I first heard about Red Betty Theatre when I saw founder Radha Menon promoting the launch of COBRA (Coalition of Black and Racialized Artists) on a Hamilton TV station. I interviewed her to find out more about her theatre company and her play Ganga's Ganja.
Red Betty Theatre’s mission is to present the perspectives and distinct experiences of Canadian women of colour to broader and more diverse audiences, and increase access to these performances to contribute to the richness and diversity of Canadian Theatre through bold, relevant and artistic voices. A non-profit organization, their overriding vision is to develop and produce responsive and relevant theatre reflecting the diversity of contemporary Canadian culture.
Set in the near future, Ganga’s Ganja’s world derives from an imaginary logical progression of things to come if this current global situation remains unchecked. Living in complete isolation, Ganga cares for her sister Mena who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis. Mena has renounced her previous pharmaceutical care regime and uses cannabis medicinally to ease her debilitating symptoms. Ganga self medicates and uses sex to blot out guilt and loneliness. A fast-talking interloper stumbles into their world and their weed crop is stolen- thrusting the sisters onto a path of no return.
1. When did you start your theatre company and where does the name Red Betty come from?
My career in the arts began in the early 90s when I was an actor, dancer and singer but there were so few parts for women of colour at that time that I began writing. Unfortunately it wasn’t that simple to empower myself and despite practicing for many years I couldn’t find any support to develop my art. After many fruitless years filled with rejection and fighting hard to believe in myself I formed Red Betty Theatre in 2011 so I could share my stories with audiences. The name stems the Hindi lal beti, which means red daughter; I have always been the black sheep but felt that the Hindi wouldn’t be understood and its pronunciation butchered, so I settled on Red Betty because it conjures the same essence.
2. You founded the company initially to provide a space and platform for your own theatrical work. Was it easier to get your work out there with your own theatre company?
Once I founded Red Betty I was able to put my shows in festivals where they could be developed. It was most heartening once I found that my plays really moved audiences to laugh or cry- I was bolstered by this and continued writing with renewed vigour. Nevertheless it has been a struggle self-producing without the funding and support all theatre companies need to produce quality work.
3. How did you get involved with COBRA?
Living in a small city like Hamilton had meant that I know many of the POC artists and I was invited to a meeting when the idea of forming COBRA was discussed after finding that all the other POC artists were in the same position as me. We all found that we lagged behind our white peers in opportunity and exhibitions. We were marginalized, ignored or overlooked by arts institutions whose mandates did not extend to programming culturally diverse artwork. Determined to highlight this neglect we formed COBRA and met regularly to organize our launch.
4. Is the first time that an audience is going to see Ganga’s Ganja?
Ganga’s Ganja percolated for a very long time, some aspects of this story stem from my personal experience with loss and began when I wrote a one-act draft in 2011. This seed play was part of the Hamilton Fringe Festival in 2012. The entire process from rehearsal to performance provided much needed insights and the work was further revised. Ganga’s Ganja was a finalist of the Herman Voaden National Playwriting Contest 2013 and judges forwarded valuable dramaturgical notes to me so I returned to the drawing board, which led to the full-length creation. This will be the first time audiences will get to experience the fully developed play performed by amazing actors Amanda DeFreitas, Jesse Horvath, Pam Patel and Senjuti Sarker in the hands of a super director Jennie Esdale. I am very excited to see and hear audience reactions to my grown up baby.
5. What inspired you to write this play?
My mother passed away prematurely when I was 19 and I was unable to process not only her passing but my inability to support her the way she wanted me to. I held a great deal of pain and guilt over this loss; I was unable to move forward. I consider this play to be among the plays that I had to write; a form of catharsis that allows me to purge all the sorrow shame and guilt I was consumed with for most of life as a young adult. Also this play is set in the near future, where big business holds all reins, and where herbal and other alternative remedies have been outlawed, these two sisters attempt to escape by creating their own world, a safe haven; free of outside restraints and control.
6. How did you get involved with the Feminist Fuck Festival 2018?
Ganga’s Ganja was slated to be part of the Storefront Theatre (Toronto) season two years back but unfortunately thanks to rampant gentrification in Toronto, their landlord refused to renew the theatre’s lease because he could get more money from corporate tenants. Despite this huge blow the ladies at Storefront have kept going and when they decided to put on the FFIF, I was contacted by them and asked if Ganga’s Ganja could headline the Festival as it’s so apt.
7. What do you hope that people take away from the play when they see it?
My hope is that Ganga’s Ganja will begin a dialogue and stir debate about the way in which we live and whether we should be more suspicious of systems that have been diverted only to make big business even more omnipotent. Should we choose to educate and lead ourselves or be led by the nose down the garden path to pasture? Do we all need to be consumer fodder for big pharma?
8. What's next for Red Betty Theatre?
Red Betty is ready to spread her wings and grow. There is an obvious gap in Hamilton to support the many diverse and POC artist living and practicing here. Our mandate is to support them and help them develop their craft. We intend to apply for operating funds from Federal, Provincial and Municipal bodies to help cover the costs of year long development programs and programming a season that’s more reflective of this province’s demographics. We need volunteers and to harness expertise from the community in order to build the company.
Ganga’s Ganja Hamilton preview dates: April 5th, 6th, 7th 8 P.M , 8th April 2P.M Get your tickets here.
Feminist Fuck Festival 2018- 360 Geary Lane, Toronto: April 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 7.30 P.M. Get your tickets here.
Interview by Glodeane Brown
Poster provided by Red Betty Theatre
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