40 years, 40 queers: Celebrating the tremendous impact Buddies in Bad Times has had on our lives

The world's longest-running queer theatre company is having a big birthday, so we asked more than a few of its friends to send their love letters.

Love letters for the world's longest-running queer theatre company from more than a few of its friends

A promotional image from outside Buddies' old home on George Street. (Buddies in Bad Times)

Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.

40 years ago, at an old brewery on Queen St. East in Toronto, three friends — Jerry Ciccoritti, Sky Gilbert and Matt Walsh — staged a theatre production of Gilbert's own play Angels in Underwear. The play featured Ciccoritti as Allen Ginsberg and Walsh as Jack Kerouac, and while only a modest success, it was ultimately the genesis of what has become the largest and longest running LGBTQ theatre company in the world: Buddies in Bad Times.

The trio had taken the name of their company from Eric Bentley's translation of a Jacques Prévert poem, and it took them little time to find considerable success. Within a year they had launched the still ongoing Rhubarb Festival, and through a series of more plays by Gilbert himself (Ciccoritti and Walsh left in 1979), by 1983 the company was receiving funding support by all three levels of government — no small feat for a outwardly queer organization that had, that same year, produced a play with a controversial fellatio scene.

In the decades that have followed, the way that Buddies in Bad Times has nurtured so many of this country's most innovative artists has been unparalleled. But it has been just as imperative in the contributions it's made to the quality of queer life for so many folks who simply found their way to the theatre.

For me, that happened in roughly 16 Septembers ago, when I anxiously made the walk from the University of Toronto's downtown campus to 12 Alexander St., which has been the permanent home of Buddies in Bad Times since 1994 (and don't you ever let that change, Toronto condo developers). It wasn't for a play but for Buddies' weekly Saturday night queer dance party, which I had read about it in the listings of a FAB Magazine (RIP) I'd come across on campus. 17 years old and only a week into newfound big city life, I entered the doors and down the stairs to the theatre's bar Tallulah's Cabaret, letting Buddies in Bad Times take my gay bar virginity in the process (don't blame them — I had a solid fake ID). And the next morning I woke up with quite the triple threat: a remarkable sense of queer social enlightenment, a massive hangover and a pamphlet for Buddies in Bad Times' 2002-03 season program.

Robin Williamson, Alisa Craig, Tim Jones, Gwen Bartleman and Sky Gilbert outside Buddies in Bad Times' then-new home at 12 Alexander Street in Toronto. (Buddies in Bad Times)

By the time I graduated from U of T in 2006, Buddies had — in addition to ruining dozens of Sunday mornings — introduced me to the work of Damien Atkins, Brad Fraser, Daniel MacIvor, Greg MacArthur, Evalyn Parry, Salvatore Antonio and Sky Gilbert himself. It had also given me a genuine sense of community in a city that isn't always easy for small town queer folk to adjust to, and that has continued ever since. I've even had the honour of screening a few short films at there during their annual collaborations with Inside Out, which left the 17-year-old in me screaming with pride.

Since I know I'm far from alone in my gratitude to Buddies as a result, I wanted to help celebrate their 40th season (which kicked off this month with Anna Chatterton and Evalyn Parry's Gertrude and Alice, running through October 7th) by opening up this space for some very special happy birthdays. I've asked 40 folks who have had a close relationship with Buddies over the years — whether as playwrights, producers, programmers, performers, patrons or all of the above — to offer their own love letters to its legacy. And I think I can easily speak for all included when I say: here's to 40 more years.

Editor's note: We have left the way various forms of identity-based terminologies are written and expressed up to each individual author.

Brendan Healy

Former Buddies Artistic Director Brendan Healy outside 12 Alexander Street. (Nina Arsenault)

Buddies is glory. It's the glory of being liberated from social convention, good taste and artistic constraints. It's the glory of being allowed to fail. It's the glory of existing within the liminal. It's the glory of being a rebel. It's the glory of being sexual. It's the glory of being vulnerable. It's the glory of being a full fucking human being.

Buddies is community. It's a community of opposites. It's a community of discomfort. It's a community of resistance. It's a community that I finally understood, one night, when I sat watching the most bizarre show that I had ever seen in my life with a hundred people who were also watching the most bizarre show of their lives. In that moment, I realized that we were all totally committed to that artist because we all shared a belief in the inherent dignity of any human's creative expression. In other spaces, that artist would have been dismissed. But not in our space. Not in our community. That's the community that I had the fortune of being a part of.

Buddies is difficult. It's the difficulty of pushing against societal prejudice, discrimination and hate. It's the difficulty of confronting your own shortcomings, biases, ignorance and blind spots. It's the difficulty of cash flows, bums in seats, condo towers, municipal politics, conservative governments, bad reviews. It's the difficultly of courting chaos. It's the difficulty of never accepting anything less than the ineffable.

Buddies is love. Buddies is radical love. Buddies is queer love. It's the radical queer love of total acceptance of the self. It's the radical queer love of total acceptance of the other. It's a love that I had only felt at Buddies. It's a love that I will carry to my grave.

Brendan Healy was the artistic director of Buddies in Bad Times between 2009 and 2015. He is currently the artistic director of Canadian Stage.

Bruce Dow

Back in the 1980s, being "out" as a queer artist was simply not a thing. It didn't exist. We all knew queer artists — but saying it publicly to the world was just not...a thing. Walking into Buddies for the first time, knowing that the building itself stood proudly for our whole community — that it welcomed all, but mostly that it was a safe space from which to speak to the world with pride and honesty about our experiences...well, it blew my mind. On a more personal note, I have been invited and encouraged to do the riskiest and best work of my career at Buddies. I am forever grateful.

Bruce Dow is best known for his four featured roles on Broadway, 12 seasons in leading roles at the Stratford Festival and two Dora Mavor Moore Awards for his work at Buddies in Bad Times.

Bruce Gibbons Fell

Bruce Gibbons Fell's Alabama at the 2017 Rhubarb Festival at Buddies in Bad Times. (Bruce Gibbons Fell)

If only I could take a blood sample when I'm watching a show Buddies and post it in this article: it could do my explosive feelings of beautiful intoxication justice. Buddies is one of the first theatres I visited after arriving in Canada. It felt so crazy to live in a city that had such a massive queer space: where there was no such thing as "being too queer" in theatre, as did happen in my country of origin.

My first time at Buddies was in 2011. I saw The Normal Heart; the house was full, and the show was full of life. The audience clapped at the end of every scene and cried together. I remember thinking how lucky I was to cry with all of them, and how lucky that such a place existed. It is a place that I'm too humbled by, where I feel so enamoured and swept away in admiration that I always catch myself acting like it's not real. It's not only a place where I can be myself — it's somewhere I can figure out who this self I call mine is. I'm sure I'm not alone when I say this.

Since 2013, the company has supported my work as a playwright and showcased my pieces at the Rhubarb Festival. I am now playwright in residence and hope that I can give back all the intense and exciting artistic complexities Buddies has sent my way and filled my life with, because it's made my life as a playwright — and human being — the most exquisitely challenging and playful time I could've ever imagined. And again, I know I'm not alone when I say this, or when I say the following: LONG LIVE THE BUDDIES AT BUDDIES.

