Red Herring Productions prepares to leave Franklinton

Jim Fischer
From left to right, Jill Ceneskie (as Aimee), Christopher Moore Griffin (as Erik), Rachel Belenker (as Momo) and Nancy Skaggs (as Deidre) in "The Humans"

Most local theater companies in Columbus have no alternative but to be scrappy.

Navigating a shortage of available stages/spaces and historical lack of funding, companies survive on wit and creativity. It's been the M.O. for Red Herring Productions since the company located to Franklinton in 2016 — a neighborhood it will leave, at least temporarily, at the end of the year.

The latest incarnation of longtime theater professional Michael Herring's company launched the Franklinton Playhouse, for which Red Herring was to serve as a resident company while also serving as an incubator for nascent theatrical efforts and one-off productions. While that model proved unworkable, it didn't stop Herring from building both a warehouse-style space for plays and a reputation for quality and adaptability.

"We always tried to give people a 'what the fuck' moment, to have them come into the theater and, at some point, be surprised or stunned or whatever, and say to themselves, 'What the fuck?'" Herring said in a recent interview inside the Playhouse.

Herring admitted that there have been instances when he was behind on rent on the West Rich Street space, but the most recent instance resulted in his landlord triggering an out clause in the rental agreement.

"I traded sweat equity in the space for reduced rent. Without that reduction, we can't afford to stay," Herring said.

Red Herring's final production in the Playhouse is Stephen Karam's "The Humans," the 2016 Tony Award winner for Best Play. The initial run of the show was extended through this weekend.

"It's brilliantly written, and the themes are common ones that resonate, of a generation taking care of both its parents and its children," Herring said. "It's handled extraordinarily, not at all cliché."

Herring is also hosting a series of comedy showcases featuring Columbus comedians. LocalFest, a fundraiser for Red Herring Productions, will be held next weekend. He also plans a 24-hour theater event beginning Black Friday, in which playwrights, directors and actors will create and present a series of one-act plays from scratch in one day. Details on that event are still being finalized.

Herring gets a little emotional discussing the company's exit from the Rich Street space he and friends in the local theater community literally built, bringing more than 6,000 audience members to plays in Franklinton. But he becomes resolute in his belief the company will thrive.

The short-term plan is to produce shows in CAPA's Studio theatres in the Riffe Center for the first half of 2020. Herring is pursuing a long-term solution for a space for the company, but is also discussing the notion of pop-up theater with a local commercial real estate firm.

"We've built all the infrastructure we need to put on a show, due to the nature of the Franklinton Playhouse space,” Herring said. “Part of our brand has been that we're a modular space, a blank canvas. Literally, all we need is a place to let us in.”

"The Humans"

8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 14-16; 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 17


LocalFest Comedy Showcase

8 and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 22 and 23


Franklinton Playhouse

566 W. Rich St., Franklinton

Red Herring Productions