It was only six short years ago Brendan Healy took the helm of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. A fledgling director with talent to spare, but administrative skills in short supply, he surprised many when he secured the job ahead of several candidates with decades more experience.
Some wondered whether the then-34-year-old recent National Theatre School grad had the chops to manage a venued company with 24 staff and an annual budget of over $1.6 million. But year after year, those doubts crumbled as he built Buddies into not only one of the most important spaces in the country, but one of the pre-eminent queer theatres in the world.
As Healy finishes his tenure and passes the reins to incoming artistic director evalyn parry, we take a look back at some his major accomplishments on the job.
1. Bringing international playwrights to Toronto
While some decry the presence of anything remotely un-Canadian gracing our city’s stages, Healy saw value in exposing Hogtown audiences to voices from abroad. His second season opened with his Dora Award-winning version of UK playwright Sarah Kane’s controversial Blasted. He continued the trend with Tim Luscombe’s PIG in 2013 and the 2015 season opener The 20th of November by Swedish writer Lars Norén.
2. National touring
At the same time Healy brought outside perspectives to the local stage, he’s aimed to share Toronto voices with the nation. Under his watch, Buddies’ has sent productions of Agokwe, The Silicone Diaries, Obaaberima, and The Gay Heritage Project on the road, including stops in Halifax, Ottawa, Edmonton, Vancouver and Whitehorse. Beyond simply bringing top-notch art to audiences across the Great White North, the shift meant offering queer voices for national consumption, fostering a wider dialogue on issues of sexuality, race and gender identity coast to coast.
3. Diversifying programming
Though Buddies was already working to make its programming less white-male centric, Healy’s tenure took this to a new level, bringing artists like Tawiah Mc’Carthy, Gein Wong, Kim Katrin Milan, Mel Hague and Shaista Latif into the fold. There’s also been a move to foster the voices of trans artists including Nina Arsenault and Sunny Drake, whose solo No Strings (Attached) makes its Toronto debut this spring.
4. The residency program
Like most companies, Buddies had long hosted a playwrights unit for developing new scripts. But Healy’s understanding of the changing realities in new performance creation saw the program shift from simply offering writers the chance to have their scripts read, to fostering work by creators who need more than a computer and a desk to flex their artistic muscles. Along with many of the shows that hit national stages, Buddies’ Residency Program helped create Of A Monstrous Child, Freda and Jem’s Best of the Week, and the 2016 closing show Body Politic about the history of Daily Xtra’s parent company Pink Triangle Press.
5. Solidifying the company’s financials
While keeping numbers in the black is a less sexy topic than the fabulous art to cross the company’s stages, under Healy’s tenure the company moved from a substantial accumulated deficit to a modest surplus. Audiences have increased by over 30 percent, fundraising is at an all-time peak, and individual donors have grown by 150 percent, all of which will help to ensure the company’s continued existence as it moves into the next phase of its life.