Bruce Gibbons Fell is currently a playwright in residence at Buddies in Bad Times.

Cassandra James

Before I even finished theatre school, I knew I wanted Buddies to be my home after I graduated. I'd been partying there almost every weekend at their club night fundraisers, but to step into the cabaret during the day, to meet the artists that helped shape this incredible space, was truly an honour. There's no place like Buddies — no place I've encountered that has the joy, the vibrancy, the diversity and the passion that makes me so proud to be queer and so proud to be a queer artist. The staff and artists supported me during my transition and welcomed me as a trans woman. Buddies shaped who I am as an artist, allowed me to cultivate my authentic voice, to question, to try, to fail and ultimately to thrive.

I may have started as a club kid escaping to the dance night fundraisers, but I participated in PrideCab immediately following my graduation from theatre school and made my way through the youth program, being selected for the Young Creators Unit and then acting in the Rhubarb Festival. In 2013 I had the privilege of debuting two new works in the season under the artistic direction of Brendan Healy: Of A Monstrous Child: A Lady Gaga Musical by Alistair Newton and Arigato, Tokyo by Daniel MacIvor. I dragged my friends there, demanded they see shows about our community: The Normal Heart, The Gay Heritage Project, Body Politic. These shows moved me. I learned things about myself. And they changed how I think about LGBTQ+ activism and art.

Cassandra James is a performer and actress.

Catherine Hernandez

Catherine Hernandez in The Femme Playlist, which she wrote and performed for the 2014-15 season. (Alex Felipe)

Hello, Buddies.

We have indeed been buddies in good times and in bad times. I still remember thinking queer performance was simply changing the pronouns in a song I was performing. I still remember being at theatre school, scared to sit in the front row because a performer might pee on me. (It seemed to me that that was most of what was done those days in the 1980s and 1990s — queer folks parading with pride the agency they had over their bodies and bowels.) Next thing I know, I am one of those performers, reenacting my rape in the wake of my coming out of the closet — and I am finally me. The audience is holding me, holding my words, holding my story.

Happy 40th birthday, Buddies. We are the same age and I feel like we have grown so much together. In my second novel, Crosshairs, I imagine a world where you are no longer in operation under a post-Trump reality. I cried writing it because I could not fathom what I would do without your dark hallways, your dressing room shenanigans, your wings full of excitement and the best damn box office and FOH staff any producer could ask for.

Catherine Legs Hernandez

Catherine Hernandez is the award-winning author of Scarborough: the novel (Arsenal Pulp Press 2017) and M is for Mustache: A Pride ABC Book (Flamingo Rampant Press). Her plays include Singkil, Eating with Lola and The Femme Playlist.

It's not only a place where I can be myself — it's somewhere I can figure out who this self I call mine is.- Bruce Gibbons Fell, current playwright in residence at Buddies

Clinton Walker

I sometimes wonder about the person I would have become if it hadn't been for Buddies. My story is not that unique from many of the theatre makers, storytellers and artists who have been transformed by Buddies in Bad Times. I spent my early years being sidelined, overlooked or, even worse, reminded that I was simply too odd to contribute in any meaningful way. I knew early on that I was different, but I did not understand my worth. I found Buddies perhaps when I needed it the most.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating: Buddies saved my life. It provided me a safe place to discover my artistry — but more importantly, it gave me both the shelter and the arena to figure out who I needed to become. Although there are so many reasons to love and shine light on this incredible company, what fills me with the greatest hope (at a time when we are in dire need of it) is that Buddies continues to provide that soft landing for young artists who otherwise may not get the chance to express their point of view. In 1988, I made my Buddies debut tap dancing in a body bag in a Rhubarb play. This year, 30 years later, I will be directing Greg Campbell's brilliant one-man show, Out!, for Buddies' 40th anniversary season. Thank you, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, for letting me find my voice and helping me to determine my path.

Clinton Walker is a Toronto-based artist and theatre director.

Cole Alvis

Cole Alvis as associate director of the 2015 Rhubarb Festival. (Tanja Tiziana)

Buddies in Bad Times Theatre is where I first came across the name René Highway. Etched among the names that traverse the wall on the stairs down to the dressing rooms, you will find an epitaph for queer artists gone too soon. 

René Highway danced his way out of Residential School (originally from a Cree community north of Brochet, Manitoba) into Toronto Dance Theatre, Tukak Theatre (Inuit theatre school in Denmark) and the Native Canadian Centre in Toronto. This 2 Spirit artist originated the role of Nanabush in his brother's play The Rez Sisters (1986) and was choreographer for Dry Lips Outta Move To Kapuskasing (1989), both by Tomson Highway. He died of AIDS-related causes in 1990, and Buddies has included his name on their commemorative wall. There are meaningful relationships between Buddies, 2 Spirit artists and Indigenous communities — a stencil of René Highway's name commemorates one of them.

Cole Alvis is a Métis theatre artist with Chippewa, Irish and English heritage from the Turtle Mountains in Manitobah. They will be directing an Indigenous and culturally diverse production of Lilies: Or, The Revival Of A Romantic Drama by Michel Marc Bouchard in the 40th season of Buddies In Bad Times Theatre. 

Damien Atkins

Left to right: Damien Atkins, Paul Dunn, Andrew Kushnir in The Gay Heritage Project at Buddies. ( Tanja Tizana)

Buddies in Bad Times was one of the first buildings I visited when I first came to Toronto in 1995. To be honest, coming from Edmonton, I found most of Toronto terribly scary — and Buddies was no exception. I was a young queer artist, and the idea that there was a company dedicated to queer theatre was so alien to me as to be terrifying. But I walked in, I auditioned and Sky Gilbert (a somewhat intimidating figure himself, but only at first meeting) treated me with perfect grace and kindness. He made me feel welcome. And so I started coming back, tentatively at first, and then more and more frequently, until, within five years, I felt like I was living there. I have worked in that building, I have fallen in love there, I've danced my face off, I've had too much to drink and not enough, I've failed, I've succeeded, I met my childhood hero, I've performed for my parents, I've tried (with varying degrees of success) to impress potential suitors there, I've seen some beautiful shows, I've been in some beautiful shows and I've had a few lovely kisses. Buddies has been a place of work, a refuge, an incubator, an anchor, a temple — a home.

Damien Atkins is an actor and playwright. He spent four seasons at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival as both actor and playwright. He has also received ten Dora Mavor Moore Award nominations for acting and writing, winning four. 

David Bateman​

Dear Buddies,

Over the years you have given me — from George St. in the late eighties to Alexander St. currently — the opportunity to roller skate in a dress made from a patio umbrella with a GI Joe sewn into the nether regions of my red tights as I meditated comically about sexual identities I couldn't quite grasp but had fun trying to. Where else does a performance artist get to take the stage for 15 minutes to an hour and just talk about what they have experienced over a lifetime of culturally induced dysphoric gender identification? Lots of places. But Buddies, you were my first, and you have been my frequent performance home now for over 20 years.

