A conversation exploring Buddies’ new values between
Artistic Director, ted witzel and Artistic Associate, Erum Khan.

Creatively composed + edited by Susanna Fournier.


I don’t remember who said this, but somebody said, “it’s easy to choose between good and bad, values are how you choose between good and good.” In the early months here, I felt the criteria for what belonged at Buddies had gotten looser and looser. There was a lot of confusion.

A kind of ‘slot theater’ of queer narrative, insert two homosexuals, like, coming out for the first time, or whatever.

Working up clear values that had specificity felt like building ourselves a Swiss army knife for decision making.

Asking ourselves, What is the vision for Buddies? Bringing that question into the room from day one. What is the framework we’re using to look at each piece and decision from the get go?

We circled through a lot of different drafts of words that could encompass what we’ve landed on:


[ an impossible fucking task ]
moving towards transcendence of deeply collective and deeply individual references

Liberation is such an all encompassing beautiful and impossible task. Moving beyond freedom, it asks so much of our micro selves for the macro. Our values speak to striving towards liberation. Because it’s impossible to be liberated, and yet, it’s what we’re striving towards. It’s always towards.

I love that you’ve landed on this word of impossible. It’s a big relief to hear you name that because, yeah, this task is fucking impossible. We’ll never be able to meet everybody’s dreams for what Buddies could represent for them. We’re always failing, everywhere all the time.

Yet we’re saying the word liberation. What does it mean to say this word? This is a big word.

And as we’ve seen from the cycle of things, words are never good enough. I’ve been thinking about this quote Kristina pulled from a book she’s reading, something like freedom is a temporary state; liberation is a commitment to process.

Yeah. Nice. As we (re)cycle through language, certain words become electrically (re)activated in the public. There’s a renewed embodied ask, a needed shake up. When we hear the word liberation right now, the electricity of that word is sharp around its edges. It needs to hold up to the power it’s generating in its current active tense.

We’ve seen many of the most potent moments in grassroots activism tear themselves apart after seven years. Like the disintegration of ACT UP — one of the most fucking powerful things queer people have done. So, despite how impossible Buddies is, it’s amazing it’s survived for 45 years bringing us to this moment in which we’re asking ourselves, how do we stand by liberation as a value?

Buddies has never been an organization that’s embodied the intricate nuances of what it means to be liberated, nor will it ever arrive there. A space cannot be liberated. A space is just a space.

An institution is only ever the people in it at that moment. How do we, as people – as leaders, deeply embody and commit to working towards liberation?

Over its many years, Buddies has radically opposed the socio-political-sexual-artistic norm, while simultaneously perpetuating a culture that harmed and denied access to many people. To ignore this erases history that permeates through its walls, moving us further from liberation. Yet, if we can hold these dichotomies we can push towards something bigger and beyond ourselves.

I don’t know if theater has power, but the power of gathering a bunch of people in a venue to collectively witness or participate in the cycles of something as fucking impossible as liberation feels…

like what I yearn for, a space that holds impossible asks.


an electric invitation towards expansiveness, liberation, provocation + opposition

Like, Pride for example. And it’s capitalist, like, you know, [insert bank float] but there’s still this push towards audacity as a force of liberation. There’s a public response like, Oh, I can be more audacious as we walk through the streets because the space offers a collective invitation to do that. I can push myself, liberate myself in whatever ways I want. There’s an electricity to that invitation.

I love audacity as an invitation. Where the word first surfaced for me was that hashtag going around Tik Tok (and let’s be clear — I’m not on Tik Tok. I’m too old for that shit). But I loved what it captures about the best legacies of what queerness is. The audacity to gather in secret, then to take those secrets public, to take up space. The audacity of announcing oneself and the audacity of queerness as fundamentally being a rule breaking orientation. It breaks the rules of gender, breaks the rules of sex, it breaks something. That’s the radicality you’re pointing to. Queerness is inherently transgressive. It takes a kind of audaciousness to dare to transgress in the first place.

Which connects to our season theme too. Because to me, we are deconstructing queerness beyond even a heteronormative lens of like, here’s the queer storyline. We’re asking, how is it expansive? How is queerness showing up in all the ways of the universe? How do we transcend storylines — formally and thematically — how does queerness do that?


radical commitment to a path + process dedicated to integrity

The fact that we’ve circled through a lot of different words that could encompass artistic rigour speaks to the kind of integrity we want to see within the work at Buddies. And you know, there were reactions, there have been and will likely continue to be reactions against the word rigour because rigour alone sounds disciplinary, sounds hard. I don’t mind that it’s hard–

I love that it’s hard.

There is a struggle — there is. In the beginning essay of PRIDE, you know there is, a revolution is …there is struggle. You shouldn’t shy away from it. It’s not (this is your safe space), do whatever you want and to frolic. It’s like, Fuck no, come here and struggle, in the way that we’re going to play with fire and work with and challenge each other and build something colossal. That is my dream. To work with artists who are trying to create something fierce and full of personality. I want to see something that fucking blows me away — is the greatest show I’ve ever seen. And there is struggle towards and inside that process.

Rigour means we’ve questioned something deeply. Have we made sure the creative choices we’re making lead the audience on a specific journey through a work? Have we continually examined, investigated, asked ourselves, what does this choice mean? This process of interrogation contains and assures a certain integrity because of the depth of rehearsal, care, and thought brought into a work’s creation.

I think we get caught on this idea of rigour being like do 100 pushups a day. But actually – let’s say – if you want to build a body that’s healthy, you’d focus on different parts in different ways. Rigour is a holistic viewpoint. Rigour alone without audacity or liberation is unbalanced. These three alignments being together pushes us to something that is beyond something we know. Rigour is not only belief in that possibility, but a commitment to that belief.

These values are the framework for our curatorial criteria, our season planning, and inform how artists can access Buddies and locate their work within it.

ted witzel + Erum Khan + Susanna Fournier

ted witzel and Erum Khan are, respectively, the Artistic Director and Artistic Associate of Buddies. Susanna Fournier is a writer and theatre maker.

Read all posts by ted witzel + Erum Khan + Susanna Fournier

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