Premiering in a small cabaret theater in January of 2002, Peter Mac’s autobiographical play,“Judy and Me,” was set for a four-performance engagement only. More than six years later, this “little show that could,” has recently made its Off-Broadway premiere at The St. Luke’s Theater.
In a heartfelt and humorous take, Mac retells his painful experiences with homophobia while growing up through the 16-year-old alter-ego Anthony and the solace he was able to find in the music of Judy Garland. When Garland, played by Mac himself, takes the form of Anthony’s sage and guide, he is able to overcome the struggles in his life through her compassion and ultimately find peace in coming out.
While many people in the gay community may identify Mac’s story with a similar journey of their own, his tale of ostracism, struggle and personal acceptance is something he believes a much wider audience can be receptive to.
Peter Mac recently shared with us his insights on hate crimes, homophobia and the power of the theater.
You have mentioned that the news of Matthew Shepard’s death inspired you to begin writing “Judy and Me.” Do you remember anything in particular that you read or saw about Matthew’s death that inspired you to share your story?
Matthew’s death numbed me. While there is no specific news piece that sticks out, the news of Matthew's attack and death brought back a lot bad memories from both grammar school and high school. One of the worst scenarios happened during my junior year when I was pursued in the snow and through the streets to my front my door by a jeep of boys shouting threats, expletives and gay slurs at me.
After I heard about Matthew's death, I kept replaying that incident in my mind. I was reminded of how fortunate I was and thought about how differently things could have ended that night. It was at that time that I began writing various scenes of the play.
Have you seen any changes in the media coverage of LGBT hate crimes since Matthew Shepard? Has this influenced your work?
What is interesting and rather alarming is the fact that the media currently does not seem as concerned about covering LGBT hate crimes. A perfect example is the murder of Lawrence King. I learned about his death primarily because Ellen Degeneres made it a point of speaking about Lawrence on her show. I do not recall any major news reports, with the exception of CNN, in regards to Lawrence's murder.
I fear that we are in a time when homophobia is at an all time high. Hopefully I can communicate through this play a message of acceptance and hope. It is clear that despite all of the progress our community has made, there are many people who still need to be educated.
The main character in “Judy and Me,” Anthony, finds solace from bullying at school in the music of Judy Garland. What is your advice to the many young LGBT students who are still subject to harassment and bullying from peers because of their orientation?
Speak up and go to your teachers, principals or counselors. If your school doesn’t have a gay-straight alliance, you can consult the people at GLSEN for support. If your classmates are harassing you verbally or physically, go to the authorities.
I also attribute a large part of my survival to my own creativity. Channel everything good or bad into whatever it is that you love, whatever your passions are, whether it's music, art, writing or sports. Take the negativity and use it to your advantage. That is something I managed to gleam from Ms. Garland.
As you have already mentioned, the murder of Lawrence King earlier this year did not receive fair and accurate media coverage. Why do you think it is important to share your story and other stories like yours?
Through the medium of theatre, we have this wonderful ability and opportunity to try to educate people. It is such an intimate event. Bringing all of these different people of various ages and walks of life into a darkened theatre is a magical event.
And hopefully, through this medium, some of those people will gain a better understanding of the LGBT community. Some people might leave the theatre and start to question themselves, their own ideas and views of acceptance and tolerance. To me, it is enough if just one person comes to see “Judy and Me” and it changes their perspective.
Recently, I spoke to a 27-year-old guy from Scotland who used my show as an icebreaker to come out to his mother after the performance. We've also had a lot of fan mail from people who have had the same experiences I went through. Many people have told me that seeing "Judy and Me" was a cathartic release for them.
Although the play’s content is highly personal, the issues of homophobia and bullying are relevant to many people. Who do you see as your target audience?
Our target audience is highly inclusive. We welcome a diverse audience in all aspects.
One of the nicest parts of this experience has been meeting the wide range of people who approach me after any given performance. The show has a kind of universal appeal. People will come to me or other cast members after the show and say, "That was my life. I'm not gay, but I could totally relate to your story." Anyone who has ever been classified as an outsider can relate to “Judy and Me.”
I would also extend a welcome to teenagers who have recently gone through the process of coming out and their parents, who might be coming to terms with their child's orientation. Both would be able to take away a positive outlook after seeing the play.
“Judy and Me” has been described as “the little show that could.” In making the journey from a cabaret theater to Off-Broadway at the St. Luke’s Theater, how has the public reception changed? What are your hopes for the play in the future?
I hope that in moving the play to a larger venue like St. Luke's, we can get our message across on a larger scale. We are no longer playing to just the gay community, which was the case during the original run. We are now playing to a broader spectrum of audience members.
My hope for the play is that it continues to have a positive effect on the audience, as it has in the past. I hope that those who watch it will come away with something similar to a quote from Ms. Garland: "Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all be a little more gentle with each other, and a little more loving, have a little more empathy and maybe, we would like each other a little more".
Showtimes for “Judy and Me” are Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m., with matinee performances on Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. For more information and tickets, visit www.JudyAndMe.com.