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Taylor Mac Wants To Replace Traditional Holiday Entertainment With Drag

Taylor Mac (Courtesy of Little Fang Photography)
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The festive season is full of expectations -- that dinner will be delicious, that the gifts will be great, and that everyone will get along like in a Christmas episode of The Brady Bunch.

But as we know, holiday reality is often different.

"It's a little like water torture," Taylor Mac said. "It chisels away at you every single year."

The MacArthur Foundation genius-grant-winning drag performer doesn't have joyous memories of Christmas growing up gay in Stockton. Mac said the homophobia, conservative Christianity, and consumerism were hard to swallow.

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So Mac decided to create a new show, Holiday Sauce, as an antidote to that.

"Basically, this show is practicing survival techniques for the holidays," Mac said recently in San Francisco, where Holiday Sauce was being performed ahead of its L.A. run.

One technique: twisting musty traditions, like carols, into wild new shapes. The artist's manic-snarling rendition of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" is a case in point.

"What the song is saying is, 'Christmas is under siege and we all have to love it more,'" Mac said. "So I thought it would be fun to turn it into a Wiccan Bollywood extravaganza."

Another technique: reframing tough relationships. That's why Mac hired a chorus of California seniors to sing on stage.

"I had rough holidays with grandparents," Mac said. "So I thought, let me bring a bunch of elders into the show and see if we can make that better."

Drag shows have strong associations with this time of year. There are a multitude happening across California in the coming weeks, like To Jesus, Thanks for Everything! and A Drag Queen Christmas in Los Angeles, and Drag Queens on Ice and The Golden Girls Live: The Christmas Episodes playing in San Francisco.

Jeff Sumner (Courtesy of the Lythgoe family)
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"It's the holidays," L.A.-based actor Jeff Sumner said. "People want something kind of different."

Sumner portrays funny old ladies in pantomimes (aka "pantos"), an old English holiday tradition gaining popularity in the States. The company he works for, Lythgoe Family Panto, produces several pantomimes each year in cities from Pasadena to Nashville.

Panto always involves a love story, topical humor -- and a man in a dress.

"This element of drag makes it much more fantastical and much more joyous, as if another version of Santa Claus has just dropped into your living room," Sumner said.

That's exactly what Taylor Mac is going for with Holiday Sauce. The artist plans to expand the production each year. The aim: to eventually rival what's currently mainstream holiday entertainment.

"My fantasy is that we can get all the retired Rockettes in our show," Mac said. "The Rockettes' Christmas Spectacular seems like such a sexist machine, with some really creepy traditions to it, and just so corporate. So it would be fabulous to replace that."

Taylor Mac (Chloe Veltman for LAist)

Taylor Mac's Holiday Sauce plays Dec. 14-15 at UCLA's Royce Hall. Lythgoe Family Panto presents Beauty and the Beast at Laguna Playhouse Dec. 5-30, and The Wonderful Winter of Oz at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium Dec. 14-30.

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