Black and white photograph 5 people standing in front of a theatre dressed in warm clothing holding a sign reading "Buddies in Bad Times Theatre"

Buddies Bad Times Theatre

Buddies in Bad Times

Black and white photograph 5 people standing in front of a theatre dressed in warm clothing holding a sign reading "Buddies in Bad Times Theatre"

Buddies In Bad Times celebrates their new home, 12 Alexander Street, 1992. Image courtesy of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

A coloured image of a purple bulding surrounded by trees.

Front of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander St., Circa 1990s. Courtesy of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

A black and white print showcasing two cans.

Ads for Rhubarb and Queer Culture, circa 1991. Courtesy of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

Black and white image of three people posing in front of a car.

Strange Sisters performers, Right to left, Ruby Rowan, Jane Farrow, and Mariko Tamaki. Date unknown. Courtesy of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

A Short History of Queer Toronto

Buddies In Bad Times, the eventual resident of 12 Alexander Street, was established in 1979 by Sky Gilbert, Matt Walsh, and Jerry Ciccoritti. It lived for a time in the Charm Factory, a brewery-turned artist hub on Queen Street East modelled after Andy Warhol’s studio in New York. 

Under the artistic direction of Sky Gilbert, Buddies articulated a vision for their work that was unapologetically political, pro-sexual, and anti-establishment. Their early shows featured gay and lesbian characters that were honest about their lives, and created role models for queer audiences.

1979 places Buddies near the late side of the alternative theatre movement in Toronto, but right in the middle of gay activism in Toronto. In 1971, the “We Demand” rally in Ottawa advocated for gay rights. In 1981, Toronto’s morality squad raided bathhouses, charging 306 people in the largest single arrest at the time, prompting the queer community to respond with a midnight march against police brutality. In 1982, Toronto saw its first case of HIV/AIDS.

 Rhubarb Revives Avant-Garde Theatre

In their first year, Buddies started what would be a long tradition of hosting the Rhubarb Festival, which gave queer performers a space to experiment and produce new works. Shows at the Festival experimented beyond traditional uses of plot, character, dialogue, and theme. 

Co-produced with women’s theatre company Nightwood Theatre until 1985, the Rhubarb Festival gave a space to perform avant-garde performances such as contact improv, cinematic staging, and performance art. It gave agency to artists like Daniel McIvor, Robin Fulford, Moynan King, and many more to experiment and develop work beyond the needs or restrictions of directors or playwrights.

Buddies continued to host many experimental performance events like the lesbian cabaret Strange Sisters, and Cheap Queers, a pre-Pride event that featured over 50 queer-friendly performers and gave rise to performers like Sonja Mills, Mariko Tamaki, and others. Mills’ performance of Dyke City, a comedic romp that explores lesbian love, desire, and relationships in Toronto, welcomed audiences to 12 Alexander in October of 1994.

Queer Performance and Culture

In 1986, the Ontario Human Rights Code was amended to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. This led to a rise in queer women’s performance that let people speak to the heart of their desires.

1986 was also just a few years before the term “queer” began to be filled with utopian potential as a fluid term that accepted the spectrum of sexual and gender diversity more broadly than gay and lesbian.

Buddies embraced this transition by changing the name of its “Four-Play” festival, defined as two plays by gay men and two by lesbian women, to the QueerCulture festival. A program from the 1993 festival notes that queer did not necessarily mean either gay or lesbian, but something broader: sexual, radical, and redefining form as well as content.

Buddies continues to perform cabarets, Rhubarb, and queer theatre to this date, making it the largest and longest running queer theatre in the world.

Additional Resources:

Boni, Franco, editor. Rhubarb-O-Rama! Plays and Playwrights from the Rhubarb! Festival. Blizzard Publishing, 1998.

Chambers, Stephanie, et al., editors. Any Other Way: How Toronto Got Queer. Coach House Books, 2017.

Crew, Robert, and Paul Halferty. ‘Buddies in Bad Times Theatre’. The Canadian Encyclopedia, 4 Mar. 2012,.

Halferty, J. Paul. ‘Queer and Now: The Queer Signifier at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre’. Theatre Research in Canada, vol. 27, no. 1, 2006, pp. 123–54.

Vipond, Evan. ‘Our History’. Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

King, Moynan. ‘The Foster Children of Buddies: Queer Women at 12 Alexander.’ Theatre and Performance in Toronto, edited by Laura Levin, Canada Playwrights Press, 2011, pp. 191-202.

Wallace, Robert. ‘Theorizing a Queer Theatre: Buddies in Bad Times.’ Space and the Geographies of Theatre, edited by Michael McKinnie, Canada Playwrights Press, 2007, pp. 104-123.