A new season of Buddies programming is always something to celebrate. This year, however, the theatre kicks it up a notch for the 35th-anniversary lineup. Chris Dupuis chats with artistic director Brendan Healy about what to expect.
Chris Dupuis: What considerations did you have in planning this season?
Brendan Healy: This season will be Buddies’ 35th. Since it’s an anniversary year, I wanted works reflecting on the past with an eye to the future. It wasn’t so much about looking back but using the past as a platform to imagine the future. Every season is a reinvestigation of what queer means for us, which is constantly shifting. This season is generationally diverse, as well as being diverse in gender and culture. It’s a nice portrait of what it is to be queer today in Toronto.
There’s a lot on the table for next year. Tell us a bit about what’s going on.
We open with UK playwright Tim Luscombe’s Pig,
which looks at contemporary sex culture, online communities, HIV, gay marriage and the changing expectations gay men have for their relationships. The Gay Heritage Project,
by Damien Atkins, Paul Dunn and Andrew Kushnir, examines whether there is such a thing as gay heritage. The gay community lost almost an entire generation to AIDS, so it can feel like there’s a gap in our history, which makes this an especially salient question for the younger generation. Marie Brassard, who in my opinion is one of the greatest theatre makers we have right now, is bringing her show Me Talking to Myself in the Future
. It’s a very personal show where she’s looking back from death over her life. We also have the Rhubarb Festival, the return of Strange Sisters queer women’s cabaret, and guest productions from Cahoots Theatre, inDance, Sky Gilbert’s Cabaret Company and more.
When you took over Buddies five years ago, the company was in crisis. How are the books looking these days?
We’re very stable right now. I inherited a deficit, which has been retired, and audiences are growing. We’re still trying to develop more committed relationships with audiences so they want to see every show. Our audience is younger than other theatres’, so the traditional subscriber model doesn’t work. The whole theatre industry is changing right now. It used to be a good review in a mainstream newspaper would ensure success. That’s not the case anymore. We’re continuing to examine how we can reach out to our audiences and have a meaningful, ongoing conversation with them.
Creating for “queer audiences” can be challenging because you’re trying to appeal to a disparate series of communities that don’t necessarily have common interests, politics or shared experiences. How do you meet that challenge?
That’s an assumption I don’t completely agree with. The bottom line for me is understanding Buddies as a space for intersectionality. My responsibility isn’t to represent every identity in the queer community. It’s to create a space where various groups can meet and interact. I’ve always been motivated to see art where I’m pushed to consider things I might not in my everyday life, and I hope that’s what people get here.
Anything else people should know about the company, next season or the future beyond that?
We’re currently developing a long-term strategic plan, which included an audience survey about the kind of work they’re interested in and how they make decisions about what to see. The response was incredible, and over two thousand people participated. We’re still analyzing the responses, but we’re hopeful it will help us shape what we do and how we communicate it. Beyond that, I think 35 years of queer theatre is something to be very proud of, not just as a company, but as a city. I’m always amazed by the number of emails I get from around the world wanting to know more about Buddies and what we do, because we’ve existed for as long as we have. Not every theatre can claim we matter to the world, but we do.