Evalyn Parry, Buddies new artistic director, continues and forwards the legacy
BY DREW ROWSOME- Photos of Evalyn parry by Alejandro Santiago
Every queer Torontonian has a vested interest in what happens at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. As an avid theatre-goer, I look forward to each production, both those in the mainstage season and those in the smaller cabaret space. I have also attended launch parties, political rallies, readings, film screenings, memorials, wedding receptions, exhibitions, debates, Pride events, The Rhubarb Festival and basically unclassifiable but immensely entertaining things like Strip Spelling Bee, Blood Lust, Fuck U Friday, The Gaza Strip Club and The Keith Cole Experience. And I have had many a drink at the Buddies After Hours fundraising events where the next generation has a safe place to venture out of the closet, the current generation has a place to cruise and mingle, and everyone gets a chance to share a shot with iconic bar manager Patricia Wilson.
Buddies is an essential hub in the community, a place where art, politics and a good time combine to celebrate and motivate queers to be, and to expect, the best.
The core of Buddies, its raison d'être, is the theatre season that anchors each year. The programming of this series, and the shaping of the direction of the theatre itself, is the job of the artistic director. "It wasn't part of my life plan," says Buddies' newest artistic director Evalyn Parry, "but I love the company deeply and have a long association with it. It's my favourite place to see work, work that excites me the most, in Toronto. I've been very fortunate as an artist to do a lot of things I wanted to do, to follow the calling of my heart. This is a chance to have a larger conversation, caring about the bigger container. I get to be part of a continuing and forwarding of a legacy."
For a decade, Parry has overseen Buddies' Young Creators Unit and has fostered the creative process that lead to Agokwe, Obaaberima, Fishbowl, and over 40 more works that achieved artistic and popular success. "I was lucky to have access to so many amazing emerging artists," says Parry. "This seems to be a logical extension." Parry has also toured her own work - notably SPIN which was part of Buddies' last season - internationally, developing theatre contacts across Canada and the globe. "Part of my vision that I presented was touring in both directions. We're not a touring company but that's something we have to offer: unique and timely queer work. I'd also like to bring in international work to stir up the pot."
With former artistic directors as formidable as the founding Sky Gilbert and the departing Brendan Healy, Parry could be intimidated, but she sounds eager to stake out her place alongside those two heavyweights. "The sensibilities I bring have to do with interdisciplinary work, comedy and diversity of perspective. I'd like to see more music and comedy, The comedy that interests me is edgy and weird, a way of investigating some very dark places. It's a potent political tool. What I love about Buddies is the risk taking. When risk and innovation are your guideposts, there's lot of room to be adventurous."
Buddies has definitely been adventurous - leaving Tom at the Farm's opening night, I overheard a queen remark sarcastically, "Well, another upbeat night at Buddies." (Tom at the Farm would go on to be nominated for eight Doras and win one.) "You can't please everybody and it is folly to try," says Parry, acknowledging that all the letters in LGBTQetcetc claim Buddies as their own. But while the distance between Pig and Freda and Jem's Best of the Week, Homogenius and I Was Barbie, might initially seem extreme, "Buddies has a great track record of programming a really diverse season. It's important to have many styles of work in conversation with each other, the rigorous asking of questions and having an in-your-face nature."
Parry is also going to have to deal with the ongoing, "Increasing desecration of the neighbourhood" (ie: the encroaching condominiums and the resulting noise complaints), and "the conundrum of fundraising. It's a battle I'm aware of and is evolving. It's going to be about an in-depth process and figuring out the future. Check back with me in a year," she laughs.
Buddies appears to be in good hands and Parry is confident that the team she is working with is a stellar one. "I have a pile of ideas," she says. "But right now my job is to walk into a season and program the next season, learn the ropes. For any artistic director it's a balancing act, Buddies especially. It's very unique."
Buddies new season begins Sat, Sept 12 with The 20th of November directed by Brendan Healy. The season also includes Gertrude and Alice, co-written by Parry, Sunny Drake's No Strins (Attached) and a remount/refresh ofThe Gay Heritage Project.