Taylor Mac’s Holiday Sauce was originally intended to reach the Haus der Berliner Festspiele as a live performance event. Following the huge success of judy’s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music last October (Mac uses the pronoun ‘judy’, in part a tribute to gay icon Judy Garland), a festive-themed vaudeville had been commissioned to tour 18 cities throughout Europe and the US this winter. Like a lot of things worth looking forward to this year, that didn’t happen. But unlike your work’s Christmas party, Holiday Sauce’s online adaptation is far from depressing, instead uplifting its audience through a fabulous blend of film, comedy, animation, music and burlesque.
It’s in the opening tableau (which, by the way, is so fruitily divine it literally invoked a gasp) that Mac reminds us that bleak Christmases are nothing new to many members of the LGBTQ+ community. Family dinners can often involve difficult discussions, unpleasant interactions and a (partial) clambering back into the closet, depending on how lucky you are. At a time when queer people may be “made to feel smaller” Holiday Sauce… Pandemic! steps in to make you feel big and whole again; to celebrate love, queerness, diversity and freedom of expression in spite of the arduous times we find ourselves in.
Mac artfully co-opts the cheery campness of Christmas itself in judy’s show, sparing no metre of tinsel to assemble awe-inspiring sets and drag couture outfits with long-time collaborator and set and costume designer, Machine Dazzle. Traditional Christmas carols are campified to the extreme, sung with a sense of irony that’s underscored by the sheer volume of glitter, beads and sparkle dripping from Mac’s head and body. Prompted to imagine a cheekier meaning to the word ‘holy’, Mac takes the dogmatic sting out of Christianity’s festivities for the audience, making space for them to indulge in the musical theatricality of Christmas joy.
As a celebration of community, the piece involves a number of diverse acts in its production. Live Christmas carol renditions from Thornetta Davis and Steffanie Christi’an are impressive but (like all Christmas songs) run the risk of becoming tiresome. Comedy sketches and live Zoom calls to queer activists “baby jesus’ (sidhe degreene) and ‘Sexual Consent Santa’ (Glenn Marla) (“I’m screaming ‘Ho! Ho! Ho!’ in support of sex workers’ rights!”) showcase a political insight into America’s contemporary queer culture while still making the audience laugh. Unfortunately, and as often happens with queer cultural representation, lewd jokes geared towards the presumed promiscuous gay male audience sometimes take centre stage a little too often, but the other elements of Holiday Sauce outshine this minor fault.
Mac and judy’s team also succeed in their expansive foray into the Zoom performance format. Mac’s usual transgression of form is enhanced, not hindered, by pandemic limitations. As judy cuts through performances, skits and pre-recorded footage from around the world, slick editing and cinematography from Robert Kolodny somehow manages to transmit the magic of theatre through a laptop screen. Colourful animation is frequently overlaid over scenes, with boylesque performer James ‘Tigger!’ Ferguson’s performance as a skipping, human-sized bright pink flower especially fun: mustering up all the gusto of a ’90s music video with his entertaining use of green screens and moving Christmas borders. In the show’s last act, the screen fills with cute and comical felt-tip animation ‘Christmas with Grandma’, which Mac uses to share painful memories of childhood Christmases, reminding judy’s audience once again they need not be alone in their troublesome feelings toward this time of year.
Unforgettably, Holiday Sauce doubles as a tribute to NYC’s famed LGBT activist and Mac’s late drag mentor, Mother Sabrina Flawless. Her philosophies (“You’re the boss, apple sauce”) have clearly been instrumental to Mac’s artistic development, and are genuinely welcomed in touching and eye-opening stories judy shares about the way she lived her life. The show’s concept, we learn, takes direct influence from the extravagant ‘Orphan Christmases’ Mother Sabrina hosted in 1980s, when young queer folk isolated in the Big Apple and plagued by the AIDS crisis had nowhere else to go. Continuing this sentiment, LGBTQ+ elders from each city the show would have toured in are also honoured, with Berlin’s queer feminist Mahide Lein waving in from Brandenburg Tor in a fun montage with 17 other international queeros.
Indeed, Holiday Sauce is the global Christmas-Pride mashup you never knew you’d find yourself needing 10 months into a global pandemic. Do yourself a favour and buy yourself a ticket!
Stream Taylor Mac Presents: Holiday Sauce… Pandemic! until January 2 on the Berliner Festspiele website. Tickets available from €9.