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Drama Canadian

Toller and Other Plays

Toller; Hamilton Bus Stop; Naked Hamilton

by (author) Sky Gilbert

Artword Press
Initial publish date
Aug 2023
Canadian, Gay & Lesbian
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2023
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Three provocative plays exploring sexual and class identity, and the loneliness of trying to know who you are. Toller is about Toller Cranston, the world-renowned skater born in Hamilton, Ontario, now living as a recluse in Mexico, a fierce, frightened, heroic and very wounded gay man. Hamilton Bus Stop is about an accidental encounter between the artsy, conniving lady president of the local craft society and a male hooker in a bus shelter on a rainy afternoon. Do they have more in comman than they think? Naked Hamilton gives us a self-styled spokesman for the arts, a prim housewife who disapproves of sexuality, and an aging sex-worker with her alcoholic ex-boyfriend. They're all attracted by a book of photos of important people dressed and undressed.

In 2003, Sky Gilbert, gay activist, drag queen, and co-founder of Toronto's renowned and controversial Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, moved to Toronto's industrial sister-city, Hamilton--dull, drab and fifty miles down the highway. Nevertheless, he found himself writing plays about, and for, Hamilton. These are three of the best.

About the author

Sky Gilbert is a writer, director, and drag queen extraordinaire. He was co-founder and artistic director of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (North Americaâ??s largest gay and lesbian theatre) for 18 years. His hit plays include The Dressing Gown, Drag Queens on Trial, Play Murder, The Emotionalists, and the Dora Mavor Moore Award-winning The Whoreâ??s Revenge. His first three novels: Guilty (1998), St. Stephenâ??s, (1999) and I Am Kasper Klotz (2001) were critically acclaimed. ECW Press published Skyâ??s first collection of poetry, Digressions of a Naked Party Girl, in 1998, and his theatre memoir, Ejaculations from the Charm Factory, in 2000. His second book of collected poems, Temptations for a Juvenile Delinquent, was published by ECW in 2003. He was recently the recipient of the Margo Bindhardt Award (from the Toronto Arts Foundation), the Silver Ticket Award (from the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts), and the ReLit Award (for his fourth novel, An English Gentleman), and also recently received a PhD from the University of Toronto. By day, Sky holds a University Research Chair in Drama and Creative Writing at the University of Guelph.

Sky Gilbert's profile page

Excerpt: Toller and Other Plays: Toller; Hamilton Bus Stop; Naked Hamilton (by (author) Sky Gilbert)


(The lights are dim. TOLLER is speaking from behind a translucent veil that is decorated with flowers. Now and then his speech is punctuated with the tinkle of his finger cymbals.)

I believe that my parents found me. I was not born. I was found in the forest of Coote’s Paradise, a fantastical lush green enclave beneath the stars. I was a changeling, a fairy child.

You can imagine what a surprise it must have been for such a fairy child to be removed from this idyllic locale and unceremoniously hauled away—from head to ¬caboose, to Swastika Ontario, where I spent my early years.

Thankfully, I remember very little of Swastika. I have never been very fond of Germans. German judges were never very kind to me; perhaps they remember me as the strange boy in Swastika who didn’t want to go to school with the immigrant children, who instead dreamed of being a ballet dancer.

That dream was short-lived. It only took me a few minutes at the ballet bar to realize that my future lay elsewhere, that my fantastical imagination could not be contained by the rigid classical discipline of jet-ays and plee-ays.

In case you haven’t noticed, I have a rather florid way of talking about myself, and a florid way of talking in general. It has always gotten me in trouble; from the moment of my birth the world conceived of me as different.

My mother, who was a cruel woman something in the mold of Mommie Dearest—for she spoke her mind, often and without thought to the consequences—told me that I was born with no eyebrows and amazingly long eyelashes, which I batted unashamedly from the moment I opened them.

Was I flirting with the world? At times the world has flirted back. At other times, I have been cruelly rejected by the powers that be, for no other reason than the fact that I am different and I dare to tell it like it is. And if that is the way it must be, then so be it.

Perhaps this is why I have never found true love. I believe my years of being separate, of growing up as an outsider in Swastika Ontario, have caused me to protect myself with a thin but hard shell, like the metallic covering of some shiny insect. No one seems to be able to break through. Many have tried, many have failed. But I remain, as always, alone—and yet intractably who I am.

(The changes between scenes are effected by TOLLER himself, who does his work behind the veil and then pulls the veil aside. Behind the veil TOLLER puts on an old scratchy record of an orchestral version of the theme from Chaplin’s Limelight, and then by pulling a rope and arranging the veil slightly, it is now framing the chair in which he sits and lounges, theatrically—his hand draped limply over the arm.)

I know I shouldn’t care what others think. I know I shouldn’t. But how can one not? Especially when they are always thinking about you, gossiping about you, when your every move seems to cause concern because you are not like them.

The 1976 Canadian Figure Skating Championship was my last Nationals competition. It was the night of Ronnie Shaver, everyone wanted Ronnie Shaver to win. I don’t know why.

Now you must understand that normally I would arrive at the competition with not only one costume, but an armload of costumes—usually variations on a theme of black with sequins. This night—I don’t know why, I suppose I was discouraged by all the enthusiasm for Ronnie Shaver and felt the need to impress—I made a rash decision. I chose, of all things, a bright orange blouse. It made me look like a giant pumpkin.

I skated the warmups in that horrid orange wrap. At the last minute, thank God, I had the presence of mind to change into a simple black outfit. But I still didn’t know how I would ever triumph over the crowd’s enthusiasm for Ronnie Shaver—they loved him so much. They would never love me.

And then, when it was my turn to skate, the announcer—I don’t know who it was, but God bless him for what he did for me—he said something that no one is ever supposed to say at a Nationals competition. It was today what one might call politically incorrect? Maybe that’s not the term.

Announcers at the Nationals are, of course, supposed to be the soul of neutrality. But I heard him say—and I couldn’t believe the words, I still thrill to think about them—“Here he is, THE ONE AND ONLY Toller Cranston!” Oh I couldn’t believe my ears!

And you know something, because that one announcer, I don’t remember his name, but because that one person believed in me so much as to call me the ONE AND ONLY Toller Cranston, because of him, I had the courage suddenly to skate my best.

I suddenly appeared, as if from nowhere. The judges couldn’t believe it was me because I had changed out of that horrid orange outfit. But because someone believed in me, because of the opinion of one other person, I skated like a dream. Everything was perfect and I won! It was the last time I triumphed at The Nationals. I can’t help it. When someone believes in me, I just burst open . . . like a flower.

Editorial Reviews

“The truth is, Sky Gilbert has more theatrical flair in his little finger than anybody else in the Toronto scene.”

Toronto Globe and Mail

"Gilbert has spoken eloquently about society's persecution and misunderstanding of non-conformity- and that's a theme that goes beyond the specifics of homosexuality."

Toronto Star

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