Skip to main content

evalyn parry is an indie-theatre powerhouse who has collaborated on a string of notable shows that have toured Canada in recent years.Alejandro Santiago

After a short four-month search, Buddies in Bad Times, the largest and longest-running queer theatre company in the world, has found a new artistic director in its own back yard: evalyn parry.

On Thursday, parry – a Toronto-based director, playwright, singer-songwriter and head of Buddies' Young Creators Unit – will be announced as the replacement for outgoing artistic director Brendan Healy.

That will make parry only the second female artistic director in the Toronto theatre company's history – and one of only two female artistic directors in charge of a major, venued theatre company in Toronto. (The other being Nina Lee Aquino at Factory Theatre.)

"If it had not been me selected, I would really have hoped it would be a female or trans person to take the reins here," parry says, over the phone from California where she was on vacation this week. "Symbolically, I think it welcomes a part of the community that has not felt as welcome at Buddies."

Don't let parry's preference for having her name spelled in lower-case fool you: she's an indie-theatre powerhouse who has collaborated on a string of notable shows that have toured Canada in recent years.

If parry has stayed a little under the mainstream's radar, it's likely because her work has been highly collaborative and multifaceted. Among her recent accomplishments, she directed Ghana-born actor Tawiah M'carthy's solo show Obaaberima (which won of best production of the year at the Dora Awards in 2013), co-created the controversial experimental work Breakfast with the collective Independent Aunties, and performed in her own hit song cycle, Spin.

Spin, a charming show that paired parry's stories of women and cycling with songs sung with a percussionist using a bicycle's spokes, fenders and bells as a musical instrument, has toured from Yellowknife to Halifax since its premiere at Buddies in 2011. It heads to the Lincoln Centre in New York and Calgary's High Performance Rodeo in 2016.

For Buddies, parry plans an increased emphasis on "intersectional, interdisciplinary and collaborative work" – but otherwise, the 42-year-old artist essentially wants to move the theatre company full steam ahead.

"I feel like I'm taking over at a place when things are going well," she says. "My approach is not about a radical change of direction, or radical change of task."

Buddies appeared to hit bad times in 2013 when Healy penned an open letter about "shockingly low" attendance for a new play by Daniel MacIvor – and another when the company suddenly lost funding from the Department of Canadian Heritage for its long-running Rhubarb Festival.

But parry says Buddies is in strong financial shape after recent box-office hits Tom at the Farm and The Gay Heritage Project – and that its audience demographics are enviable compared to many of its greying peers, with 65 per cent of its spectators being under the age of 45.

As for the question of what purpose Buddies serves with queer culture now so mainstream, parry, who recently celebrated her 10th wedding anniversary to writer and photographer Suzanne Robertson, is excited to see where LGBTQ energy will be focused now that gay marriage is legal in the United States as well. "Having won that battle, we can get over it and start looking forward," parry says. "What do queer artists have to say now to the mainstream?"

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe