New Calgary theatre company Black Radish ‘an existential nightmare’ come to life, now ready to raise the curtain with Waiting for Godot

Ahead of Black Radish Theatre’s premiere, Caroline Russell-King chats with Andy Curtis about Black Radish and their much anticipated production of Waiting For Godot.

Q: Was there a toss-up between calling the company Black Radish or The Offstage Carrot?

A: (Laugh) Yes, it’s a reference from the play. We love our cruciferous vegetables; Chris (Hunt) loves carrots, Duve (Duval Lang) loves rutabagas.

Q: How did the company come into existence?

A: It started as a bit of a Godot club. Chris and I fantasized about doing this. We’re both very fond of Beckett. We got together and would invite pals to come by and read — Chris, Duve and I around Duve’s dining room table. Just for the pleasure. Just to read it freely. It was luxurious. We’d get together for the fun of it every three months, or more frequently, for about two years. Then Ty (Tyrell Crews) said we should get the rights. And now we’re writing grants …

Q: Who is directing?

A: Denise Clarke is directing. She has a mastery of the physical and intellectual prowess to shake up our habits.

Q: What have you learned about Vladimir that you didn’t previously know?

A: I’m in the process of learning about Godot and Beckett and researching his life. It’s a rediscovery. I was attracted to it at age 18, to the rhythms and the comic language. I used to love hanging out in the library pulling plays off the shelf and being surrounded by ideas just outside my grasp. I didn’t know about the deeper meaning of the play that unfolds. We were inspired by a series on Beckett On Film – it’s almost definitive – it’s a perfect balance of melancholy, rooted in bunions, some ass scratching, it’s cold out and, goddamn it, I don’t like you anymore …

Q: Do you think this will appeal to any audience or do you think that they will have to be a more mature audience to “get it?”

A: It will hold appeal – the sounds, the language the words, the colours, the textures. It also has appeal on a humorous level. You start seeing not just the people; it brings other things into a sharper focus. It could be an old couple, a domestic relationship. We defiantly don’t want to be an academic exercise – it’s funny, rollicking, deeply human and compassionate. It moved me and it still does. It’s like a beautiful painting you keep coming back to. Come one, come all! We want people to enjoy it. We want to invite them into the world.

Q: Your social media presence has enjoyed success …

A: It started with me saying, “How about we take some pictures on film camera?” We shot here because really we could be in Alberta, any barren landscape. We’ve had a lot of shoots. Chris is putting out interesting bits about Beckett. I mean we’re all stumbling around without a clue, except Duve of course, he’s run a company before.

Q: Do you have support?

A: Yes. I’m grateful for all the people who want to help us. People have been very generous. It’s a little overwhelming. We’ve had help with our logo, website, my old friend Rallamy Kneeshaw said, “I’ll costume it!” She has a costume company. She is a pro. We are very lucky. They are all Black Radish people now!

Q: So now you’re a resident company at The Grand!

A: Yes. The new CEO wanted a little more on the menu, as it were, and to be more accessible.

Q: Will you announce a season?

A: Initially we just wanted to do Waiting for Godot, then, we were invited to dream up future projects. And I’m thinking, “We don’t have a penny!” And, “How do you do that?” I’m not good at that. We want to do work that challenges us. There are a lot of moving parts at the moment. We’re not the new Theatre Calgary, we’re just figuring this out. And we mayn’t have the same aesthetic going forward; but working from the cannon is a good starting point. This is parallel challenge. There are many questions: “Who are we? Are we building a legacy? What do we want going forward?”

Q: That’s a lot of questions!

A: (Laughs) We’re existential nightmare! That’s what Black Radish is.

(Photo by Jeff Yee, costumes by Ralamy Kneeshaw.)

Waiting for Godot runs April 25 to May 12 at The Grand.

Caroline Russell-King is a playwright, dramaturg, and instructor. She is a member of The Playwrights Guild of Canada, the Dramatist Guild of America and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You can find her work here