Arts & Entertainment
9 min

Buddies announces new artistic director

Brendan Healy to take reins of TO's queer theatre

BUDDIES' NEW ARTISTIC DIRECTOR. At 34, and gay, Brendan Healy will be the youngest artistic director at a venued theatre company in Toronto.

UPDATE SEP 19 – Buddies in Bad Times Theatre announced Sep 15 that Brendan Healy will be taking the reins as its new artistic director in October.

Born in Montreal, Healy studied at Concordia University and the National Theatre School of Canada. He earned the 2009 Pauline McGibbon Award for emerging directors. Recent productions include the multi-Dora-nominated Breakfast, Moliere’s Dying to be Sick and A Thought in Three Parts.

At 34, Healy will be the youngest artistic director of a venued theatre company in Toronto. He will be officially introduced to the Buddies audience at the 2009/10 season opening night party on Thu, Sep 24.

Xtra chatted with Healy on Sep 18.

Rob Salerno: Where does your passion for theatre come from?

Brendan Healy: I grew up in Montreal, and started making theatre there as a teenager. I grew up in not the greatest neighbourhood and there was an organisation here driven by urban kids. We had a beautiful hangar in the Old Port of Montreal that we’d take over in the summer where we’d put on our shows and talk about our issues. That’s where I discovered theatre and it kind of put me on a good path.

RS: How would you describe your theatrical sensibilities?

BH: I think that it’s a shifting point, my interest in theatre. It’s not a stable thing. Trying to pin it down to one thing is hard for me. I am interested in big questions. I’m interested in questions of the soul. My experience of encountering something I want to work on is something like a flirtation or a seductive relationship, where there’s a mystery and a seed inside that I want to discover. It’s got to be mysterious, there’s got to be a real discovery inside of it.

At the root of why I make theatre is the communal experience, from the rehearsal process, the creative process, right through to sharing it with an audience. That’s why I make theatre, because it is a communal experience. I don’t think that determines anything aesthetically but that community experience is why I do it. Getting to know people and discover people inside the work of a play is why I do it. It’s where I feel most alive.

I think my work is characterised by others with words like “bold” [laughs], “theatrical,” “adventurous,” “visceral.”

I did a show called A Thought in Three Parts [by Wallace Shaun, at the 2006 Summerworks Festival] where there was a 25-minute orgy on stage and most of the acts on stage were heterosexual. In that play I was exploring my relationship with heterosexual sex. I’m fascinated by the power relationships in heterosexual sex. At the heart of the show for me was a gay man’s understanding of what heterosexuality is, and how I understand my sexuality.

Working with Nina Arsenault, [on her upcoming solo show, The Silicone Diaries, which Healy is directing], at the heart of that exploration is what is an authentic gender, what is authenticity? Inside Nina is a really fascinating paradox: Someone who’s worked hard to transform herself into someone who she thinks she is authentically, but who she thinks she is is very much a media creation. If gender is a construct then what is authentic? What is an authentic sexual act, what is authentic sexuality? I think straight sex is a very constructed exercise, as is gay sex, but the power relationships in a straight sexual relationship, I can really see them because I’m an outsider.

RS: Where do you want to take Buddies as Artistic Director?

BH: There’s lots to say about that. The queer mandate is something that I care deeply about. I care deeply about the question of what that means: queer. For me, the queer perspective is a shifting point. That’s why it’s alive. I’m interested in the search for the queer point of view. As a gay man, that’s at the core of who I am but what that means to me and my relationship to the world is a shifting point. At the heart of lot of my work is the question of what it means to be a gay man, politically, socially, sexually.

At the heart of my pitch to Buddies was a dedication to the notion that Buddies is the centre for the creation and dissemination of queer performance culture. I want to make sure that Buddies has a really healthy infrastructure to have queer work made and disseminated outside Toronto, and build an archive of queer performance work. I have a very strong commitment to new work development. I love plays and am very attracted to text but I’m very much attracted to other kinds of creation, I think Buddies should accommodate those artists.

I really strongly support how much Buddies supports local and national artists but I’d like to see Buddies reach out to the world stage. It’s a really unique institution on the world stage. I’d like to capitalize on both those things. There are a lot of artists who are making work in countries where it’s very difficult to work and I’d love to bring them here and build a dialogue with our city. I’m committed to diversity. I think there are a lot of stories that need to get told. I love the all-female season we’re about to launch but I don’t want it to stop with one season. I’m very committed to making sure that there’s a female presence on the stage.

RS: Over the past several years, Buddies has become less about producing work than it has about hosting works by other companies. Any plans to resurrect the producing company, return to having general auditions?

BH: Absolutely. I don’t think there’s been a shift away from total producing but I’m definitely committed to the company being a place where new work is created. I don’t think that excludes the possibility of coproducing but I don’t think Buddies is a road house. I certainly would never describe it as that.

Aside from being a theatre company, Buddies has emerged as a major community hub with club nights and youth programming. Do you plan to continue or expand that community programming, and how can Buddies bring those patrons into its theatre audience?

BH: That’s a question that the company’s been thinking about for three years now. Clubbing is a form of performance. It’s a big part of what queer expression has always been. I think that what’s really important is that it’s clear to the community that Buddies, the building, is a place where art happens. The identity of the building needs to be solidified. I can’t force people who come to the club night to come see a play but it’s important that they have a sense of what this building is.

There are many queer artists who operate in the intersection between performance and parties. That inspires me greatly. Drag is kind of the archetype of that thing. Already the club nights are in that world, and I want to explore ways that we can build that.

RS: Buddies maintains the club space, the Antechamber Playwriting Unit, the Young Creators Unit, the Hysteria Festival, Rhubarb Festival, Pride Festival, Queer Cab, Pride Cab, Youth Workshops, etc, all in addition to its main stage season. Which of these programs would you like to most put your stamp on and how?

BH: I’m interested in the intersection between all the activities that Buddies undertakes. My own experience where I got my start in the theatre was so much based on mentorships, and that was such a huge part of the experience. Part of what was so revolutionary in that experience was that we were mentored in theatre, in a way that wasn’t a teacher-student relation, it really empowered me. Breaking down the different silos between the activities is what I’m interested in. How can youth activities at Buddies feed into what’s happening on the main stage? I’m always interested in the intersection of youth programs and professional development.

RS: Buddies suffered a major financial crisis this year, in part owing to declining ticket sales. What do you plan to do to bring audiences back to Buddies?

BH: I think that community engagement is at the heart of that. As an independent artist, the question of accountability is slightly different. My accountability when I make one show is to that one show. My accountability as an artistic director is an artistic function but also a community function. My commitment is to make sure that Buddies is engaged with that community, not just on a show basis, but on a real community level, ensuring that Buddies is a home to the community. But I don’t think that a theatre company can create a show that appeals to every member of the community. It’s not about homogeneity, it’s about access.

RS: What do you see as your greatest challenge at Buddies going forward?

BH: I’ll say that my greatest challenge is also one my strengths, and that’s my youth. Definitely I bring a fresh perspective and a connection to a grassroots kind of level of creation. I think taking that grassroots approach and applying it to an institution will be an exciting challenge. Perhaps the challenge could be one of perception. One can overdetermine my age in terms of being the thing. Although I’m 34, I’ve been making theatre for almost 20 years. I don’t feel unprepared for the job. I don’t have that extra 15 years of experience that maybe other ADs have but perhaps that’s an asset.

My appointment is in keeping with what Buddies does. It’s always been a young company and I think that a generational veil has been pierced. I’m really happy to be that person to peirce that veil and I think Buddies is exactly the place for that to happen. I don’t know how appropriate it would be for the Canadian Stage Company to hire a 34-year-old but Buddies is the place for that to happen. 

But what’s going to be the biggest challenge for Buddies?

I think just the way that works are developed. I think it takes a long time to make a great piece of theatre, often two or three years. That will require some thought about infrastructure and how works are developed in the company and that will take some shifts in thinking in the company. How can Buddies really serve its artists and give them what they need to present work that is ready to be presented to an audience? Buddies has a kind of commitment in terms of how many shows are produced in a season but how do we work within that commitment while making sure that the work is ready, that it’s been given the necessary amount of time?

I’m also interested in audiences having as much opportunity to interact with shows in development. So shows in development can have a workshop production and feel a sense of connection with the work as it’s developing. That way, the process is part of the experience of encountering art and an audience’s relationship to a piece of work is one of dialogue and not just one of consumption. And that in our city is not the norm.

How do you see yourself managing a season that was programmed by the previous artistic director, David Oiye?

BH: It’s a very well-programmed season. Definitely David left things in a very functional order. I’m directing two shows in the next season, so I’ll be dealing with it artistically for sure. I’m really stoked about the next season.


Buddies announces new artistic director
Brendan Healy to take reins of TO’s queer theatre

SEP 16 – Buddies in Bad Times Theatre announced Sep 16 that Brendan Healy will be the venerable queer theatre’s new artistic director.

Originally from Montreal, Healy has become the talk of the Toronto independent theatre scene since relocating to Toronto. He was granted the 2009 Pauline McGibbon Award for emerging directors. Recent productions include the multiple Dora-nominated Breakfast, Moliere’s Dying to be Sick and A Thought in Three Parts. He will also be directing two shows in Buddies’ 2009/10 season: Nina Arsenault’s The Silicone Diaries and the Independent Aunties’ Breakfast.

At 34, and gay, Healy will be the youngest artistic director at a venued theatre company in Toronto. Healy is a graduate of Concordia University and the National Theatre School of Canada, and has since worked as an instructor and director at both schools.

In a statement released by Buddies, Healy says he’s honoured to take on the challenges of the avant-garde theatre company and that he wants to “ensure that Buddies maintains a powerful and resonant queer voice in our city and beyond.”

“It will be a great honour to lead this organization into the next chapter of its development,” says Healy. “Looking back over the company’s incredible 30-year history, I find not only an extraordinary group of artistic pioneers and mavericks fighting to create a place for the avant-garde in this city; I also encounter the story of an entire community struggling to find equality.”

Healy comes on board after a tumultuous year at Buddies in which both general manager Jim LeFrancois and artistic director David Oiye resigned. Buddies also faced a financial crisis that led to the cancellation of two shows and the launch of a month of fundraising efforts. But Buddies’ board chair Paul Halferty says Healy’s appointment seals efforts to get the theatre back on track.

“This is a very exciting time for the company. Buddies is moving forward under strong artistic leadership, in a solid financial position,” says Halferty in Buddies’ statement.

Healy will be officially introduced to the Buddies audience at the opening night of the 2009/10 season on Thu Sep 24.

Check out more on the announcement (as it becomes available) here and here.

More on Healy and Buddies to come.