THE RED HORSE IS LEAVING
Erika Batdorf creates a portrait of her mother, Thaya Whitten, a painter who toured Canada in the 60’s doing controversial performance art. Through the use of biosensors, this interactive theatrical two-hander explores the meeting point of madness and creativity.
After a successful preview in SummerWorks (see reviews below) in August, in October, it went on to have an excerpt in NY for the Out of Towner’s series at the Mark O’Donnell Theatre and a site specific version for Rendezvous with Madness festival which included an art installation of Whitten’s work!
This May 2019, the show is heading back to NYC (May 16-18) and then Santa Barbara, California (May 25)!!
*photo thumbnail on video by Ebbe Sweet Photography
J. Kelly Nestruck of the Globe and Mail twitter feed:
"I was really impressed by Erika Batdorf's rooted, realistic performance as her artist mother in The Red Horse Is Leaving... I found Batdorf's character's journey from lucid theorizing, through mental health meltdown to a final act of creation, unique and unsensational.”
Her interpretation of Whitten is that of a brilliant, charismatic speaker, a woman suffering from profound mental instability, and a relentlessly driven artist. That drive is physically made manifest on stage by the Gargoyle (a lithe Zoe Sweet), who stalks the studio's fringes when Whitten is coherent, knocks over art supplies when confronted by the painter, and wraps herself around the artist when Whitten's mood is erratic and unfocused.
Speaking of mood, there's some impressive technology on display here, as the Gargoyle wears a back piece and tail that changes colour and flashes based in part on biometric information received from sensors concealed in Batdorf's costume. So when Whitten is agitated, or calm, the colours and flashes of the Gargoyle's "aura" change.
But the show, of course, hinges on Batdorf's performance, and it's a praiseworthy tribute to an artist by her talented progeny. Batdorf's Whitten engages the audience directly at times, and at others, trails into scarcely audible muttering as she paces her studio, trying to break through her barriers to productivity. She's both an admirable and pitiable protagonist.
Thaya Whitten, the subject of The Red Horse Is Leaving in the 2018 SummerWorks Performance Festival, was clearly a woman ahead of her time. The performance of her character, drawn heavily from her own writing and speaking engagements, is full of chewy, delicious ideas about art, commerce, relationships, colour, light, music, and fear. Whitten, who convened panel discussion and drew them live, who engaged people about their deep feelings and expectations around artwork, is utterly fascinating.
She’s played in this work by her daughter, Erika Batdorf (who also wrote the show), with an eye for detail that only love – however complicated – could produce, and Batdorf brings Whitten to life in the most exceptional way. She’s not just reproducing mannerisms, the acting here is almost transformational; she’s almost channelling Whitten as much as portraying her as she swings wildly between lucidity/present orientation and a world of visions that’s compelling and terrifying in equal measure. I could have watched Batdorf speak and paint and smoke and cower as her mother for another hour with no difficulty at all, and I imagine there was a lot more she could have said.
One of the best and most powerful quotes of the show for me, a concept to which Whitten returns repeatedly in the work, is that an artist is “in service to an unseen kingdom.” I loved this idea in every way… Sweet was very focused and powerful in her work...
Art, madness, longing & inspiration in the visceral, cerebral, deeply moving The Red Horse is Leaving
... the piece takes us on a thoughtful, moving journey into the playful, pensive and tormented mind of Batdorf’s performance artist/painter mother.
Cerebral and visceral at the same time, The Red Horse is Leaving also addresses the issues of meaning, ethics, outreach and economics as they relate to art; and the changing landscape of art and artists, and how their work is perceived and received.
Beautiful performances from Sweet and Batdorf in this profoundly moving, thought-provoking two-hander. Batdorf’s Thaya is an artist with a curious, sharp and tormented mind; and a playful, tortured soul. Longing for inspiration and connection with her muse and her work, as well as her audience, Sweet is both menacing and adorable as the Gargoyle; moving with precision and grace under and over furniture, and coiling around the artist. Both bird-like and cat-like, it nudges and prods Thaya, offering brushes and even sharing a snack.
Inside Thaya’s secret heart, like her, we realize that longing can be a dangerous and unfulfilling thing....With shouts to the design team for their work in bringing this multimedia vision to life...
Inspired by the journals of Thaya Whitten, a Nova Scotian painter, performance artist and musician, "The Red Horse is Leaving" travels through the dangerous territory of creative inspiration, sacrifice and clinical madness in the pursuit of artistic excellence and beauty.
A theatrical duet integrating biosensors.
