Who is Sky Gilbert? An artistic tour de force, a novelist, poet, filmmaker, director, gay activist, actor, York University graduate, and currently also drama professor at the University of Guelph, that’s who!
And if this list leaves you a little breathless, so did the variety of his voices and personae during his reading from some of his recent works on Monday, October 17th at Theatre Glendon. Norman Bates, crazy protagonist of Hitchcock’s 1960 horror movie, Psycho, made room for aging diva Marlene Dietrich complete with German accent, followed by 22-year-old Joe, a very confused gay ingénu, who is the lead character of Gilbert’s work in progress, Talking with Joe, which is scheduled to open next April at Buddies in Bad Times.
Born Schuyler Lee Gilbert Jr. in Norwich, Connecticut in 1952, Gilbert’s theatrical career took off in 1979, when he co-founded the Toronto theatre company, Buddies in Bad Times with two friends from York University. Initially a ‘straight’ company based on poetry on stage, under Gilbert’s artistic directorship, ‘Buddies’ was soon transformed into a theatre space for experimentation and innovation with a special focus on gay and lesbian subjects. In 1994, Buddies in Bad Times moved from its original rent-free space to its current Alexander Street location, where being artistic director also meant being a business manager. Preferring to devote his time entirely to his multi-faceted art, Gilbert left ‘Buddies’ in order to write and teach.
Gilbert affirms that having acting experience is very useful to a playwright, because that experience provides a reality-check of what works on stage and what doesn’t. “Every writer writes only about one topic, one big thing”, declared Gilbert. “Every play, every character is just a part of that thing” - and Gilbert’s “big thing” is anger and what it means to be an outsider. He passionately confirmed his militancy in the fight against homophobia and expressed a continuous surprise at what shocks people and what doesn’t.
“I love the writing process above all”, said Gilbert. ”That’s when I am happiest. So many ideas occur to me all the time and I just want to keep writing and developing them.” His advice to aspiring writers: “You need to focus on what you enjoy doing. If the process of writing is what you love, there is no need to worry about the end result, just keep working on it”.
Gilbert follows his own advice. His body of work is enormous and varied, and has received numerous formal recognitions, including two Dora Awards, one in 1990 for his play, The Whore’s Revenge, and another in 1992 for Suzie Goo: Private Secretary. He has also garnered a Pauline McGibbon Award for directing, was the producer/director of a number of films, and has published his poems in various collections. As an actor, he has received rave reviews for performances at the Tarragon and Saidye Bronfman theatres. And he continues to be an outspoken advocate for gay and lesbian issues in newspapers and magazines.
The Canada Council for the Arts has been sponsoring a reading series presenting Canadian writers at Glendon since the early 1970s. The series received its current name in 1988, in honour of distinguished poet and much-loved Glendon creative writing professor, bp nichol. Canadian novelists, poets, short fiction writers and playwrights are invited to Glendon each year to read from their work and to discuss their creative process. The reading is usually followed by a discussion. Copies of the author's books are for sale at the reading and at the Glendon Bookstore.
This year’s bp nichol Series will present two more high-profile Canadian literary/artistic personalities. Playwright (both theatre and television) and arts critic Jason Sherman will read from his current work on Monday, November 28th, from 12 noon to 1:30 p.m. in Room B213, York Hall. Playwright, author, actor, editor and drama professor (University of Guelph) Judith Thompson will be at Glendon on Thursday, January 26 (2006) from 12:30 to 2 p.m. Everyone is welcome to attend this series.
This article was submitted by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny