Despite a title that seems designed to divide, Justin Sayre's The Meeting* of the International Order of Sodomites is a show designed on the basis of bringing people together. "Don't be put off by the title," requests Sayre. "Feel free to come down because it's really a one-of-a-kind kind of evening. " Reiterating that all are welcome, he clarifies, "You don't have to be gay to enjoy The Meeting*." Sayre explained, "In fact, we get a lot of people [who] aren't, and they have a great time — because it's really about building the community that's in the room."
The Meeting* is a monthly comedy/variety performance that honors a different celebrity at each gathering for their contributions to gay culture. Having begun in downtown venues like Le Poisson Rouge and The Duplex and then heading uptown for a six-month run at 54 Below, in 2014 The Meeting* has returned to Lower Manhattan with a residency at Joe's Pub. The February Meeting*, which will take place on Sunday, the 16th, will honor Tony Award winner Bernadette Peters with musical performances, skits, and Sayre's special brand of humor.
TheaterMania spoke to Sayre about writing The Meeting*, selecting honorees, and the makings of a gay icon.
What is the origin of The Meeting*?
I was an actor for a long time in New York. And then about four and a half years ago, I had the idea for The Meeting*. And I said, Oh, I'll just write it. How bad could it be? That's always been my big philosophy about performing. It's an hour and a half out of someone's life. You're not ruining them. They will live again. Hopefully you've made them laugh a few times…I kind of just threw myself into it, and there was a net, luckily.
What is a typical show like?
If it's a musical person, we try to pick from the cannon, [doing the songs] in a really interesting way. We did Cher months ago and Cole Escola got up and sang ''Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves" as a ballad, and it was amazing! For David Bowie, Joseph Keckler brought in a violin and a sound machine and made a really intimate song out a beautiful Bowie song. As far as the rest of the show, because it is topical, we have a little license [to] do skits about other things as well. We always try to keep it light and funny, but we're never making fun of the people we honor. We're really trying to be reverent because it means something to people.
How do you decide who to honor at The Meeting*?
At the core of the show, there's this real sense of community. So it's fun to pick something that's cross-generational and all over the map so that we can get as many people excited about it as possible. The other thing to say is it's never about imitation. It's always about the interpretation of what they did. And that's something that I think really sets the show apart.
What makes Bernadette Peters right to be a Meeting* honoree?
Her career is tremendous. She's done everything from The Muppet Show and to Mama Rose [in Gypsy] and the witch in Into the Woods. The talent's so supreme and people are really devoted to her. But what people really connect to about Bernadette is there's this undying sense of vulnerability that, I think, makes her really appealing [not only] to gay people, but I think to audiences in general. What I also love about Bernadette…is that she's always been in on the joke. She's been willing to do slapstick and all these things.
Does Bernadette know she's being honored?
She does. She was a little worried because you hear, "Oh the International Order of Sodomites is doing a meeting they want to dedicate to you." I mean that's cause for alarm. But we got messages to her that it's very respectful. And we sent her a bunch of videos, and she was very charming and really lovely as you'd expect her to be. But my producers, Adam Rosen and Dan Fortune and I had kind of a giggly moment like Oh my god, we've made Bernadette nervous!
Don't show this again.