Now in my early 60s, I'm still examining those unanswerable queries onstage and off — asking and ranting about issues ranging from the curiosity voiced by well-meaning comrades regarding HIV identity to the escapades of a middle-aged drag queen lamenting her rich husband's imminent demise in country songs and one-liners. Buddies, you have given me a place to flaunt and flourish for well over two decades. From Sky Gilbert to Sarah Stanley, David Oiye, Moynan King, Ed Roy, Brendan Healy, Mel Hague, Evalyn Parry, beloved Buddies bartender/artist/rock star Patricia Wilson and countless others, a queer community of individuals have made my wildest performance dreams come true. Beginning with a sex change performed on a banana, and ending who knows where, I am eternally grateful and forever indebted to the encouragement I have been given by this remarkable theatre company.

love David xo

David Bateman has performed in over ten Rhubarb Festival shows at Buddies, presenting a dozen or more solo monologues over the years, with an upcoming collaborative poetry/music variety show with Patricia Wilson, Trans Mediations and Other Queeries.

David Oiye

"My time there is best captured in a brochure pic captured by R. Kelly Clipperton, in his own inimitable style – it shows me in full faux period drag ascending the cabaret staircase with a crowd dancing below." - David Oiye (R. Kelly Clipperton)

When I first moved from the suburbs to downtown Toronto, I soon discovered Sky's Buddies at the George St. location as an oasis for the marginalized and out of place. The work I saw there pushed the boundaries of what I was seeing elsewhere...and the parties were legendary. When I took over as artistic director from Sarah Stanley in 1999, the company had firmly established itself at our Alexander St. home, and for the next decade we continued to push at boundaries, although we did so in our own way. We also tried to continue to be a gathering place for people on the margins — the margins of the community, the margins of creation styles, the margins of content. I am proudest of the relationships we forged with artists and later with performance creation companies, and the ways in which we challenged our own use of the theatre space. My favourite shows were the musicals (they were also the most successful productions of my time there): When We Were Singing, Real Live Girl and Art House Cabaret. It's hard for a company to be all things to all people in a community that represents so many individual and unique communities. My time there is best captured in a brochure pic captured by R. Kelly Clipperton (and featured above), in his own inimitable style — it shows me in full faux period drag ascending the cabaret staircase with a crowd dancing below. We strove to represent our queer community over those 10 years. Since that time, the focus of marginalized awareness has evolved — and Buddies has evolved with it to continue to be a beacon and a gathering place for that community. Here's to another 40 years.

David Oiye was artistic director of Buddies in Bad Times from 1999-2009.

Buddies saved my life. It provided me a safe place to discover my artistry — but more importantly, it gave me both the shelter and the arena to figure out who I needed to become.- Clinton Walker, artist

Diane Flacks

She looks good for her age. I started my career as a brash, activist artist at Buddies in the late 1980s and haven't stopped showing up since. I guess they're going to have to suck my warm, theatrical ashes out of there with a Dyson.

My first show at Buddies was called I'd Kiss You But... and it was a play written and performed with Wendy White and Victoria Ward as our outrageous, fierce and funny feminist theatre collective, Empress Productions in 1989. Since then I have participated in dozens of plays and workshops as both an actor and writer, hosted a plethora of events, seen brilliant and astounding raw work and had many a drink and dance at every incarnation of the theatre company — from when it was a pop-up space around the city, to when it was housed in a converted garage on George St. that had no bathrooms in the dressing rooms, to its current home on Alexander St. Buddies has always been about freedom. Freedom to explore art in a serious yet irreverent way. Freedom to be who you are, even when you're still in formation. Freedom to express dark and dangerous views, or to just preach to the choir. Freedom to be outrageous. Freedom to belong.

In the last two years, I had the most extraordinary theatrical experiences of my career at Buddies. In June 2016, I was acting in Body Politic, written by Nick Green and directed by Alisa Palmer, about the beginnings of the "gay liberation movement" in Toronto in the 1980s in response to the brutal police bathhouse raids. Our closing show happened the morning after the Pulse Nightclub massacre in Orlando, where 50 people — mostly gay men — were shot. The queer community was in shock. But they came, fragile and afraid, and sold out our show. Buddies was a church at that moment, and we all felt a sense of collective grief and resistance in that sacred space. Then a few months later, my new play Unholy, premiered at Buddies, right after Trump's inauguration. The play is about religion and misogyny, love and sex. One of the characters in the play is a progressive Muslim lawyer from Iran, brilliantly acted by Bahareh Yaragi, and my character is a strident anti-theist. In the play, we spar about Islamophobia as part of a fictional debate. The night before Unholy closed, six people were killed while praying in a mosque in Quebec City. We spoke our lines while the audience once again grieved and shared our outrage, confusion and desire to understand all sides of our debate with compassion. Buddies is the space that housed those moments, reminding us all of the power and vitality of live theatre, shared in tumultuous times. 

Diane Flacks is a writer and actor. Most recently she wrote and starred in Unholy, her critically acclaimed play about women and religion for Nightwood Theatre, which was nominated for a Dora for outstanding new play.

Evalyn Parry

I've had a 20-year love affair with this groundbreaking company.

As a young queer artist coming to Toronto after theatre school in Montreal, Buddies was the place I knew I wanted to work. I went to see everything on stage. I kept hanging around and knocking on the door, and eventually got my first chance to perform in 1999, when curator/host Jane Farrow asked me to perform as part of Strange Sisters Cabaret. Setting foot on the Buddies stage was the beginning of one of the most important artistic relationships of my life.

This place has played a crucial role in my work and development as an artist, as a collaborator, as a human. Buddies has been an inspiration, a challenge, a beacon, a creative playground, a centre for so much artistic and queer community meaning-making: a home. But it's never an easy home. It is a home that is constantly evolving, shape-shifting, pushing the boundaries, reframing the conversation and pushing the dial. It's a space that continues to both support and challenge to everyone who works here, inviting artists to take real risks — and real risk is never comfortable.

I have witnessed some of the weirdest, expectation-defying work on stage here. Gorgeous, strange, lush, erotic, epic, scary, bizarre, moving, frustrating, riveting theatre. Buddies is where I first encountered so many of the defining queer artists of our time (many of whom are included in this list of contributors). Through my years of work with our youth program, I have witnessed theatre be a transformative platform for so many queer, trans, non-binary and 2 spirit young people who have come up through our doors.

And, for the last three years, I have the great privilege of being Buddies' artistic director. I love this theatre. I love my job, and I offer my mad respect to all the fierce queers who have made it — and who continue to make it — what it is. We stand on the shoulders of all the courageous artists, queer, trans and 2 spirit ancestors who came before us, to carve out this unique and vitally important cultural space.

Evalyn Parry is currently the artistic director of Buddies in Bad Times. She is also an award-winning theatre creator and songwriter, director, writer, and performer whose work is inspired by intersections of social activism, history and auto/biography.

Gein Wong

One of the things older generations often say is that things are better than they once were, that younger generations don't know how good we have it.  In many ways that's true — but in others way there's a large part of the 2SLGBTQ+ community that continues to face so many forms of systemic colonial oppression from misogny, to transphobia, to racism, to cissexism...the list is still so so long. I see so many people around me still asking for basic things like being treated as a human being, being hired for jobs, feeling safe to walk the streets, sleeping safely in their homes, having people use the proper pronouns. Human, just being seen as human.

