The Cabaret Company

(Toronto, Ontario)

Cabaret Company was founded in the spring of 1997 after Sky Gilbert resigned as Artistic Director of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. The Cabaret Company is dedicated to presenting social engaging queer themed work and to the development and support of queer artists. By opening the doors to young artists to create in a queer positive atmosphere, it is my hope that they will begin not to just feel free to be themselves, but to create work that has queer content and that pushes the boundaries of traditional theatre practice. Theatres like Tarragon, Soulpepper, and Canadian Stage present world-class respected literature by mainstream-approved authors, drawn from the traditional canon of new and old works. In contrast, the work of Cabaret Company achieves its immediacy and danger in varied ways, sometimes by knocking down the fourth wall and at other times by presenting pro-sexual content without judgment. Ultimately, the work doesn't resemble "literature" or "drama". It is alive, breathing, and at times a little scary. The Cabaret company is supported with operating grants from The Toronto Arts Council and the Ontario Arts Council, and occasionally with project grants from the Canada Council.

With a mandate, to produce work created by Sky Gilbert, we have produced many different kinds of plays, from drag musicals to murder mysteries to documentary biographies. My work is always personal and immediate, controversial, political, dangerous and sexual - these are elements that define "cabaret" for me, hence the name. The Cabaret Company will continue to offer one main stage production written and directed by Sky Gilbert plus three development opportunities for emerging queer artists that will nurture different aspects of theatrical creativity: Free Jane, The Kitchen Breakdown Reality TV Show, and another projected each year TBA.

The company's work, though challenging, has not failed to engage the critics. In the spring of 2007, Robert Cushman of the National Post called Bad Acting Teachers "the best sustained feat of comic writing, acting and direction to appear in Toronto in ages." Speaking of The Secret Life of Haddon Mackenzie, Richard Ouzounian of The Toronto Star wrote, "You can hear Sky Gilbert's own voice speaking clearly... it's a lovely sound and I hope we hear more of it in the future."

The Cabaret Company has produced eleven "mainstage" winter productions (Schubert Lied, Garden Variations, The Emotionalists, The Bewitching of Max Gunter, The Boy Jones, Heliogabalus, The Secret Life of Haddon MacKenzie, Rope Enough, Bad Acting Teachers, Will the Real J.T. LeRoy Please Stand Up? and Happy: A Very Gay Little Musical); three Fringe Festival shows (Independence, The Birth of Casper G. Schmidt, Hell House), and many Free Jane Open Stages.

We have received a total of fourteen Dora nominations (three for Schubert Lied, two for Garden Variations, three for The Emotionalists, two for Max Gunther, two for Boy Jones, one for Bad Acting Teachers and one for Will the real J.T. LeRoy Please Stand Up?). In 2007 Ryan Kelly won a Dora for best actor in J.T. LeRoy. One of these plays has been published by Blizzard Publishing (The Emotionalists) three of the plays have been published by Broken Jaw Press (The Birth of Casper G. Schmidt, Schubert Lied, and Independence). Rope Enough and Bad Acting Teachers were published by Playwrights' Canada Press in fall 2007 and spring 2008 respectively.

In February 2000, Cabaret Company embarked on its first tour with the hit Toronto Fringe play, The Birth of Casper G. Schmidt to the High Performance Rodeo in Calgary and the Edmonton Comedy Festival. In Columbus, Ohio we were presented with three awards: The Tosos Award for Best Original Play, The John Glines Award for Best Direction, and the Award for Best Cast.

In April 2006 the Cabaret Company produced its first production at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, taking advantage of the gay and lesbian audience base in the Church and Wellesley area.

The Cabaret Company: a collaborative and youth centred vision

Though Sky Gilbert writes and direct the mainstage productions he not only works closely with a group of rotating dramaturges, but also with a rotating group of actors. The work is text based and not improvised by the actors, nor do Sky let them direct themselves. But as these are all first productions of Sky's own plays, the back and forth nature of the discussion during rehearsals means that the actors have a possibility of an important collaboration discussing the dialogue, offering other dramaturgical advice, working out staging with Sky.