Led by Erika Batdorf's poignant physicality, quirky dialogue and disarming humour, The Red Horse is Leaving production gives the audience an intimate view of someone who is plagued (or blessed) by visions and struggles to distinguish inspiration from delusion. Along this journey we watch an intensely painful and joyful battle with prescription drugs, addiction, isolation, and manic-depression in the pursuit of something truly beautiful.
As always the piece includes Batdorf's inimitable audience interactive approach, inviting the audience to join her in creating a painting and discussing art on mulitple levels.
Thaya Whitten herself was an abstract painter who incorporated her own musical notation directly into her paintings. Referred to as a "controversialist", she toured university campuses doing performance art before the form was widely understood. Thaya Whitten was also Erika Batdorf's mother.
Written by Erika Batdorf; Directed and Choreographed by Kate Digby; Performed by Erika Batdorf and Kate Gordon OR Zoe Sweet; Dramaturgy by: Iris Turcott; Digital technology and Sound by Mark-David Hosale; Costume Designed by Mark-David Hosale and Sylvia Defend; Music Composed by J. Rigzin Tute; Digital technology collaborator by Omar Khan; Digital technology assistant Filiz Eryilmaz; Stage Managed by Anastasiya Popova, Costume Design Assistant Joyce Padua; Original Production Directed by Todd Hammond. Biosensors by BIOPAC; Biosensor Technology by Alan Macy; Produced by Moleman Productions
News and Reviews from 2007 solo version:
STAGE AND PAGE by Keith Garebian
The Red Horse is Leaving "may be the first stream-of-consciousness monologue to depict how an artist struggles to express an elusive artistic vision... What stamps it with genius is not simply Thaya Whitten’s singular artistic and spiritual identity, but Ms. Batdorf’s artistry that expresses the relationship between genius and madness with haunting vividness and sympathetic understanding..…
… for the most creative of us (as Ms. Batdorf articulates) are destined to be “lovers of longing.” One of the extraordinary achievements of this solo piece is its vivid ability to make this longing a thing of spiritual radiance."
EYE WEEKLY by Paul Issacs
The Red Horse Is Leaving opens with a single scene of magnificent control, … [it's] an absolute marvel: a pitch-perfectly timed symphony of coffee slurps, pill-pops and cigarette drags, as the artist contemplates a terminally blank canvas before her. It’s a wonderfully sustained piece of tragic-comic acting.
NATIONAL POST by Robert Cushman
There is nothing embarrassing about this audience participation; Batdorf is an underplayer, and the attitude she presents — firm in her ideas, diffident in their presentation — makes everyone feel at ease.
[Batdorf is]…stabbing and unadorned.
One section of this show, sympathetically directed by Todd Hammond, bleeds imperceptibly into the next, and it seems that suddenly we are back in the studio, watching and hearing a verbalized elaboration of the opening silent sequence. This is a loving portrait, and both she and the audience are nourished by that fact, but it's an objective and unsentimental one.
Written by Erika Batdorf; Directed and Choreographed by Kate Digby; Performed by Erika Batdorf and Zoe Sweet; Dramaturged by: Iris Turcott; Digital technology and Sound by Mark-David Hosale; Costume Designed by Mark-David Hosale and Sylvia Defend; Music Composed by J. Rigzin Tute; Digital technology collaborator by Omar Khan; Digital technology assistant Filiz Eryilmaz; Stage Managed by Anastasiya Popova, Costume Design Assistant Joyce Padua; Original Production Directed by Todd Hammond. Biosensors by BIOPAC; Biosensor Technology by Alan Macy;
This is an excellent piece for theatres, museums, art school and festivals - it is challenging, audience interactive and sophisticated. It deals with mental illness and creativity and has some intense moments. I have recreated performance art lecture/performances created by Thaya Whitten from the early 1960's at which time she was called in reviews 'a controversialist'. they are highly interactive. At one point the character begins to paint a picture of fear and invites the audience to join her, this is really fun and engaging and the audience gets quite involved; then she becomes paranoid and destroys that very painting. Most evenings audience members take home parts of the painting that are left on stage and want to buy the final painting created during the show.
This piece travels with 3 people, needs basic stage lighting, requires some set building/gathering on location and a day of tech time. It can work in a gallery or a theatre (the audience needs to be able to get on to the stage). and the new completely revised version with 2 performers and integrated new media has 3 in progress shows in SummerWorks 2018, premieres in October in Rendezvous with Madness film festival in their new site specific arts festival and tours the US in 2018/2019 in NY, California and Kansas.
Please Contact Erika Batdorf at firstname.lastname@example.org for touring inquiries.