A vaudeville-style revue of holiday fabulousness
Taylor Mac’s variety show offers a mixture of music, film and burlesque
Taylor Mac wants you to feel like Santa.
At the end of this long pandemic year, the New Yorkbased playwright and drag performer has created a digital holiday variety show, and is offering it to audiences like a treat next to the Christmas tree.
“Everyone’s been working really hard, under really difficult circumstances,” says Mac. “My job this year isn’t to get applause, my job isn’t to hear the laughter, it’s not to get the instant feedback from the audience … I’m just going to treat the audience like they’re Santa Claus. I put out the milk and cookies for them and, if they want to partake, amazing.”
“Taylor Mac’s Holiday Sauce — Pandemic!” is a vaudevillestyle revue of musical numbers, film, burlesque and what its organizers are calling “random acts of fabulousness” that will be livestreamed three times on Saturday. Eighteen arts organizations from Norway to Spain to the U.S. have contributed funding and are hosting a livestream of the show, the Toronto co-presenters being TO Live and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.
Mac is one of America’s most acclaimed performing artists, a
2017 fellow of the MacArthur Foundation (the no-strings-attached $800,000 award best known as the “Genius Grant”) and this year became the first American to win the $385,000 International Ibsen Award, conferred by the Norwegian ministry of culture.
Giving this global event a local twist, the performing arts organizations presenting the show are each honouring an elder who has made a significant contribution to nurturing queer community in their city.
The Toronto elder is activist, storyteller and LGBTQ awareness consultant leZlie lee kam, who said she was “surprised and flattered” to be honoured for work that she does “on a daily basis.” This includes codirecting the Buddies in Bad Times Youth/Elders Project: “I
want things to be better for queer youth than they are now for queer seniors,” said kam. “My purpose since COVID has been to make sure that 2SLGBTQI seniors are acknowledged …”
Besides being given a custom crown and sash designed by Machine Dazzle as part of the “Holiday Sauce” show, kam will be honoured in a Buddies/TO Live virtual after-party hosted by theatre and cabaret artist Ryan G. Hinds.
Mac (who uses “judy” as a gender pronoun) first conceived of the live stage version of “Holiday Sauce” in 2017 following the death of judy’s drag mother, who produced drag pageants and mentored queer artists in New York City for many decades. “It’s disguised as a holiday show,” said Mac, “but it’s really a celebration of Mother Flawless Sabrina, and all drag mothers and mothers, particularly single moms.
“December was always a really rough time for me,” says Mac. “It always felt like a burden having to deal with guilt about family or having to censor myself when I’m with family, having to always frame the month around a more mainstream or heteronormative kind of environment.
“Mother Flawless Sabrina would always say, ‘You’re the boss, applesauce.’ So what she meant was, we’re in charge of our own story.”
Most of the show’s musical numbers are holiday standards (“Carol of the Bells,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”) reinterpreted by Mac and music director/arranger Matt Ray. Ray and Mac recorded the music several sessions with a 10-person band and it’s being mixed together for the broadcast.
While hosting the show three times in one day might sound like a lot of work, it’s worth bearing in mind that one of Mac’s most notable creations is “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music,” a 24-hour-long performance art concert. It’s been a while since that piece was performed, though: “I may be out of practice,” said Mac.
But if there are mistakes made out of exhaustion or if there are blips in the online transmission, Mac will embrace it: “It adds an aliveness to it all. We’re always a combination of virtuosity and total dorkiness. I never wanted it to be too polished.”
“Holiday Sauce,” both in its original and digital versions, is produced by Pomegranate Arts, a New York production company. It was Linda Brumbach, Pomegranate’s founder and director, who initially had the idea to make a digital version of “Holiday Sauce.”
“We hadn’t been leaning into the online platform,” said Brumbach, “but in July we were filming with Taylor and it felt good to be making something again.”
While Mac would not necessarily have chosen to work in the digital form, judy did not want to slow down the momentum around the “Holiday Sauce” live show.
“To let it go felt like we’d be letting the vision down. I’m always about ‘incorporate the calamity.’
“I’m in it for the hang; I like to hang out with the audience. I like to hang out with the musicians and artists and their ideas … this is a way that we can do that in this wild world that we’re adapting to.”
“Taylor Mac’s Holiday Sauce — Pandemic!” streams at 2, 7 and 10 p.m. Saturday. See tolive.com/holidaysauce for tickets, available on a pay-what-you-can basis, starting at $10.