That means we create the work, to some degree, together. You will notice that many of these actors are also writers and directors themselves. Some actors who we have worked with in the past and would like to work with again in the future -- Tracy Wright, Gil Garratt, Gavin Crawford, David Tomlinson, Jason Cadieux, Suzanne Bennett, Mark Christmann, Ellen-Ray Hennessy, Kim Renders, Jefferson Guzman, Ryan Kelly, Suzanne Bennett, and Veronika Hurnick.

As I have worked each year with young writers and actors in the Free Jane developmental process, it has become increasingly clear to me that there is a need to support and encourage young queer artists (who are no longer teenagers, and no longer in high school or university) in developing their skills and planning for their careers.

Originally the Free Jane events were held in random places in the city and featured first time readings of queer work by artists of all ages. In the last couple of years, Free Jane has begun to focus on developing young queer artists and their work and has been held at Buddies in Bad Times. The readings are directed by young directors and featuring actors embarking on their careers. We try to involve as many queer people as I can but the only actual criterion is that the writing has some significant queer content.

We have also found that it makes sense to hold these readings in the Buddies' cabaret space, because it is centrally located in the queer community. Also, Buddies has a development program for young queer artists (Buddies Queer Youth Arts Program, directed by Evelyn Parry) for under 25-year olds. With Free Jane, I have begun to take up the slack where Buddies leaves off, encouraging young artists who are between 20 and 30 years old.

A queer youth theatre program like the one Buddies offers is invaluable for students who attend the Pink Triangle School in Toronto, or feel unsafe at their own public high schools. Many of the students who get help at Buddies will go on to theatrical careers, but some will not, however. At that age, it is hard to tell if kids have any real talent or dedication all one can do is encourage and offer a safe space.

The training that the Cabaret Company will offer again starts where Buddies leaves off. The experience will be for young adults in their twenties who are no longer in school and have made a firm and committed decision to a life in the theatre, film, or TV. They are going through the process of getting agents (or not) becoming Equity (or not) and embarking on professional careers.

Free Jane is primarily an opportunity for writers. The Kitchen Breakdown Reality TV Show is another kind of opportunity -- for queer actor/writer/directors, for those jacks of all trade, those who are Renaissance creators, and those who find that streaming their talents into one aspect of theatre alone (especially at that age) to be arbitrary . In other words it is an opportunity for multi-talented young artists to explore the boundaries of their talents in collective creation. Together, the young artists and Sky create a play. The concept of the play is this: celebrants at a downtown Toronto kitchen party compete to see who will have the first breakdown -- which consists of an angry, screaming rant. In a week long intensive workshop, the ten creators (non-equity actors between the ages of 20 and 30) and Sky work together to create a short 1/2 play which takes place in someone's kitchen. (The performance actually takes place in the kitchen of a large house.) The creators and Sky work on a realistic, naturalistic scene in which various queer characters are at a party. The 10 participant are in couples of two, and each of the five couples has relationship problems or problems of some other kind. All of the characters are volatile. The audience sees several short improvised scenes, each of which seem to be building to a climax. Only one character each evening will actually "blow" however, and have a fit, which will be a kind of melodramatic improvising rant. The performance will be interrupted by Sky's drag character, Jane, who will ask the invited audience to vote on who is most llkely to have a a full out blowup. THE KBRTVSHOW is a unique opportunity for young queer artists to make contact with local artistic directors. Toronto artistic directors are invited to view the one time only performance each year where the production takes place, in a small Toronto apartment. In this way the young actors are exposed to artistic directors around town, and socialize with them after the show -- networking. But as this short piece features only young non-equity actors, the one performance only annual performance can be videotaped -- giving people who are not able to fit into the house and watch the one time only performance in a kitchen the chance to view the play. The dvd version of Kitchen Breakdown Reality TV Show will be as "real" as a reality TV show (complete with commercial breaks), and the video will provide an artful document that will hopefully make rounds at queer video festivals. I hope each year to work with a different group of young actors and produce a different dvd version of a different performance. Through this exercise, young creators will learn a lot about t heir ability to act, write and direct, as all of them will do a little bit of each (they will of course write their own scenes and act in them, and offer each other directing advice).

If you have questions about The Cabaret Company, or you would like to make a contribution to this company, contact Sky Gilbert --