Multiple attempts at a statement on the ongoing genocide in Palestine

Maybe all you need to hear from the leaders at Buddies is this:


If that’s all you need or have the capacity to read, that’s cool.  If you want to read a longer piece from us that contextualizes some of the thinking we’re doing, stick around.

ted [notes app, may 21, 2024]:

the same weekend i came back to toronto to begin this job (and erum and kristina began shortly after), israel began its genocidal siege on gaza.  from the moment we got here, we’ve been asking: what are we doing? do we make a statement?  

we’re all a bit skeptical of institutional statements. we remember that moment, we’ve all seen how they’ve played out. but still we’ve been turning over what we could say to let the people who are invested in this place and whatever it signifies know that we’re not ignoring this.

last week i was picking through a vintage store on dundas, and found an original keith haring ACT UP t-shirt.  not one of those ubiquitous zara or uniqlo reprints, sanitized and decontextualized for mass market appeal.  this was a fruit of the loom t-shirt with “SILENCE=DEATH” shouting from the centre.  

some days ago, the president of the USA publicly rejected the ICC’s declaration that israel’s campaign in gaza is a genocide.  i was reminded of another US president who refused to name the disease that infected at least 50,000 americans in his tenure.

another round of calls to action and solidarity have also come from workers in the sector, in advance of PACTcon this time. 

and we’re headed toward a launch of our first season here, a season we’re really excited about.  it’s also a season that contains some meaty and difficult works. on the way toward that launch, we want to let the publics buddies serves in on some of the thinking we’re doing around that. and before we can get into any of that, we feel like we’ve got to start with the glaringly, enragingly obvious.  

so. here’s where we are. it’s imperfect. it feels feeble. but maybe it’s not nothing. 



[otter.ai transcription, April 16, 2024]

Erum Khan  00:02

…because here’s the thing. I understand statements have become a thing that people need, to know that there are people in those organizations tuning into what is happening.

I’m also like, [attempt 1] “are you kidding? That’s all I’m thinking about, dreaming about, waking up and feeling is the awfulness of one of five, six active genocides, especially Palestine, representing the clear epitome of Western imperialism and violence.”

But also, what has Buddies done to also show up?  In its programming, or in its history, to say like, whatever the words are, like we all like free Palestine, sure, but—I’m getting sweaty, you know?

ted witzel  01:57

It’s sweaty to think about. What has Buddies done? But also what, how much can Buddies do? How much does a statement that Buddies makes accomplish? 

I understand that there is value in signaling to people that we are a space that is going to welcome that discourse, welcome their events, that we aren’t going to punish people for those politics. 

Where I struggle is that I don’t know what it means for an institution, as a building on Alexander Street, or as like a series of bank accounts and incorporating bylaws to make a statement. I know what it means for us as leaders in this space to make a statement. And I think that that’s a different thing. 

Erum Khan  02:57

At the same time, we’re about to declare these new values, and those are big words. If we’re declaring our work, how do those big words manifest? Through programming, sure, but how are we thinking ahead with those ideas in mind? It’s a life and death feeling right now. It feels like an eruption of so much. But I don’t know what to say, except the obvious.

ted witzel  05:37

In my experience, the idea that an institution can make a statement—separate from the people inside of it—is kind of a falsehood. I’ve been at institutions, and I’ve seen other institutions make statements, and when the people who author those statements leave, the institution loses the impulse. But we can talk about the choices we’re making as leaders here.

Erum Khan  07:03

And at this point in time, what can anyone say beyond like, [attempt 2] “THIS IS AWFUL.” But if I didn’t work here, and I went on Buddies’ Instagram, and just saw parties being announced all the time, I would get really annoyed. 

There is anger that no theater has said much. I have also tried to ask people, what do you need to hear? Don’t you want support beyond just words? Because words mean nothing. It’s like BLM statements. 

ted witzel  09:48

I don’t want an institution to make a statement if it can’t do something meaningful, and I don’t really know what meaningful things we can do. I know what some of them are. But in the face of like, towering, horrifying genocide, we all feel fucking helpless. And of course, we don’t know what we can do to meaningfully change that, when we’re dealing with 70 years of international relations and fucking rockets and the force of several militaries accompanying this—what is some little gay theatre in Toronto really gonna do that will in any way improve the situation for Palestinians? 

Erum Khan  12:18

And yet, what is our responsibility as leaders in a queer theatre company? It’s one of the most rare organizations to work for. How do we hold that in both an organizational/structural level, but also recognize it’s a very specific unique impossible task? So it’s like okay, if we’re radical or transgressive, how do we also hold that in a way that is queer-as-political? 

A thing that a lot of people are feeling disheartened by is that no organizations have really said anything. 

ted witzel  16:19

Ok, well—the things we have done: 

[attempt 3] We’ve honored anyone who works here who wanted to participate in the strikes, we’ve rearranged production schedules to make that possible. No one has or will be silenced for their support of Palestine. We have not turned away anyone wanting to have events here in support of Palestine if the dates were available. And we’ve booked and scheduled events organized in support of Palestine, but they have been cancelled because of organizers’ safety concerns. We’ve made space for artists on our stages to call attention to Palestinian liberation, and name this as what it is—a genocide. 

