Below are the opening remarks made by Evalyn Parry at our Long Table discussion on November 19. You can watch an archived video of the full event on our facebook page.
Late last week, we made a curatorial decision, which involved a change of plans about tonight’s 40th anniversary series event.
I know there are many people in this room tonight who do not agree with this decision and there are many who support it.
Many people are feeling very upset and angry.
And I also feel there is a great deal of love in this room.
You have showed up tonight because you care about Buddies, and about us continuing to be a vital and relevant artistic institution, and that is amazing, and that’s why we are here.
A number of months ago when we began curating our 40th anniversary series, I approached Sky Gilbert with the idea of a one-night reading of his 1986 play Drag Queens in Outer Space. I felt this play would be a playful and interesting one thru which to look at how things have changed in the queer culture 32 years since it was first produced.
I wanted the creative team to be made up of next generation queer artists. At Sky’s request, I invited Nick Green to direct the reading. Nick put in place a strong cast of young queer actors: Ryan G Hinds, Augusto Bitter, and Daniel Ellis. I invited Heath V Salazar, a young genderqueer drag performer, to host a pre-show conversation with Cameron Crookston, an academic whose work focuses on the history of drag, to give both some historic and contemporary discussion and context to the material.
We were very much looking forward to this evening.
I want to acknowledge the artists are all here tonight and have supported my decision to change the program for this evening, and I am grateful for their presence. They are also being paid their contracted fee for the reading.
A week before the reading, Sky’s open letter and poem came to our attention when it started making the rounds on twitter. Work that targets and blames a trans woman of colour for his sense of persecution; words that cause many of the most vulnerable in our community harm, and gives ammunition to those who seek to harm them.
After becoming aware of this, we reached out to Sky to engage him in a dialogue. Sky is not on social media, so we hoped that bringing this to him would be a moment for dialogue. However, he was defensive and unreceptive to hearing critique of his piece, instead turning the conversation into being about his fear that we are trying to silence his ideas, and accusing Buddies of not being a space where diversity of thought and opinion is welcome.
It was after that interaction that we began to question how we would move forward with the reading of his play.
We have been working to make Buddies a more inclusive, safe, and supportive space for queer folks of colour, trans and gender non-binary folks. We still – as many cultural institutions do– have lots of work and learning to do in this area.
Sky is an artist who continues to be associated with the company and has a significant voice in the community that carries a lot of weight (despite his fear, expressed in his poem, that this is not the case). Posting his poem to Vivek– one week before a fun and celebratory reading of one of his plays from the 80’s that we had programmed – felt like open sabotage of that work.
We felt that to continue on with the play reading– as if Sky had not just levelled an attack on a trans woman of colour in his most recent public statement– would be a clear signal to the communities we are trying to include that they are not important to us.
Given the amount of online attention to his original posts, silence for us wasn’t an option.
After consultation with staff, some board, community members, and artists involved, we decided to replace the reading with this discussion.
We also made this decision because we did not want any of the actors or creative team to be put in the same awkward position that Sky had put us in.
To be clear, the reading was something curated and produced by Buddies, and aside from some early consultations on a choice of director, Sky had little direct involvement in the reading.
It is also important to note that at no time were there calls – public or private – to cancel the reading.
Sky’s blog posts clearly struck a nerve and pointed out the need for a conversation around intergenerational issues and allyship in our community. We felt it was more important to make space for an important conversation that is happening right now than to do the reading.
We realize that a lot of you have questions and viewpoints on our decision to cancel the reading. But we implore you not to lose sight of the larger conversation, which tonight is
In these increasingly polarized times, how can we, as an intergenerational queer community “cherish all that makes us different and conquer all that makes us afraid”?” (quote by Vivek Shraya)
We feel that to not have this conversation would be a lost opportunity.
Thanks for being here tonight.
We also compiled a gallery of some the thoughts folks wrote down during the conversation.
lead image from the November 19 Long Table Discussion