Sky Gilbert

In 1978, Sky Gilbert co-founded Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, with York University friend Matt Walsh, and was its artistic director until 1997. The theatre's first Rhubarb! Festival was mounted under the title New Faces of '79, the year Gilbert announced publicly that he was gay.

Sky Gilbert, actor, writer
Sky Gilbert's work deals frankly with sexuality and gender and has been a catalyst for the growth and development of gay theatre in Canada (photo by David Hawe, courtesy Sky Gilbert).

Schuyler Lee (Sky) Gilbert, Jr., writer, actor, educator, director (born 20 December 1952 in Norwich, Connecticut). Sky Gilbert moved to Toronto at age 12 with his sister and mother, when his parents divorced. He studied theatre at York University, staging a number of productions there including a musical called Buddies in Bad Times, featuring the songs of Jacques Prévert and Joseph Cosma. He continued his theatre studies at the University of Toronto, receiving a PhD in 2005. He was named University Research Chair in Creative Writing and Theatre Studies at Guelph in 2006.

In 1978, Sky Gilbert co-founded Buddies in Bad Times Theatre with York University friend Matt Walsh as well as Jerry Ciccoritti and was its artistic director until 1997. The theatre's first Rhubarb! festival was mounted under the title New Faces of '79, the year Gilbert announced publicly that he was gay. Gilbert's early plays included Art/Rat (1980), which showcased the poems of Patti Smith, and Lana Turner Has Collapsed (1980), based on Frank O'Hara's poetry.

Cavafy (1981) and Pasolini/Pelosi (1983) added substantially to Gilbert's reputation as a playwright, and The Dressing Gown (1984) proved to be a major critical success. Based on Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde, The Dressing Gown is a critique of the promiscuous gay lifestyle and was a breakthrough production; it won a Chalmers Award nomination and was remounted the same year. Gilbert later renounced the play, stating, "I haven't written another lurid play with a moral since."

Drag Queens on Trial (1985), about a courtroom trial of three drag-queen hookers, was another controversial piece Gilbert has described it as "a theatrical rebellion" against The Dressing Gown and the mainstream and another major hit. It has had a number of other productions in the US and Canada and its sequel, Drag Queens in Outer Space (1986), proved almost as popular.

In 1985, Gilbert received the prestigious Pauline McGibbon Award for directing and in 1987, he directed two plays at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake the musical Anything Goes and Oscar Wilde's Salome to mixed reviews. Gilbert's remount of his 1985 play The Postman Rings Once in the fall of that year was one of Buddies' biggest box-office successes.

The Whore's Revenge (1989), a Victorian melodrama, was the first straight play that Gilbert wrote and directed for Buddies. Poorly received by critics and audiences, it was his first play to win a DORA AWARD, while Suzie Goo: Private Secretary (1991), a drag musical comedy, received a Dora for best production in the small theatre category. In 1996, a production of Gilbert's play Ten Ruminations on an Elegy Attributed to William Shakespeare toured Britain, with stops in London, Brighton and Cardiff.

Resigning from Buddies in 1997, Gilbert founded the Cabaret Theatre Company and his prolific output continued as he produced several novels, poetry, and plays, including The Emotionalists (2000). Gilbert returned to Buddies to present a series of plays that include Rope Enough (2005), Bad Acting Teachers (2006), Will the Real J.T. LeRoy Stand Up? (2007), Happy: A Very Gay Little Musical (2008) and Reconciliation (2010).

Gilbert began making films in 1990 and several have played at film festivals worldwide, including I Am the Camera, Dying (1998). His third feature film, My Summer Vacation, was released to video stores in Canada and the US. His novels include Guilty (1998), St. Stephen's (1999), I am Kasper Klotz (2001), An English Gentleman (2004) and Brother Dumb (2007). Gilbert has also released several collections of poetry and a memoir, Ejaculations from the Charm Factory (2000).

Sky Gilbert has been a catalyst for the growth and development of gay theatre in Canada, and under his guidance, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre has become the largest gay and lesbian theatre company in North America. Flamboyant, contemptuous of the mainstream, and supportive of a promiscuous lifestyle, Sky Gilbert has always attracted controversy and is not popular with more conservative elements of the gay community. His plays deal frankly with sexuality and gender, pushing the boundaries of what can and cannot be explored in a theatrical context.


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