I first spoke with Nigel Gough in 2001 when he, then a 19-year-old student, told me he was experiencing homophobic bullying at the hands of other boys at school.
He asked if I – then a columnist at Eye magazine – could help. He told me there were gay teachers at his school who were not willing to come out and stand up for him. Of course I wrote a column about it.
A few years later I saw Nigel play Gertrude in a series of scenes from Hamlet in Judith Thompson’s theatre class at the University of Guelph. He was superlative. I introduced myself and complimented him.
“You wrote an article about me, remember?” he told me.
He became my student shortly after. I cast him as the lead in a University of Guelph production of Suzie Goo: Private Secretary. He was very passionate and funny in the role. He also played Rosalind in As You Like It in a 2008 summer research project I directed at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto. His uncanny performance was luckily recorded on DVD.
I knew Nigel only in my professional capacities as columnist and professor, but he was an unforgettable person. He was an enormously talented actor. I was very much looking forward to working with him some day and have a feeling I would have written plays for him.
He was a bit of a prima donna and always late. But I will never forget his cute young face, his oddly asymmetrical Liza Minnelli-ish haircut, his swishy campness, his “How are things in your world?” and “Shine on!” greetings, or his energy.
Most admirably, he was out and proud. Sometimes we forget how much simply being out means in the fight against homophobia. Nigel was my only out gay male student at Guelph for a couple of years. I know there were other, closeted students, but they were afraid, much like the teachers at Nigel’s high school so many years ago.
I’m just a crotchety old professor now, but it did my heart good to know that young fags like Nigel were alive. He was a diva in training. I’m very sorry now that he’s dead.