Buddies In Bad Times Theatre
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre is a Canadian professional theatre company. Based in Toronto, Ontario and founded in 1978 by Matt Walsh, Jerry Ciccoritti, and Sky Gilbert, Buddies in Bad Times is dedicated to "the promotion of queer theatrical expression".
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre creates vital Canadian theatre by developing and presenting voices that question sexual and cultural norms. Built on the political and social principles of queer liberation, Buddies supports artists and works that reflect and advance these values. As the world’s longest-running and largest queer theatre, Buddies is uniquely positioned to develop, promote, and preserve stories and perspectives that are challenging and alternative. Buddies achieves artistic excellence through its mainstage season programming, artist-residency program, and youth-based initiatives. Buddies serves a broad segment of the population who share a passion for theatre that celebrates difference.
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre has identified three core values that serve as guiding pillars for all our activities and operations.
DIFFERENCE: With our art, we simultaneously celebrate difference and question the mechanisms through which differences are constructed and maintained. With our space, we create an accessible, non-judgmental, and inclusive environment for everyone regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, economic position, race, creed, age, national origin, physical ability, or mental ability. With our daily interactions, we foster respect and dignity among all people.
EXCELLENCE: We provide our audiences with unforgettable theatre experiences, and we give our artists and staff the resources they need to achieve the highest standards of excellence.
COMMUNITY: We believe that the theatre plays a vital role in the educational, social, and economic health of a community. We strive to be a positive force by encouraging collaboration and constructive dialogue among the various groups and individuals who make up our community.
Founded in 1979 by Sky Gilbert, Matt Walsh, and Jerry Ciccoritti, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre humbly began with a production of Gilbert’s Angels in Underwear staged in an old brewery on Queen Street East. The name was taken from Eric Bentley’s translation of a Jacques Prévert poem. Since then, the company has grown to be the largest and longest-running queer theatre company in the world – a unique institution that has made an unparalleled contribution to the acceptance of queer lives in Canada, while nurturing some of the country’s most innovative artists, including Atom Egoyan, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Sonja Mills, Daniel Brooks, Nina Arsenault, and Daniel MacIvor.
Although the company eventually achieved notoriety and success in the 1980s as a queer theatre company, it was not founded with that intent. Buddies’ original focus was on staged adaptations of poetry. However, during the 1980s, under the sole leadership of Sky Gilbert, Buddies developed a distinctly queer aesthetic and practice. The company articulated a vision for its work that was unapologetically political, fiercely pro-sexual, and fundamentally anti-establishment. In 1983, Sue Golding joined the company as its founding Board President - a post which she held until 1995, playing an instrumental role in shaping the direction of the organization. Some of the company’s earliest commercial and critical successes included productions of Gilbert’s Lana Turner has Collapsed! (1980), The Dressing Gown (1984), Drag Queens on Trial (1985), and The Postman Rings Once (1987), Don Druik’s Where is Kabuki? (1989), as well as the Sex Tours of the Church-Wellesley community hosted by Gilbert’s drag persona Jane.
After spending over a decade as a nomadic company, Buddies moved into its first home at 142 George Street in 1991. This building housed iconic productions of Gilbert’s Suzie Goo: Private Secretary (1991) and Play Murder (1993), Daniel MacIvor’s 2-2 Tango (1991), and was also the site for the infamous Dungeon Parties, which experimented with S/M performance and demonstrations. Under the always provocative cross-dressing Gilbert, Buddies in Bad Times courted controversy and offended many. “Buddies is not about assimilation and never has been about glossing over the differences between gays and straights,” Gilbert said in a 1989 interview. “We are interested in life on the edge, the avant-garde, forbidden territory.”
In 1994, Buddies moved into its current home at 12 Alexander Street, in the heart of Toronto’s gay village. In contrast to the space on George Street (a former car wash with minimal renovations), 12 Alexander offered many new opportunities for a growing company like Buddies including two stages (a cabaret space and a flexible black box), technical equipment, office space, and many other theatrical amenities installed by the building’s previous tenants, Toronto Workshop Productions.
Later that year, Buddies met with harsh criticism from the Toronto Sun – led by columnist Christine Blizzard – who attempted to have the company’s city funding rescinded. Sky Gilbert, dressed as Jane, led a protest march that ended at the Sun’s headquarters, and with overwhelming community organization and support, the company’s funding remained in tact.
Sky Gilbert stepped down from his role as Artistic Director in 1997, leading to the appointment of Sarah Garton Stanley, who ran the company until 1999. Stanley’s time at the company saw many successes, including seminal productions of Brad Fraser’s Martin Yesterday (1998) and Robin Fulford’s Steel Kiss and Gulag (1998/99) and a playwright development partnership with the Shaw Festival. In her time with the company, she helped stabilize the financial and artistic future of the company. Stanley co-created the Ante-Chamber Series with Edward Roy and worked to revision The Rhubarb Festival with Franco Boni. She also helped support the Summer ’99 Project, an interdisciplinary theatre/visual art community art project for queer youth under 25, carried out in partnership with SOY and Arts Starts Neighbourhood Cultural Centre.
