The shopping, the decorating, the worshipping, the mandatory small talk – the holidays can already be a time of great stress. Adding a queer identity into the mix can often complicate things further. Still, as tricky as navigating the upcoming special days can be for those who are LGBTQ, the stress doesn’t have to spell disaster. At least Taylor Mac certainly doesn’t think so.
In “Holiday Sauce,” a performance described by the San Francisco Chronicle as a unique mixture of “subversive politics, circus pageantry, sartorial riot and boundless compassion to the holidays,” Mac — who prefers “judy” as a gender pronoun because you can’t roll your eyes and say “juuudy” without emasculating yourself — has decided to break down and unpack what makes modern holidays tick with song, celebration and extravagant outfits.
A playwright, performer and singer-songwriter, Mac has been making headlines since the ’90s for creative works that have pushed boundaries and unapologetically asked audiences around the world to reexamine their everyday lives. For judy’s efforts, Mac has received a Guggenheim Award, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2017 and a recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant, among many others achievements. “Holiday Sauce,” a performance conceived, written, performed, co-produced and co-directed by judy, promises to deliver a holiday show that packs Mac’s trademark wit and creative spirit, while also exploring chosen family and other ways to make holiday traditions more inclusive for those who are queer.
“Taylor Mac’s Holiday Sauce” will be presented by Ann Arbor’s University Musical Society on Saturday, Dec. 14 and Sunday, Dec. 15. Ahead of the show, Between The Lines caught up with Mac to talk about judy’s inspiration for the show, how to find the good as well as the bad in holiday traditions and the importance of making a space where everyone feels included.
“Holiday Sauce” is a look at, at least in part, the LGBTQ “chosen family” as a survival mechanism during the holidays. How did you get inspired to do a show about that?
I would say it a little bit more positively than survival, but more just wanting to manifest the world that you want through the art that you make, rather than just wishing for the world that you want or commenting on the world that is. And so, I just set out to make a show that would allow me to enjoy the holiday season. And that included hanging out with chosen family and focusing on generations of queens that came before me and also singing really good music.
We’re playing with some of the best musicians from New York City and also bringing some of my dear friends on tour with us. Two women that we met last time we were in Ann Arbor were Steffanie Christi’an and Thornetta Davis, and they’ve been singing with us ever since.
What were the holidays like for you growing up? Were they stressful?
I think for a lot of people it is. Not just queers, you know, but for a lot of people who feel the pressure of family, biological family, and needing to get along and the kind of social pressure and etiquette of the holiday season. Combined with a kind of religious dogma that can sometimes feel very oppressive to certain people and was very homophobic. The religion when I was growing up, we were celebrating this kind of homophobic tradition (laughs). So it didn’t feel really fun, and it still doesn’t.
And the flip side of it is the capitalism. It’s hard to celebrate capitalism every year and to feel sentimental about capitalism. And so, I recognize there are different ways to frame the holiday season and I guess that’s just what we’re setting out to do because we can’t get rid of it, it’s here (laughs) and it keeps getting louder every year. So, maybe the best way to do it is to turn it into something that actually does feel good.
What would you say is the best way to spend the holidays?
Well, one of my favorite times of the holiday year was when I was invited to have queer orphan Christmas at my drag mother’s house in New York City, at her apartment. And she had all of these wonderful artists and interesting bohemians that were there, and it was just fun and it was just sweet hanging out with everybody and having a good time. And so, that’s kind of one of the things that I try to do; I try to create that feeling that I had with Mother Flawless Sabrina. When I was making the show she died, and so I decided, “Why don’t we make this kind of an annual memorial service to Mother Flawless.” Instead of a celebration of Jesus’ birth, can we celebrate Mother Flawless for bringing us life?
And I try to make room for everybody. Like Thornetta Davis is very religious and so I said to her, “I hope that you will come and sing with us even though we’re critical of a lot of the dogma that this holiday gives us. I hope that we can make space for people who still have that faith.” And they’re not in charge of the show, that’s clear; it’s not that we’re not going to be honest about how it’s harmful to us (laughs), but at the same time we try to make space for everybody.
This show is billed as the go-to survival guide for the holidays. Does the show go over pitfalls to avoid during the season?
We practice some techniques to help us get through things and some of them are to deconstruct things, some of them are to engage in them fully as is, some of them are to reframe something, some techniques are just to gather people that you love around you and sing some songs (laughs). Music tends to help. And drag. Lots of drag and ridiculousness and wonderful costumes and beautiful aesthetics always help — and ridiculous aesthetics and surprising aesthetics. So those help you get through things. And you know, there’s nothing prettier than a bunch of trees with sparkly lights on them in the clear night (laughs). So we try to bring that aesthetic into the theater, which is one of the nice things about the holiday.
You’ve said in previous performances that you try to make the audience as much a part of the show as possible. Is that what attendees can expect this time around?
I always treat my audience as important. You know, I think of them as, “We can’t get to journey’s end without them,” and so I always try to figure out how they can matter to the show so that if they weren’t there we couldn’t actually perform it. That’s why we never do run-throughs of the show where I do all my dialogue and all my banter and everything. We’ll sing songs and stuff in rehearsals, but we don’t do the banter in rehearsals because I always feel like I actually need the audience for that, and I can’t rehearse on my own for that. And there are times where we have the audience do things. For this show we don’t make the audience do things because that wasn’t the vision for this particular work, but we do a couple of things — but nobody’s brought up on stage and has the spotlight put on them. It’s kind of a radical fairy realness ritual sacrifice holiday show, but we do other things (laughs).
What’s something you wish people knew before seeing the show?
The spirit of the show is, can we all hang out together for a while? And can we make that the ritual? And what’s fun about coming back to Ann Arbor is that Ann Arbor helped develop our “24-Decade” show (Mac created and performed an award-winning 24-hour-long show that featured 246 songs from 1776 to present day), so we’ve been there two times already and it just feels like, “Ah, now we’re starting to build a relationship.” Once you show up at least three times, it’s like, “OK, we’re starting to make a commitment to each other.” But I really appreciate that and like that. I know it’s a big turnover there when students are gone and hopefully we will have some return offenders.
Here’s another spot to catch Taylor Mac this holiday season:
The Moore Theater
Presented by Seattle Theatre Group (STG)