Three-and-a-half years ago, two boys fell in love and decided to move into a dilapidated Kensington Market barbershop. The goal was to create both their first home together and a community art space where like-minded folk could convene to share ideas and show work.
The unlikely success of William Ellis and Jordan Tannahill’s romantically-inspired business venture has been astounding to everyone, including them. Nearly four years, several hundred events and one breakup later, the duo are giving up their lease and moving on with their lives.
“From the beginning we never wanted to grow into a permanent institution,” Tannahill says. “Getting bigger and more established wasn’t the goal. It was always supposed to be something transient, here one moment and gone the next. The space was really borne out of our romantic relationship and about sharing a home and a life together. We’re still good friends, but now that we’re no longer partners it feels like the right time to move onto a new adventure.”
(Opening night of My Father, Francis./Videofag/Facebook)
The unapologetically queer space has been critical hub for homo artists from Toronto and across Canada. It’s served as a development point for works that have gone on to play Vancouver’s PuSh Festival, The Kitchen and Dixon Place in New York, Buddies in Bad Times, Harbourfront Centre, and Montreal’s Festival TransAmérique. But when you ask the pair what they’re most proud of, the answer has nothing to do with their programming.
“I feel very good about the fact we’ve maintained really great relations with our neighbours and landlord,” Ellis says. “We spend a lot of time worrying about the impact of the space on their lives, and I think we’ve done a good job negotiating that and they’ve been incredibly generous and patient with us.”
“Managing to pay our rent every month has been a pretty big accomplishment,” Tannahill adds. “That and not getting busted by the cops for selling beer out of our kitchen.”
(History Boys columnists Jeremy Willard and Michael Lyons reading./Videofag/Facebook)
Founding the space was a critical step in their relationship. And though they didn’t keep their romantic split a secret, they also didn’t send out a press release when they decided to end that half of their partnership more than a year ago. The idea of continuing to work with an ex, let alone live with them, would be a migraine-inducing prospect for most people. Yet they somehow managed to make it work.
“We have an incredible shorthand when it comes to communication and knowing what the other is thinking,” Ellis says. “Jordan could make a decision or choice on behalf of both of us, and he’d know exactly what I would think and vice versa. It’s very efficient and I think pretty unique.”
(Inside the Videofag space./Videofag/Facebook)
“When we broke up, we had another artist living in our spare bedroom, which meant we had to continue to share a bed for three months,” Tannahill adds. “We would also shower together every morning because we only have two and a half minutes of warm water before it turns ice cold. But aside from that, it’s mostly all advantages. We know each other so well, and live and collaborate so easily. I also think Will has the best taste in art of anyone I know, so he keeps me inspired.”
Though it’s been an amazing ride, they’re elated by the prospect of turning over the keys and walking away. Each has a number of projects individually coming up over the next year, and the prospect of somewhat more relaxed accommodations is appealing to both
As for the actual space, there’s no official word on what might happen. In part because of the inherent cache the boys brought that strip of the Market, it could be an ideal locale for another young couple or collective to launch an art initiative.
Or as Tannahill says, “Maybe it will become a barbershop again?”