So a love letter to Buddies is about how you have opened your doors to so many people who need to know other people just like them, who need community, who need to be able to say the word home. A love letter to Buddies is about how you have positioned yourself within the theatre world as a place that wants to push the status quo and provided broad shoulders for us to stand upon. A love letter to Buddies is also about being receptive to call-ins, how generations change and bring with them new ways of leading and treating each other, how mistakes and harm can still be made — and most importantly, moving forward, how wounds can slowly heal with humility and generosity, respect and reciprocity. Buddies, your next 40 years are going to be so exciting to watch.

Gein Wong is an interdisciplinary director playwright, spoken word poet, music composer and video artist​.

Greg MacArthur

Greg MacArthur outside Buddies in 2003. (Buddies in Bad Times)

We met back in the early 1990s. I was new to the city — young, eager, open. You were living on Queen West back then. You were older, more experienced. Someone invited me to a party you were throwing. There was music, performances, naked bodies, backroom rendezvous. You introduced me to all these amazingly creative, adventurous, political people. Lines were cut; lines were blurred. You were exactly what I was looking for. You made me blush. You challenged me politically, culturally, socially. You opened my eyes. Your door was always open. You set me on a path. For over a decade, we lived and breathed the same air, shared the same spaces; we danced and played and grew. We haven't seen each other in a while. We're both older. We live in different cities. We run in different circles. We see other people. But I hear about you. I've kept track of you over the years. We run into each other sporadically when I'm in town. I feel so proud, so blessed, so lucky to have met you when I did. You mentored me in ways you could never really know. You helped to form me — and I hope I had some hand in forming you, too.

Greg MacArthur is a playwright, dramaturge, director and teacher. For over 25 years he has been involved in the creation and development of new work for the stage.

Heath V. Salazar

Gay Jesus (Heath V. Salazar) performing at Buddies' 40th season launch party. (Tanja Tiziana)

Buddies In Bad Times brought me home before I ever knew I was missing one. My first time here, there were portraits of queer folx hung up in the Cabaret. I used to stare at them. I didn't understand why just yet — I just knew that I needed to stare at them.

Buddies was the first place I felt safe in a queer space. Buddies is the reason I met my Latinx family. Buddies is where my queerness has grown up. They've seen me through baby gay, to name change, to full glitter drag descending from a ceiling. They've been there for each step and have accepted me through all of them.

As I begin my residency with them this year, I turn to the stages Buddies has been through. I look at the way they started, the way they've fought and the people they've empowered. This place, the people who've made it possible and the work that's created here are revolutionary. I hope to continue learning from them so that when I myself turn 40, I can be even half as badass as Buddies In Bad Times Theatre.

Dear Buddies, thank you for everything.

Heath V. Salazar (they/them) is a Dora Award-winning Latinx performer and writer. In both theatre and film, they perform as male, female and gender variant. As a drag artist, in addition to being a member of the Latinx boyband Boiband the Boyband, they perform individually as Gay Jesus, who was featured in the CBC Arts docu-series Canada's A Drag.

Buddies has been an inspiration, a challenge, a beacon, a creative playground, a centre for so artistic and queer community meaning-making: a home.- Evalyn Parry, current artistic director of Buddies in Bad Times

Hope Thompson

From left: Andrya Duff, Johnnie Walker, Brandon James Sim in Hope Thompson's The Love Crimes of Frances Lark. (David Hawe)

Dear Buddies In Bad Times Theatre,

Has it been 40 years already? Then it's been the best 40 years. 40 years of great theatre — queer theatre!

I first met you at your George St. location where I remember delighting in Sky Gilbert's Suzy Goo: Private Secretary and in his drag experiment, Esther: An Introduction and in queer cabaret nights, the 4-Play Festival and parties. And then there was Alexander St. and its main stage hits, Pride comedy sets, the artistry of Keith Cole, cabaret shows — one called Lobster Boy that I loved. There were book launches, readings and Rhubarbs. You gave us queer art where there was none before. But you didn't stop there. You gave me a stage for my plays. You gave me lifelong friends. You gave me some of the best times of my life. Thank you and happy anniversary!

Hope Thompson

Hope Thompson writes for theatre, screen and television. Her plays have been produced in Toronto, Vancouver and Los Angeles and her short films have screened internationally. TV credits include CBC's What It's Like Being Alone and Baroness Von Sketch Show. Hope co-hosts Noir At The Bar Toronto and is completing her first novel. 

Izad Etemadi

Four years ago I arrived in Toronto with a suitcase, a really nice winter coat and no idea what I was doing. I found a cheap flight on West Jet and decided to leave my west coast island life behind in hopes of "making it" in the big city. I quickly learned that in order to survive in this industry I had to create my own work, and along came a sassy bearded Persian Princess named Leila — my alter ego who took over my life. I began to push this project and my work everywhere I could. Time after time I found myself at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre looking for guidance and support, putting up posters or figuring out how to fly in a garden gnome from the ceiling.

I came from a place where people didn't understand me. As a "quirky" queer Persian-Canadian artist who has struggled his whole life with identity both on and off stage, it has been hard to find a safe space where I felt accepted for who and what I am. At Buddies I never had to explain myself; I just got to create and play with an audience and hone in on what I was — and still am — trying to say. A huge milestone for me and my career was receiving the Emerging Queer Artist Award in 2017. To be acknowledged in such a way by one of the world's largest queer arts organizations after years of independently producing my own work across the country made me feel that maybe I finally had an idea of what I was doing.

Izad Etemadi is a Persian-Canadian performer/creator originally from Victoria, B.C. He is best known for his portrayal of the charming, flamboyant and bearded Persian woman Leila, whose solo shows have performed to sold-out houses, standing ovations and rave reviews from coast to coast. 

JP Kane/Fay Slift

Fay Slift. (David Hawe)

Dear Buddies,

Where would I be without you? As a small town 18-year-old kid, you were the very first place I met my Tribe. In university I came to see Ban This Show by Sky Gilbert. It was the first time I had seen anything so provocative and so daring. I was equal parts excited and terrified. I had a rumble in my guts that this was where I belonged. Through the 1990s I would come and dance my heart out at Sissy Saturday's with DJs Daniel Paquette and Lucinda Wallace. It was there on that sweaty dancefloor that I learned to love who I am.

I never realized that one day I would take the stage and perform. In December of 2007, a friend asked if I would do drag. I never anticipated it would go any further than a one-off, and although the audience was small, they were appreciative. Fay Slift the LadyBear Extraordinaire was born. Fast forward: I've just celebrated 10 years as a performer, and I couldn't have done it without all the opportunities you gave me.

Most recently my friend Kaleb Roberston and I brought a special Fay & Fluffy's Storytime to the main space as part of Pride. I stood on that stage with my heart fluttering and a tear in my eye looking out at all those kids, parents and queer families and I just thought how lucky I was to have grown up within the safety of your walls. A big extra shoutout to Patricia Wilson, who makes the space feel like home to us all.

Happy 40th. Thank you for being a space which is welcoming and safe for all the members of our community.


JP Kane is a teacher by day and drag performer Fay Slift by night.

Jenna Harris

Buddies is home.

When I first moved to Toronto, having just come out a month prior, I was searching for what it was to be gay — for me to be gay. The first place I turned to as a theatre artist was Buddies. I started seeing shows there and going to events through which I was figuring out who this "new" me was and would be. Shortly after moving, when I was looking for part-time work, I applied to work in the box office, where I spent the next two years followed by another two years as the theatre's FOH/box office assistant manager. It was through working at the theatre in this way — closely with the other staff and visiting artists — that I really came into my own both as a person and as an artist. And I decided that moving forward, what I wanted was for Buddies to be my artistic home. Two years ago my dreams came true when I became a playwright in residence at Buddies. Since then, I have had the honour of learning and growing alongside amazing queer artists, sharing our work and supporting one another.

What Buddies has given me is beyond words. I truly feel that I am the person and artist that I am today because of this place and the people who make it what it is. Every time I walk through its doors I feel a sense of pride that I get to do so, that it is a space for me — a space where I feel safe and nurtured and challenged — a place that I know and that knows me. A place I get to call my home.

Jenna Harris is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts theatre conservatory program in New York City. She is an actor, writer/creator, arts educator and dancer, and the artistic producer of Discord and Din Theatre.

Johnnie Walker

Johnnie Walker in one of the promo photos from Buddies' Shove It Down My Throat. (Tanja Tiziana)

I've been coming to Buddies in Bad Times Theatre for 19-ish years — which means that, for me, Buddies is the iconic building at 12 Alexander St. it's inhabited since 1994. And in the 19-ish years I've sashayed up its side entrance ramp (how unspeakably dull would it be to enter through the front door?), there's a conventional wisdom I've often heard: half the people who come to Buddies have no idea it's a bar, the other half have no idea it's a theatre. For me, it was always decidedly both.

Buddies was a theatre when, as a high school and later an undergrad drama student, I saw mind-expanding plays with thrillingly queer subject matter by artists like Daniel MacIvor, Marie Brassard, Jason Sherman and Sky Gilbert. Buddies was a bar when I lined up on Alexander St. for two and a half hours during my first Pride, flirting and making friends and wanting to be nowhere else in the world than in that ridiculous line. It was a bar every Saturday night I DJed in the Cabaret; it was a theatre every afternoon I spent holed up in the dressing-room with my laptop, working on a new play.

But what about the well-oiled chaos of Rhubarb or Art Attack — which Buddies do they inhabit? What about the bachelorette party my friends threw me and my husband in the Cabaret this summer, complete with a 90-minute floor show and an epic dance party — was that a theatre in drag as a bar, or a bar in drag as a theatre? If you can figure it out, please let me know, but if you can't, here's my advice: if you've never seen a play at Buddies, get a ticket; if you've never been to a party at Buddies, put on something cute and get in that line.

Johnnie Walker is a theatre artist, filmmaker and DJ based in Toronto. His solo show Redheaded Stepchild has toured North America and was published by Playwrights Canada Press. He is an artist in residence at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, where his new play Shove It Down My Throat will have its world premiere in 2019.

Jordan Tannahill

I love you like I love a homeland. More than Canada or Toronto, I am a citizen of Buddies in Bad Times. You are my place of belonging. My refuge, my playground, my temple; built and fought for tirelessly by my queer ancestors. You are the place I return to when I have been away. Over the years I have spent countless nights laughing, learning and loving under your roof. I have been an audience member. I have staged shows. I have even performed in some of them myself, including Bravislovia (Rhubarb Festival, 2012), a piece about a fantastical, imaginary country from my childhood — a piece which, incidentally, meditated on ideas of home and homeland. In Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics, Rebecca Solnit writes, "The desire to go home that is a desire to be whole, to know where you are, to be the point of intersection of all the lines drawn through all the stars, to be the constellation-maker and the centre of the world, that center called love." Buddies, you make me feel like a constellation-maker. You are my centre called love.

Jordan Tannahill is a writer and artist living between Toronto, London and Budapest. Most recently he wrote the text for Xenos, a dance piece by Akram Khan coming to Canadian Stage this October. His virtual reality play Draw Me Close, a co-production between the National Theatre (U.K.) and the National Film Board of Canada, premieres at the Young Vic Theatre in London, U.K. in January 2019.

What Buddies has given me is beyond words. I truly feel that I am the person and artist that I am today because of this place and the people who make it what it is.- Jenna Harris, artist

Mx. Katie Sly

Mx. Katie Sly. (Sophia Wolfe)

I grew up on welfare with a closeted lesbian mother, whose depression made her absent in providing basic human needs, and a stepfather who physically and sexually abused me. I grew up with relatives, but I cannot say that I had family until I arrived at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in 2012 as a bisexual who had never had sex with a person of the same gender as me, and as a person who did not yet realize that they were genderqueer.

At Buddies I was, for the first time, surrounded by my culture. Through participation in Buddies' PrideCab and Young Creators Unit programs, I began to unpack what it meant to be raised by a woman whose own closeted queerness made her useless as a caregiver or a protector. I learnt what it meant to have mentors watch me take artistic risks and watch me fail and not write me off over that failure. I learnt what it meant to have my thoughts valued and my ambitions encouraged, regardless of whether or not I identified with the gender I was assigned at birth.

On the Cabaret stage at Buddies, I learnt that art is a means of showing oneself and others that while pain is a source of isolation, the subversion of that quality is connection. At Buddies, I learned that performance is an act of alchemy, in which we use the raw materials we've acquired in our time as members of the existential underclass to create art that is universal for its commitment to nuance, jagged for its unwillingness to provide pat answers and sublime in its unrelinquishing need to not give a fuck about appropriateness.

Buddies made me the artist I am. But more importantly, Buddies made me a whole person.

Mx. Sly (they/them/their) is a writer, performer, curator and producer. They grew up in Montreal and they hold no degrees. Sly was the 2016 recipient of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre's Queer Emerging Artist Award and the 2016 winner of Canada's Wildfire National Playwriting Competition, and their play Charisma Furs was published by Playwrights Canada Press in 2018.

Keith Cole

Keith Cole on stage at Buddies. (Keith Cole)

Buddies In Bad Times Theatre has given me several hundred opportunities to sing, dance, make trouble, make movies, do drag, act, celebrate successes, be sad for losses and create my own space within its space. There is not one great experience for me at Buddies but hundreds. Buddies has helped me out creatively, sexually, financially and therapeutically over the years and I will never forget that.

Buddies has my back — even when I screw up.

Buddies is the best place for me to be me.

Buddies is my buddy.

Keith Cole has been called everything from "a sashaying swinger of swish" to a "Master / Mistress of Misrule." The Toronto Sun said Keith Cole is "a bon vivant who struts his stuff in a range of Marge Simpson-esque get-ups that could spark an international competition with Dubai for the tallest free-standing drag queen."

Kim Katrin Milan

When I was a baby queer, applying to the Buddies In Bad Times Young Creator program was the first time I was able to pursue something at the intersection of arts and LGBT community. I was introduced to Toronto's queer and trans theatre community and formed relationships that last to this day.

Collaborating on Resistance & Raunch with Vivek Shraya and Mikiki Burino was as vulnerable as it was beautiful. It was with Gein Wong that Strange Sisters transformed into Insatiable Sisters including art from as far as South Africa and artists from L.A., balanced by a truly diverse Toronto lineup including folks like Witch Prophet and Sage Willow. I welcomed Patrisse Cullors of Black Lives Matter to the Buddies stage for Cipher Cabaret during Toronto Pride among so many other political creatives. Forever grateful for the memories, space and opportunity to collaborate and grow.

