklinton Playhouse was born.
Ruth: What did it take to build a theater?
Michael: I spent a lot of time with a sledge hammer, shovel, pounding up concrete and digging a trench for a sewer line. We installed an emergency exit and an ADA-compliant bathroom. We built platforms, borrowed a lighting system, got chairs donated to us and opened our first show Endgame with me playing Hamm. My very first lines on the Franklinton stage were “Me…to play.” I just love the irony.
Ruth: People who know you have seen how much grit you have. You never stop. What drives you?
Michael: I’m stubborn. And I’m passionate. I quit high school in April of my senior year, and everyone said, “You can’t do that. Your life will be ruined.” But today I have a bachelor’s in performance and two master’s degrees. I want to change the world. I want to make the world a more empathetic, compassionate, holistic and healthy place. I’ve felt that way ever since I was nine.
Ruth: How do you plan to change the world?
Michael: By the stories Red Herring tells on stage. In 2019, Red Herring is writing a play that uses transcripts of Mexican and Central American migrants to tell the stories of people who have traveled thousands of miles and made enormous sacrifices to build new lives in Columbus. Waiting to be Invited is another Red Herring play. It confronts racism when four African American women decide to test the 1964 Civil Rights Act by having lunch in an all-white Atlanta diner. And then Red Herring celebrates women and supports reproductive rights with our production of The Vagina Monologues. We plan on donating the net proceeds from the production to Planned Parenthood as our response to the recent passage of the Ohio Heartbeat Bill. These plays reflect Red Herring’s core values.
Ruth: Columbus has changed since you were here in the 1990s. What’s the best thing about the Columbus art scene right now?
Michael: The dynamic nature of the city. It’s booming. The level of talent is as good if not better than elsewhere. And the incredible support from GCAC. These resources enable me to do the work I’m passionate about.
Visit the Franklinton Playhouse as Red Herring Productions presents the play Dirt by Columbus native James Creighton, directed by Amanda Phillips, Feb. 14-March 3.
Columbus Makes Art Presents is a bi-weekly column brought to you by the Greater Columbus Arts Council – supporting art and advancing culture in Columbus. The column is a project of the Art Makes Columbus campaign, telling the inspiring stories of the people and organizations who create Columbus art and sharing information about exhibitions, performances, concerts and more at ColumbusMakesArt.com. Each column will be written by a different local arts organization to give you an insiders look at how #artmakescbus.