A Queer Art Canon: Kaleb Robertson and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre

Let’s make a canon! And let’s fill it with queer art, or queer-ish art, or art that has no idea how queer it is. Queer art is often secret art: black-market, whispered-about, read-between-the-lines art. And since secret art can be hard to find, let’s shine a light on a few of our favourite things so all our friends can see them. 

We’ll call it a canon, because it sounds Weighty and Important and Serious, but we also won’t be too serious about it. We won’t make The Canon, just a canon. Each month, we’ll chat with a different queer-about-town and ask them to submit something to the canon. And they’ll tell us what that book or play or movie or TV episode or sculpture or poem or dance piece or opera or photograph or painting or performance art piece or anything else means to them and why they think it deserves a spot in our illustrious canon. 

This month, we talked to performer and DJ Kaleb Robertson about Buddies itself.

What are we talking about today?

So, people are talking about art influences?

Yeah, and I want it to be as open-ended as possible.

I really don’t come from an art background at all. I grew up on the West Coast, and the only reason I went to the Art Gallery of Vancouver was to drink on the steps. When I was a kid, I was very into lip-syncing and performing, but I feel like gender-shit kinda paused that. And I never did theatre. So I’ve never had any kind of formal training or really participation in the arts. So—and I’ve questioned whether I should use this one—but the reality is that Buddies is really my place. It’s my thing.

Interesting choice.

When I moved to Toronto, it was my first opening into queer theatre. So many aspects of my current practice were all born there. When I first moved here, there was an event called Half-Cocked, which was a trans night, and High Femme, Zoe Whitall’s Friday night. It was my queer and trans awakening in terms of social life. Buddies was the first place that I performed in Toronto. I had moved here and decided that I didn’t wanna be a drag king anymore, and like “OK, I think that transitioning is the way I’m gonna go.” And then The Scandelles kinda scooped me up and I did a tiny little piece in one of their shows, and then a few years later, I’m stripping in heels to Melissa Etheridge’s “Come to my Window.” And it first started by being wasted in the Cabaret and putting on someone’s heels as a joke and putting on a faux-striptease for them—and them being like: “We should put that in the show!”

And Fluffy Soufflé was born!

The Gladstone is my other home, and that’s cultivated my hosting abilities and my show-producing abilities. And so, there’s these two entities that I find both to be accessible physically and also very welcoming. There’s a lot of times where I’ll go to a show and I’ll feel stupid because I don’t get shit. And that still happens at both these places, but I also feel like there’ll be someone there like “it’s about this,” or “look at it this way.” Or, people don’t care, and you can just enjoy stuff without getting it. And Rhubarb is such an example of that.

Oh yeah, I don’t get half the shit I’ve seen there.

I love Rhubarb, because it’s only a half an hour of your time!

Will you see something you don’t get? Probably! But you might see something totally mind-blowing a half an hour later.

I met my most significant relationship through Buddies because it brings so many people together. And while it is this big LGBTQ icon, it’s also bringing in so many different worlds. And I’m not talking about the bachelorette parties that come and crash club nights, but the straight people that come, or the hetero-flexible people—everyone’s finding a place there. I just love it there. I love that building. It makes me emotional so many times. Seeing friends that we’ve lost who are on the walls. Our community is in the bricks of that building.

The whole building is like a work of art for you.

Yeah, if I were to talk about a place, not just in Toronto, but in my life that has really moulded and given me life in terms of performance and theatre, it’s been Buddies. Which then, I was like “I wish this wasn’t for the Buddies blog!” It feels like I’m just talking about Buddies for the Buddies blog!

I think it’s a lovely thing to submit. I didn’t anticipate somebody choosing it for the canon, but I like it. And part of the reason it’s super open-ended is so that people can give me a surprising answer.

I consider Buddies and The Gladstone to be my second homes. But my house in Parkdale has also been a huge hub for art and culture in Toronto for me, and all these amazing people have lived there.

You’re so into buildings!

I am. Yeah, cause I feel that—well, Jane Jacobs and her idea that new ideas must come from old buildings and the history of my house… Like, I could give you a dozen people in the queer art world who have lived in my house. I think that queer and trans people, often out in the world, we don’t feel safe. Walking down the street, you don’t feel safe. Going to the washroom, you don’t feel safe. And so, besides home, I need to find places where I can pee safely.

Johnnie Walker

Johnnie Walker is a writer of many plays, a hoster of many burlesques, and a maker of many jokes. Follow him on twitter @handsomejohnnie

Read all posts by Johnnie Walker

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