Sky Gilbert

Moving Forward

Joe Szekeres

Controversial and complex, artist, educator, filmmaker, director, and writer Sky Gilbert has undoubtedly influenced the Canadian theatre scene. Although I haven’t had a chance to see any of his plays at this time (but am hoping to catch some soon), I have heard from others and read online Gilbert’s literary works from novels to scripts become often raw, quite funny and intensely vocal.

I’ve been wanting to profile Sky, his voice, and his work for some time but wasn’t sure how to get in touch with him. A workshop production he is directing will premiere shortly, and it was fortuitous he was available to chat with me via email since he is busy in preparation.

Gilbert holds an Honours bachelor’s degree in fine arts from York University, and master’s and Ph. D degrees from the University of Toronto. He has been teaching in the School of English and Theatre Studies for 24 years at Guelph. He is now a full professor and will retire in a couple of weeks. He was co-founder and Artistic Director of Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre for 18 years.

Given that we're returning to live theatre, albeit slowly, Sky feels terrified because in his words:

“I’ve seen so much bad stuff…I am wanting to be shocked, angered, challenged, stimulated, not to have all my views and attitudes to life affirmed. I go to theatre to NOT be confirmed as a good person but to question myself.”

I must applaud Sky for his honesty and candour here. He believes politics is killing theatre in Toronto and this means bad theatre. The theatre he sees assumes that the audience has the same ideas they do and confirms them over and over, so it is pessimistic for him.

Given his frank observation regarding the state of theatre in Toronto now, I asked Sky where he sees the industry headed over the next five years. He gently corrected me by saying that he doesn’t see theatre as an industry but as an art. For him, art is so overrun by commercialism, meaning the digital megaplex.

Art has been whittled down to a message that it has to be a ‘good’ one and judged on that and that alarms Sky because he says: “artists are self-censoring because they think that they have to deliver an approved message.”

So, have we as an audience forgotten what art is? Sky believes so and that’s what he’s afraid of right now.

How does he view art?

“Art comes from the unconscious; it is unscientific, and it is a lie. It is an irrational connection with the irrational. It doesn’t mean things — things -- that can be put into words as much as provide an experience.”

I received a release recently that details Gilbert’s upcoming workshop presentation ‘Kink Observed’:

“Kink Observed explores what ‘kinky’ sex — and sex itself — means to gay men, (and hopefully, ultimately to us all) by considering these questions: “why do we push ourselves to the limit, sexually?” and secondly “can an audience watch a representation of ‘kinky sex' without demonizing the players? It will challenge recent misleading and myopic representations of gay sexuality by putting three gay men onstage who place their sexuality directly in your face.”

For Sky, he had written audiences don’t see much gay male sexuality in Toronto plays. Instead, we see gay men adopting children and acting like straight people. But even though there was AIDS there are still bathhouses, and sex in washrooms and parks, and there is a culture of HIV-positive men who have a lot of sex, no longer with condoms. Because men can hook up easily online, our sex lives have become less visible — unless it is demonized in things like the horror of the Bruce McArthur murders — or of course in the recent very popular Jeffrey Dahmer TV Show. People just seem to love gay serial killers, but they are a little bit wary of looking at the real sex lives of real gay men who are not murderers.

Would audiences perhaps push back at this workshop presentation of ‘Kink Observed’ or are they open to discussion and seeing the material? Again, Sky had written the portrayal of gay male sexuality should not be controversial in 2022. He reminds us there is porn on the internet and that we should also look at what the kids are watching! People have their heads in the sand and it’s time to become aware.

The workshop (billed as provoking and immersive theatre experience) offers audiences an opportunity to view gay male sexuality performed live and up close. ‘Kink Observed’ comes from the real-life experiences of the gay men who are actors in the play and, in that way, it is a very honest and revealing account of what real gay life is like today. Of course, it is fiction, it is a play, and the gay men are using their lives as fodder for art and poetry — they are not just ‘being themselves' or repeating their real-life experiences. But there is a brutal and I think important honesty here, that needs to be seen.

Sky is hoping the production will get a Canada Council grant to pursue the workshop further to a full-length production. He speaks glowingly about the artists who are involved in the production. He has known Ryan Cunningham as a friend but only recently started working with him. He didn’t know why that occurred but it’s great that it has. Ryan is a producer and former artistic director of Native Earth. Gilbert discovered recent theatre school graduate Ray Jacildo for his production of ‘Who’s Afraid of Titus? in the summer and says he was AMAZING. Brandon Nicoletti is a filmmaker whom Gilbert auditioned for this project and feels he has a lot of insight and brings a great deal of honesty to the work.

While they all had fun creating the improvised scenes in the summer. Sky writes they are working on: “the kink demonstrations’ where the audience will get to see some real kink stuff happen and even participation — however slightly — in the goings on! Hopefully, it will be a rare and interesting experience!”

THE DETAILS ABOUT 'KINK OBSERVED'

WHAT: ‘Kink Observed’, a collective creation directed by Sky Gilbert and devised (with Sky) by Ryan Cunningham, Ray Jacildo and Brandon Nicoletti, who also perform in the production. Live music is by Lyon Smith, props by Trixie and Beaver, and costume consultation by Marty Rotman.

WHERE: Deanne Taylor Theatre, 10 Busy Street Toronto

DATES: Nov 25, 2022 at 08:00 pm - 09:30 pm (Fri)

Nov 26, 2022 at 02:30 pm - 04:00 pm (Sat)

Nov 26, 2022 at 08:00 pm - 09:30 pm (Sat)

Nov 27, 2022 at 02:30 pm - 04:00 pm (Sun)

Nov 27, 2022 at 08:00 pm - 09:30 pm (Sun)

For more information: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/kink-observed-tickets-450934365827

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