But that all feels so feeble. The organization hasn’t had to sacrifice much. Like rearranging production schedules was inconvenient and challenging for Rebecca and Conrad, but it was the right thing to do and everybody agreed on that and so we made it happen.

Erum Khan  19:57

There’s a very clear thing happening where Sudan, Congo, Palestine, Afghanistan, all part of this Orientalist project that the US has backed for years, tied to the nadir of this western empire that continues to act like it can continue to do whatever it wants. And collectively there seems to be this huge shift in how people are showing up for these conversations. And say what we will about the fucked up internet, it is also a tool for solidarity. People collectively showing up is so beautiful, that’s a commitment that we’re also honoring.

So words, again, I know. Institutions—man. But if we’re going to the human leadership thing… [attempt 4] I don’t know that we’re going to shift an entrenched culture here, not with a statement. But making that statement is also saying, ‘Yeah, I’m not going to shift that. But I would like to try, and we’re not ignoring it. And I don’t have the answers, but it’s awful.’ Those are the worst words, but that’s how I feel.

ted witzel  23:56

I’d rather our statement come from the true place of, [attempt 5] “We don’t know what this statement is going to do. We feel like the statement itself is kind of a failure, because we feel helpless in the face of this. But also, like, we want the publics we serve to know that we are struggling inside of this and looking for our role and making these actions that we have made. We continue to question our responsibility as decisions come before us. But obviously, this is horrifying on a towering scale, and we have no idea what the impact of anything we do is going to be other than to let our publics know that we have a kind of solidarity.” Or a statement that at least acknowledges the failure of the form.

Erum Khan  26:57

100%.  How do we also not make that the meal of the conversation because like—

ted witzel  27:23

—making it about ourselves?  

Erum Khan  27:25

Yeah. Every single word is so weighted when you don’t get to have a proper discussion. It’s also belittling a genocide to say five words. 

ted witzel  33:41

And I don’t know how to time it because we’ve basically talked about saying something since we started here but maybe it feels urgent because we’re about to ‘come out’ here.

Erum Khan  34:23

We’re launching everything. And I want us to be confident in that and be able to say how we stand by these values we want to embody and commit to and work towards. 

ted witzel  37:18

Ultimately, whatever we say can’t help but be fragmentary. Because if we had something that was more coherent than the fragments of all the conversations we’ve had, we would have made the statement months ago. Like this is also the thing that drives me crazy about the statements and the open letters that go around being like, “where’s your statement?” The statement is not the endgame, all a statement can do is be like, ‘over here there are these policies and actions and values informing what we do,’ but it’s just the surface apparition of those actual things that are meaningful. 

If we agree that’s what we’re doing, we’re letting people know: [attempt 6] “We see you we are thinking about this we feel helpless and angry and like kind of don’t know how to be a fucking person in the world right now when the scale of suffering is so great and the clear collusion corruption conspiracy between Western powers to maintain this imperial global project is being laid so violently obvious to us…”

And I don’t know, is it an Insta square or is it a piece of writing that an Insta square leads you to? 

Erum Khan  39:38

That makes me more intrigued than an Insta square.  Because if our statement or words were just two sentences, ethically I almost feel upset by that idea.

ted witzel  41:04

I want this thing to be like 1000 words long. I also want it to fit into an Insta square. I want it to be full of action. And I don’t know what action when none of the actions feel like enough. I want it to embody a spirit of revolution. I also know that we are an institution funded by government institutions and to what extent are we even entitled to survive a revolution if it happens? 

Erum Khan  41:45

But that’s part of it right? The loop of that. 



[WhatsApp voice memo, May 28, 2024]

I’m at the airport and I’m about to get on a plane to the weirdest city in the world, so I’m trying to gather my thoughts. Do we maybe want to get a thing about the pinkwashing in there? But it’s also so long. I looked at it this morning and as an overall piece I think the back and forth is like sure, messy, and it’s trying out ideas but it’s embodying this ethos we’re committing to, like, what is honesty, what is trying and not landing and not being perfect but showing the blemishes. And I’m excited by that, and I hope that gets read and understood and is maybe kind of revolutionary? But it’s still quite long, and I love the dialogue, and I hate the dialogue, and I cringe, but it’s a clear proposal and it’s clear that we’re like “what are we supposed to do, we feel helpless.” And I guess I’m wondering just, what are we supposed to do? Should we end in that question? I’m not interested in institutions saying like, “we’re listening,” like I don’t want a town hall, those aren’t productive but—ugh—I have to board now. once I land I can’t try more words. I’m all over the place and I’m also lost and I haven’t had a back and forth with you on this draft—shit I have to go.

ted witzel & Erum Khan

ted witzel and Erum Khan are, respectively, the Artistic Director and Artistic Associate of Buddies.

Read all posts by ted witzel & Erum Khan