The Red Horse is Leaving

Written and Performed by Erika Batdorf
Directed by Todd Hammond
Dramaturg Iris Turcott
Lighting Designer Kimberly Purtell
Sound Designer J. Rigzin Tute

The Red Horse is Leaving is 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.


Keith Garebian — Stage and Page Website
Erika Batdorf’s one-woman show may be the first stream-of-consciousness monologue to depict how an artist struggles to express an elusive artistic vision. … packs a great deal into its duration of slightly over sixty minutes. 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..…quirky humour …Ms. Batdorf’s extraordinary physical movement speaks volumes to this theme. … 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, Paul Issacs
... supremely talented physical performer. The Red Horse Is Leaving opens with a single scene of magnificent control, … (completely free of dialogue) is 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, Robert Cushman,
In The Red Horse Is Leaving, Erika Batdorf plays her own mother — a Nova Scotian woman of multiple talents; primarily she was a painter, but she was also a jazz musician and some kind of performance artist. She was also mentally ill, with a double-edged attitude to the drugs prescribed for her condition. …Batdorf, herself an accomplished performer … very funny silent sequence showing the artist in her studio… 
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.


Directed by Todd Hammond with dramaturgy by Iris Turcott, and charged by Erika Batdorf's poignant physicality, quirky dialogue and disarming humour, this 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 many 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.


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 needs full stage lighting and has a full set that requires cargo fees and a fair amount of tech time. I will be working on creating a version that can work in galleries. This piece has already toured to Mexico and Michigan after a three week run in Toronto.