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Introducing to the Stage, Sky Gilbert

For those Torontonians out there who are familiar with the Church and Wellesley neighborhood, you may also be aware of the cutting-edge theatre it houses called Buddies in Bad Times. If theatre is something that is unfamiliar, the history behind this particular establishment should still find itself capturing your attention. Founded in 1979, it existed as a place for LGBT and queer-oriented entertainment and art to thrive and flourish in a safe and welcoming environment.

This week I had to privilege of interviewing the original 3 founders of BIBT, Sky Gilbert. Gilbert, a graduate of U of T, has gone on to establish a thriving career for himself in the lines of theatre. He produced and wrote several plays, the most recent of which being “A Few Brittle Leaves” which was showcased in BIBT in Spring 2013, film (Gilbert starred in the Canadian sex-comedy, “Too Much Sex” in 2000), and drag.

Gilbert, who no longer runs the company, splits his time between his private endeavours and producing plays for BIBT, which he has been doing since 2006. Here is my interview with Sky Gilbert about his time at the University of Toronto:

Hannah: When did you graduate from the University of Toronto and what was your favorite memory there? 

Sky Gilbert: I graduated with a PH.D in 2006. I also worked on my masters at the U of T in 1978 — but did not finish at that time. My fondest memory is of writing a little play called Lunchtime Dada — and performing it — at what was then the Studio Theatre and is now the Lou Massey Theatre.

HH: What did you study, and did that effect your career path later on in life?

SG: I studied theatre, of course! My master’s thesis was on J.M.Barrie, and this led to me writing a book called An English Gentleman — which is a novel about Barrie that won the Re Lit Award. My PhD was on Noel Coward, and this led to my present interest in what I call ‘a historical fear of the queer feminine’ meaning that whatever the attitudes to homosexuals or homosexuality throughout history (or whether or not homosexuals have always existed as persons) there has been consistently, in western culture, a fear of what I call ‘the queer feminine’ which means effeminacy in men. I am now pursuing this topic in my research on Edward de Vere as Shakespeare (the authorship question) as de Vere was an effeminate sodomite, and he probably was the real Shakespeare. I am going to London in spring 2015 funded by the Theatre Centre’s Tracy Wright archive to research this question.

HH: Why did you choose the University of Toronto and what impact did it have on your education?

SG: I would say having access to brilliant minds like Demiano Pietropaulo was especially important. I had no background in semiotics or literary theory, and the work I did there with him on these topics, and with other professors who introduced me to certain aspects of what is called theory (Michael Cobb stands out), was very important for my work as a creative writer and scholar.

HH: What activities/organizations, if any, were you involved in? And if you could, which organizations would you have started or enacted that did not already exist?

SG: I probably would have been involved more with queer organizations if I had a chance to return. I am now very active in the Sexual Diversity Studies Program (I am a fellow) and I wish it had been around when I was going to school at U of T (it was around at the end of my PH.D. — but then I graduated).

HH: Did being a part of the LGBTQ community have any effect on your college experience specific to U of T? Was there a strong LGBTQ community during your time at U of T?

SG: I don’t remember much except for the dances — homo hops — I really used to enjoy them. Where did they go? They were so lighthearted and involved students and teachers. Is the name politically incorrect or something? Where did they go? I know lots of lesbians who call themselves homes, so I would think the name would be okay…we should reinstate them. Otherwise I was not ‘out’ when I took my masters at U of T and when I came back for a PhD the homohops were gone.

HH: What advice would you give to current and future students who are attending or plan to attend the University of Toronto? What advice you would give yourself as a student if you could go back in time?

SG: I would say don’t waste time. Come out now! You’re only young once. Take Sexual Diversity Studies courses. Reinstate the homo hops! Even if you have to call them LGBTQ Hops (no alliteration, but it would still be fun)!

HH: What makes you proud to be an alumni of the University of Toronto? What did the University of Toronto provide for you that no other university could and why?

SG: U of T is simply one of the best schools in the world; it respects all kinds of scholarly research, and does not censor scholars. They realize that knowledge must be wide ranging and is often challenging.

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