In 1999, Stanley was succeeded by David Oiye whose tenure was marked by a dedication to queer youth and an expanded notion of theatre that included queer experiments in cabaret, burlesque, performance art, and music. The company’s successful weekend club nights in Tallulah’s Cabaret grew into a stage for queer artists such as Sasha Van Bon Bon, Kitty Neptune, R. Kelly Clipperton, Pretty Porky and Pissed Off, Keith Cole, Will Munro, and Kids on TV.
Under Oiye’s leadership, the company staged seminal productions of Waawaate Fobister’s Agokwe (2008), Salvatore Antonio’s In Gabriel’s Kitchen (2006), Daniel MacIvor's solo trilogy House, Here Lies Henry, and Monster (2006/07), and Oiye’s own Arthouse Cabaret (2007). During this time, Buddies also re-wrote its mandate. The new mandate articulates the company’s political and aesthetic goals through a bifurcated definition of the term queer: the first part describes the company as “a queer-run organization committed to representing the LGBT community by supporting its artists, and by telling its stories” while the second part commits the company to a queer esthetic, “work that is different, outside the mainstream, challenging in both content and form.” In 2009-10, Buddies committed its entire season to work by women creators in response to a scathing report on the lack of gender equity in Canadian theatres from the Canada Council for the Arts.
In 2009, Brendan Healy became the company’s fourth artistic director. Under Healy’s direction, Buddies has achieved new heights of commercial and critical success with productions such as Jean Genet’s The Maids (2011), Sarah Kane’s Blasted (2010), and Nina Arsenault’s The Silicone Diaries (2009) and presentations of leading international queer artists such as Split Britches, Justin Vivian Bond, and 2boys.tv. Healy has also brought the queer culture fostered at Buddies to cities across the country with new touring initiatives that have travelled from Montreal to Vancouver, including stops at the National Arts Centre and the Magnetic North Theatre Festival.
Throughout its history, Buddies has been steadfastly committed to the creation and development of new work by queer artists. The Rhubarb Festival has been a mainstay of Buddies programming since its inception in 1979, but the company has also provided a variety of other venues for new work. The 1980’s saw the 4-Play and QueerCulture Festivals as well as the beginning of the lesbian cabaret Strange Sisters. By the 90’s, the company had also established the Ante Chamber Playwright’s Unit and Hysteria: A Festival for Women. Today, Buddies supports new creations through its multi-faceted Queer Youth Arts Program, and a residency program for emerging and established artists.
Buddies in Bad Times’ 2012/13 season looked to empower the individual as an agent of social change. It began with Tawiah M’carthy’s Obaaberima, which was originally developed as a part of the Young Creators Unit (YCU) in 2009. In the spring, Canadian theatre icon Daniel MacIvor returned to Buddies with his darkly poetic play Arigato, Tokyo. The season also included Sky Gilbert’s A Few Brittle Leaves, a partnership with performance company Ecce Homo to present Of a Monstrous Child: a gaga musical, and Studio 180’s The Normal Heart. Laura Nanni returned as director of The Rhubarb Festival and oversaw the return of the wildly successful One-To-One Performance Series and Mobile Works projects. The 34th Rhubarb Festival broke all previous attendance records and engaged almost 200 artists.The season saw 22 Dora Mavor Moore Award nominations overall, including three awards for Obaaberima, music, set design and Outstanding Production. In 2012, Buddies was voted Toronto’s Best Small Theatre Company by Now Magazine.
The 2012/13 season also saw the completion of two large-scale initiatives: a three-year Audience Development Project and a strategic planning process that helped revise and Buddies’ mandate, and articulated a long-term vision for the company.
Buddies’ 2013/14 season marked the company’s 35th Anniversary. Its programming included the world premiere of PIG, directed by Artistic Director Brendan Healy, the return of the much missed Strange Sisters Festival, and the premiere of The Gay Heritage Project. The 35th Rhubarb Festival, helmed by Festival Director Laura Nanni, marked the company’s historic milestone with a 35 Performances for 35 Year Cabaret. The Festival looked to explore ideas of heritage and archiving while looking forward to possible Queer futures. The 2013/14 season was filled out with multiple guest companies including Theatre Rusticle, Pleiades Theatre, Cahoots Theatre Company, Cabaret Company, and inDANCE.
Buddies enters its next 35 years as the premier cultural centre for Toronto’s LGBT community, as the top destination for all audiences seeking cutting-edge theatre in Toronto, as a leading centre for the creation and presentation of alternative theatre in Canada, and as a preferred employer in the arts in Toronto. Buddies is truly a one-of-a-kind place in the world that is dedicated to the nurturing, protection, and celebration of queer culture.
with research and contributions by Evan Vipond