Kim Katrin Milan is an award winning internationally acclaimed educator, writer and artist. She is the co-founder and executive director of The People Project, a diversity consulting firm. She is also one of the owners and current member of the board for the Glad Day Book Shop, the oldest LGBT bookstore in the world.

Laura Nanni

My first experience of Buddies was in high school. It invigorated me. There was an energy in the theatre that made me feel so welcome and that anything was possible. Years later, in my time as Rhubarb Festival Director, I was reminded of this feeling every day. Buddies is a place where artists are encouraged to take risks, think big and develop their creative voices. This is what Buddies and Rhubarb enabled me to do as a curator too. I had the opportunity to work with some of the most adventurous, open and skilled artists and colleagues in the country that made the seemingly impossible into reality time and time again. As a queer space that challenges convention, Buddies has always been a leader and essential platform on the cultural scene — one that I am forever inspired by and grateful for.

Laura Nanni is the artistic and managing director of the SummerWorks Performance Festival.

leZlie Lee Kam

My involvement with Buddies has been unique and rewarding. My participation in The Youth/Elders Project changed, improved and enhanced my life. I learned so much about myself and my creative capabilities, and I made new friends with many of the youth. I was amazed at how seemingly easy it was for the youth to access LGBTQ info and come to the quick realization they were "queer" — but it saddened me that these same youth were having an even harder time surviving in a "queer" world. I am thrilled to continue to work with Buddies on the new YEP Podcast, bringing fun and lively "queer" discussions to a new audience OUT in the wider community at the Oakwood library.

leZlie Lee Kam: i am a world majority, brown, Trini, carib, callaloo queer DYKE..differently-abled  elder..i have been OUT as a DYKE community activist since 1976..i advocate for 2 spirit and queer people of colour and live my life from an anti-oppression perspective..i enjoy a cold beverage and a hot 'LIME' anytime!!

Buddies, you make me feel like a constellation-maker. You are my centre called love.- Jordan Tannahill, artist

Mel Hague

Mel Hague. (Buddies in Bad Times)

I have been coming and going from Buddies for almost 15 years. I saw Daniel MacIvor's Here Lies Henry when I was 18 (it blew my tiny mind). I came back when I was 21 (and danced all night). I came back when I was 25 and had coffee with Brendan Healy (we talked about art and theatre and queerness and sex and desire). I came back when I was 26 and knew I would take over the Rhubarb Festival (I saw Heather Cassils pummel an 8-foot slab of clay while Alejandro Santiago photographed, the bright flash creating a pulsing technicolour visual onslaught). 

I have come and gone from Buddies in Bad Times for almost 15 years. So many versions of myself have walked up that ramp to see, to be, to work, to hear. I cannot imagine my life in Toronto without this place, and cannot imagine a version of myself that would not find a corner to call my own in this concrete maze at 12 Alexander St.

Mel Hague is a Toronto-based dramaturge and curator, she is the Rhubarb Festival Director at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

Michaela Washburn

It's been 15 years since our first encounter.
At the time I was 32 which would have made you 25
It was my first time
it happened in your chamber
night after night across
a body scrawled open
spoken upon
I smudged beneath the stairwells
invited my prayers to be everywhere.
And since then
I have returned
again and again
beckoning you
to want more of me
until once again
I take to the stage
And we dance
our energies
entwined even if
but temporary.
Until again
xo Michaela

Michaela Washburn's first main stage performance and introduction to both the Indigenous and queer communities in Toronto was in Native Earth's The Unnatural and Accidental Woman at Buddies. They have since been back as an audience member, performer, curator, host, workshop facilitator and community member.

Monica Garrido

Monica Garrido just won Buddies in Bad Times' Queer Emerging Artist Award and chose her lovely speech to be featured as her "love letter" to Buddies:

Monica Garrido is a theatre artist, comedian and filmmaker. Her first solo show, The Cunning Linguist, was created at Buddies Emerging Creator Unit. She has appeared at Buddies in The Youth/Elders Project and as part of the Latinx Drag King Boiband the Boyband. 

Naomi Campbell

Dear Buddies,

Oh how I love you.

There is nowhere like Buddies in the whole world. Full of smart, brave, strong people, I have seen dozens and dozens of shows there, some good, some brilliant, some just awful; many harsh and difficult, all made with love and sweat. I worked on some of my favourite shows there — it is such a magical room for the work. I used to drink hard and dance into the night there, which I really needed at the time. Buddies, home to so many, has been so important to Toronto and its mental health.

Buddies pushes and prods, irritates and comforts, provides solace, shelter and safety. Buddies is more than theatre, more than art, more than a building. Buddies is unconditional love.

yours forever,
Naomi Campbell

Naomi Campbell is the artistic director at Luminato. She curated Rhubarb in 2003 and was president of Buddies' Board of Directors from 2007-2009.

Buddies is more than theatre, more than art, more than a building. Buddies is unconditional love.- Naomi Campbell, artistic director at Luminato

Patricia Wilson

Patricia Wilson (Buddies in Bad Times)

Buddies in Bad Times Theatre became my whole queer world in late 1993. I was hired from the city of Windsor, Ont. as their publicist while the company was in the swoon of just getting the news that we were moving from George St. to the new theatre on Alexander St. — an exciting time and a wonderful way to finish what was to be the last season of queer and alternative work at the theatre on George St. To this day, when I am asked what it was like back then and before I tease the questioner with all the fun and sexy details, I say: "Really we were a bunch of queer and sexual kids in leather and Doc Martens learning on the frontlines how to run a facility and still create our art."

Of course with the years piling up behind us, we all at Buddies are doing a wonderful job of running the facility and creating amazing art to this very day. I am now the bar manager at the theatre and my view of what Buddies does is informed by what I see on daily basis as our queer youth wander in to the theatre and the theatre bar. I know that we at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre save kids' lives. We are there for those young adults who are bullied and persecuted by their families, their friends and even their government — all because they are queer kids and are feared by society because of who they are and who they are not. I have had hundreds of kids, now older, come back to me over the 25 years I have worked at Buddies and tell me that this organization — one that creates art to tell the truth about being different, about being on the outside of what is seen as "normal" in society — has saved their lives. Buddies is their queer Alamo, if you will.

Patricia Wilson is an artist and performer and has become legendary in Toronto as Buddies in Bad Times' longtime bar manager (just look at how many people mention Wilson in their blurbs).

RM Vaughan

My keenest memories of Buddies date to the time when the theatre moved from a very small place on George St. to its current very large place on Alexander St. What a thriving, open and free-wheeling time!  And nobody thought it would work. Straight theatre critics at the time wondered why Toronto needed a big new "gay theatre" and read all the works presented to them from that bias. The local gay community was often just as negative. One bitchy queen told me, "There's not enough talent at Buddies to fill that space." But we did it anyway — and now here we are, 40 years old. It's a wonderful thing to outlast one's detractors, but even better to do so with style and (dis)grace. I do miss the sex parties at George St., though.

