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City to name Sky Gilbert Lane

Groundbreaking gay playwright feels it’s appropriate that his name adorn a back alley

Sky Gilbert founded Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in 1978. The theatre opened in its current location in 1993. Credit: Fab magazine file photo

Toronto’s gay village is getting a little more fabulous with the official renaming of the public laneway behind Buddies in Bad Times Theatre after the theatre’s founder, Sky Gilbert.

Gilbert, who now lives in Hamilton and teaches at the University of Guelph, founded Buddies in 1978 and quickly became one of Canada’s most celebrated and controversial playwrights. His huge body of work includes the hit plays Drag Queens in Outer Space, Rope Enough and The Situationists, as well as several novels and collections of poetry.

The Church-Wellesley Neighbourhood Association began a process of giving official names to local unnamed public laneways. In addition to Sky Gilbert Lane, Odette Lane will be named to honour the heritage mansion at 81 Wellesley St that was torn down by a developer in 2012, and Biscuit Lane will be named to honour the bakeries that were nearby in the 1800s.

The city approached Buddies for suggestions to name the laneway behind it, says Mark Aikman, Buddies’ communications director.

“Sky founded the theatre and is obviously a very important person in our community and deserves to be honoured,” he says. “It was a really easy and obvious decision.”

But the 61-year-old playwright wants it known that the naming doesn’t mean he’s dead or done with challenging theatrical and social conventions. In addition to a new play, My Dinner with Casey Donovan, at Theatre Passe Muraille next March, he has another play, St Francis of Millbrook, forthcoming from Playwrights Canada Press, and Guernica Editions is releasing a collection of essays, called Compulsive Acts, about Gilbert’s work in September.

“It’s a bit scary when you’re alive to have a street named after you, but on the other hand, it’s a great honour. It’s the same thing that happens to me when someone says, I read your plays when I was 15 in the closet,” Gilbert says.

“My dad is really excited. He’s never seen the theatre, but I’ll show him the lane. He has a cane, he’s 88 years old, but he wants to march down that lane,” he says. “It makes me pleased, because dad’s had to struggle with me being a notorious person. I think it means a lot to him.”

Gilbert agrees with those in the community who giggle that it’s appropriate that Sky’s name will adorn a back alley. “Let’s just say I’m proud to have had adventures in that lane,” he says.

The naming must first be approved by Toronto and East York Community Council Aug 12 and by City Council on Aug 25.