RM Vaughan is a Toronto-based author and video artist originally from New Brunswick. He is the author of 11 books (four books of poetry, two novels, three plays and two books of non-fiction) and his works appear in over 60 anthologies and art books.​

Ryan G. Hinds

Ryan G. Hinds singing Kiss of the Spider Woman in #KanderAndEbb. (Dahlia Katz)

In 1995, underage me snuck into Buddies on New Year's Eve and heard my first Grace Jones song (an important rite of passage for any queer or black person). The next year, I saw my first Buddies play — Brad Fraser's Martin Yesterday — and in 1998 I performed there for the first time. I've had many birthdays, Halloweens, openings, closings, Prides, makeouts, breakups and Saturday nights there — and watching how people like Sky Gilbert, Trey Anthony and Patricia Wilson moved through the space showed me how special, creative, messy, loving, ferocious and patient the LGBTQ community at its best can be. I have said before and I will say again: my entire life would have turned out differently if it weren't for Buddies.

My biggest failures have been on one or the other of Buddies' stages. But once open, the door at 12 Alexander was never closed to me, allowing me to develop and not repeat mistakes — which means eventually my biggest successes happened there, too: my solo-show #KanderAndEbb developed and premiered at Buddies before going to New York City, Montreal, Orlando and the festival circuit, and the memory of the full-house standing ovation at the first presentation still makes me grin. Whether I was dancing in MacArthur Park Suite: A Disco Ballet opposite the divine Nicole Rose Bond in a shared spotlight under the disco ball or dancing MSM: [men seeking men]'s gorgeously sad pas-de-deux for lemonTree Creations or memorializing my late Buddies Queer Youth colleague Nigel Gough with "Shine On (You Crazy Diamond)" at the 35th Anniversary Rhubarb show (curated by Laura Nanni), I never felt anything less than utter gratitude because Buddies in Bad Times is as unique a theatre space as exists anywhere. May it continue to shape lives.

Ryan G. Hinds is a theatre artist who has worked across Canada, the U.S. and Brazil. At Buddies in Bad Times, he co-curated the annual Art Attack Fundraiser in 2009 and 2010, was an artist in residence from 2014 til 2016 and created a series of critically-acclaimed shows. He will appear in Buddies' 2018-2019 season in Michel-Marc Bouchard's Lilies.

Sage Lovell

Buddies, I thank you all for your initiatives to include Deaf artists and patrons in the world of theatre. Thank you for truly giving me the capacity for me to grow as an artist.

Being Deaf and a native user of ASL (American Sign Language), it can be difficult to find platforms/opportunities for Deaf artists using ASL to showcase their work. My first performances in Toronto happened in that theatre, and that fact alone opened so many doors for myself and other Deaf artists. I remember back in 2013, I was introduced to Buddies by being involved with the annual "Dragging ASL to Pride" show hosted by Ontario Rainbow Alliance of the Deaf (ORAD). I fell in love with the theatre and the community. Then in 2014, I was invited to provide a workshop titled "Audism in Theatres" at Buddies.

Since then, Buddies has been actively working on their relationship with Deaf artists and patrons by providing Deaf Interpretation (DI) and ASL-English Interpretation at shows; providing and holding aside PWYC (pay what you can) tickets for the Deaf community; providing Deaf artists a platform to express their work; working closely and collaborating with Deaf artists; providing discounted/free space for Deaf artists; producing ASL promotional videos; and hiring a Deaf Community Consultant to ensure Deaf/ASL accessibility needs are being met.

There will be at least three ASL Interpreted shows (with Deaf interpreters) for the Buddies 2018-2019 Season. There is nothing more fitting to celebrate my five-year relationship with Buddies than doing a revival of Dragging ASL to Pride on February 1st, 2019!

Buddies, thank you for the past five years and future years to come.

With love,

Sage Lovell

Sage Lovell is a Deaf artist and performer who will be doing a revival of "Dragging ASL to Pride" at Buddies next February.

Salvatore Antonio

The poster for Salvatore Antonio's In Gabriel's Kitchen at Buddies. (Buddies in Bad Times)

I still remember poking holes in my green knit sweater before my first ever general audition at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre — my youthful attempt at 18 to not look hopelessly square and suburban. I remember stamping out my cigarette outside the company's (then) new space on Alexander St. and convincing myself out of my nerves. The building itself had a magnetic pull, and upon stepping inside the lobby there was a palpable electricity about the place.

Associate artistic director Moynan King came out to fetch me and complimented my sweater. The holes worked! Or maybe it was just Moynan, whose infectious smile set me at ease. When I finished my monologue, Moynan and Sky joined their heads together, nodding in agreement–– it looked promising, and I felt myself grow an inch or two. I thought: I will work here.

And I did. First was The Lindros Trial, then the one-person show The Very Sad Story of Esperanza Vasquez, both directed by Sky Gilbert. Buddies was my first entrée into the Toronto Theatre community, and I felt instantly welcomed by the vibrant, dangerous and inspiring artists that congregated there. Performing there, I got to meet so many amazing artists whose work I admired — people like Elley-Ray Hennessy, Edward Roy, Anne Holloway and Daniel MacIvor to name a few. It was intoxicating to be surrounded by so much unbridled creativity. Thankfully one of the people I met was Patricia Wilson (Buddies bar manager and icon) who took me under her wing and became my theatre mom, helping me temper my kid-in-a-candy-shop impulses and offering grounded guidance I still hold on to.

Buddies was the first theatre to take a chance on me as an actor — and it was also where, under the expert tutelage of Edward Roy, I fleshed out my first full-length play In Gabriel's Kitchen. The theatre supported early readings and eventually gave the play a main-stage production — a launching pad that led to productions in Florence and San Francisco and a finalist spot for the 2007 Governor General's Award for Literary Drama.

To this day, when I walk through those doors, I feel at home. And whenever I'm in the audience, I can look around and spot new versions of the wide-eyed kid in a hole-y sweater, looking relieved to have discovered their new home.

Salvatore Antonio is an actor, playwright and director based in Toronto, Canada. In 2007 he was named a finalist for the prestigious Governor General's Award for Drama for his first play In Gabriel's Kitchen. He has since been a playwright in residence at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre and an invited member of the Playwright's Unit at Tarragon Theatre, Buddies In Bad Times and Factory Theatre. Most recently, Salvatore was a writer/story editor on season five of Schitt's Creek.

My entire life would have turned out differently if it weren't for Buddies. May it continue to shape lives.- Ryan G. Hinds, artist

Sarah Garton Stanley

When I succeeded Sky as the second artistic director of Buddies in Bad Times, I had no idea the size of the queer mountain I was about to climb.

On the day of the announcement, we held a press conference in Tallulah's. Sky and I stood together on the stage and faced a set of cameras that —  because it was 1997 — still clicked, video cameras that weighed heavily atop beefy shoulders and, believe it or not, reporters with pads of paper and pens.  Aside from almost passing out from nerves, I remember discovering two things from the press: Sky was "leaving me pretty big pumps to fill" and that I was of "diminutive stature." God, both were true. Throughout Sky and Tim's tenure, Buddies had taken over the imagination of Torontonians and suggested an idea for the kind of city it might be. When they secured the curatorial rights to 12 Alexander, the company's future seemed certain.

However, as any good queer artists knows, impermanence is at the centre of everything and so too with this most incredible of companies. My years were about getting Buddies out of its literal bad times. Eyes wide open, I walked into a place that I loved — a place where I had made several pieces of work, stood as an artistic associate, drank and smoked more than my body memory can fully compute and fell in and out of love more times than I can count. My main goal and one that for which I remain extremely proud was to build a structure for desire that could continue to hold the inevitable impermanence. But as for that queer mountain, well: "There ain't no mountain high enough that would keep me from getting to you, babe." And as for keeping Toronto's imagination open, Buddies continues to do its incredible work. Happiest of birthday's, dear Buddies. Shine on, you crazy diamond.

Sarah Garton Stanley was the artistic director of Buddies in Bad Times from 1997-99. She is the current associate artistic director of English theatre at the National Arts Centre. She is also a director, dramaturge and conversationalist.

Sedina Fiati

Sedina Fiati at Buddies in Bad Times. (Helen Yung)

To me, Buddies in Bad Times represents a space of experimentation, subversion and fun. I was nude onstage in a piece at the Rhubarb Festival, which is almost like a rite of passage for a queer performer. I have been involved in so many different experiences, from parties to hosting, producing and performing in theatre shows, showcases, fundraisers and conferences — more than I can count. It's one of the only live performance spaces in Toronto that is more than a theatre. While other theatres sit empty in during day or late night, Buddies is alive with activity. On any given day or night, you can find a live performance thang, a festival, a drag show, a club night, a youth art showcase.

Buddies hasn't always been a place where people of colour and people with disabilities have been welcome, but building relationships with marginalized communities has been at the forefront of their work — and it's one of the few arts organizations working to be truly inclusive. Being of service to the queer community is demanding. We are folks who have voices and know how to speak up about what is not working. Buddies rises to that challenge. If the past is any indication, Buddies will continue to stand out in Toronto and Canada as a space that can hold the multifaceted aspects of queer identity, espousing subversion, activism, hybrid performance forms and fabulousness as keys to innovation and social change.

Sedina Fiati is a proudly Black, queer and femme performer, creator and producer.

Sharron Matthews

When I first came to Toronto and started working in theatre, I always felt "other." My work didn't seem to fit in anywhere. But Buddies, under the artistic directorship of David Oiye at the time, welcomed me, my art and my voice with open arms. One the proudest days of my life was when I expressed to Sky Gilbert my gratitude at being included in the Buddies Family, even though I identified as neither gay nor bi, and the founder of this wonderful institution told me how queer he believed I was: "You are SO queer, Sharron! So queer!" I remember walking back to my place on air, like I had been knighted. And from 2013 to 2015, while Brendan Healy was AD, I worked as a resident artist on a cabaret called Full Dark that pushed the boundaries of what I did and explored how I did that thing I did with the theatre's full support.

Buddies has been there for me in my art, in my life and in my heart.  It is, as far as I am concerned, one of the most special places on this earth. No hyperbole: I love Buddies, forever.

Sharron Matthews is an award-winning Canadian artist, actress, singer, comedienne, writer and producer.

Sonny Mills

Wait, Buddies is 40?

That makes old man. Er, person. I'm struggling with gender. The future is they/them.

I guess I showed up in the early 20.9th century, when wee Buddies was just a barn on George St. and I an innocent (cough) youth living in a house full of radical queerdos, dropouts and ne'er-do-wells — all the best people — near King and Bathurst beside the slaughterhouse which is now an 80-story condo tower. At that time, Christie Blatchford was already bitching endlessly about our leather cock-and-bum parties and female ejaculation seminars instead of minding her own business, whatever that is.

Buddies was really the only place where being exceptionally and overtly queer was not only tolerated but openly courted. It was the place where queer anger and queer energy turned into wild, unharnessed queer art.

One night after drinking at least one thousand cocktails with Sky Gilbert (god love ya) and Elley Ray Hennessy (made of gold) I promised to write a play, though such a idea had never occurred to me while sober. And that drunken promise turned into the first Dyke City, a stage series that ended up spanning generations. Episode 1: Kathryn Haggis, Sarah Stanley and Moynan King, directed by Kirsten Johnson, 1996. The special occasion one-offs with guest stars were hard but fun. Ann-Marie MacDonald was in one of them. I think we did one with showtunes, or maybe I dreamt that.

Buddies: I love you, old friend. Don't stop being super gay. Fuck corporate pride. I hope your knees are okay — mine are useless.

Sonny Mills is a playwright and theatre artist.

Tawiah BenEben Mfoafo-M'Carthy

Tawiah BenEben Mfoafo-M'Carthy at Buddies. (Tanja Tiziana)

Buddies, Afehyia pa
I first visited you at 19.
Danced the night away, counting time to 21
I was enough, 
often enough, 
often at home within your doors
I took a bow on your stage at 25
Had an outdooring at 28.
Obaaberima, reborn over and over again, like a phoenix
This Black Boy, Girl Boy, Girly Boy now a man.
This man.
Happy 40th to you, Love
Ayeeko! for all you have done and continue to do. 

Tawiah BenEben Mfoafo-M'Carthy is an actor and playwright.

Yolanda Bonnell

Yolanda Bonnell at the 37th Rhubarb Festival. (Connie Tsang)

The Penelopiad changed the way I view theatre.
I witnessed the impact of a lived reality on audience members at The Normal Heart.
The Rhubarb Festival allowed me to live my true, weird artistic self. 
I've watched rooms transform into genitals, circles, country sides, spaces to speak truth...
A home to emotion, freedom, love and expression has always existed in Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

I have had the privilege of bearing witness to some incredible pieces of theatre in all of the spaces Buddies offers. I've also had the immense pleasure of performing in those spaces. Coming from a small city with no real understanding of the theatre industry and no safe space to hold my Queerness and Bisexuality, Buddies was the first theatre in Tkaronto I was introduced to. I volunteered my time as an usher and learned how to experience theatre in a different way than I was used to.

I've had two of my plays performed as part of the Rhubarb Festival. A couple of years ago, the Cabaret space was generously donated to us for a spoken word night a friend and I organized for BLMTO, which stands as one of the best and most powerful nights I've ever experienced.  I've had literal life-altering moments in that building, on stage and off. And in a world where existing in a Queer brown fat body is challenging, it's nice and comforting to know that there is a home that extends its arms to us — not only welcomes it, but celebrates it!

In a major city that tries to keep us down, particularly with our current political climate, we need more spaces like Buddies to lift us up.

Yolanda Bonnell is an Ojibwe/South Asian Queer/Bisexual/Pansexual creator and performer from Fort William Fort Nation Reserve in Thunder Bay, ON. Currently they have three projects in various stages of development and they are in Kamloops working on an Indigenous matriarch play called Kamloopa.

Celebrate and support Buddies in Bad Times by attending its 40th season. Check out the full program here.


Peter Knegt (he/him) is a writer, producer and host for CBC Arts. He writes the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and hosts and produces the talk series Here & Queer. He's also spearheaded the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag, variety special Queer Pride Inside, and interactive projects Superqueeroes and The 2010s: The Decade Canadian Artists Stopped Saying Sorry. Collectively, these projects have won Knegt four Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films, the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights and the host of the monthly film series Queer Cinema Club at Toronto's Paradise Theatre. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.