Interview with Darren Stewart-Jones, author of the play “The Judy Monologues”

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Darren Stewart-Jones was made in England and exported to Canada at a young age. He is a longtime Judy Garland fan. His original songs, At The Opera, Just Like Judy and The Ballad of Judy Garland are available on iTunes, as are his renditions of Santa Baby and Let It Snow. His one-act play, The Judy Monologues, is based entirely on rare voice recordings made by Garland in the mid-1960s. His short play, Ramblings of a Middle Aged Drag Queen, is set in a Toronto gay bar in the 1990s. Sherlock & Watson: Behind Closed Doors imagines a gay relationship between the famous detective and his trusted sidekick. Darren is a member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada. He is also the Artistic Director of Gay Play Day, an annual festival of LGBTQ theatre in Toronto, Ontario.

Darren Stewart-JonesThe Judy Monologues is a one-act play based entirely upon rare voice tapes recorded by Judy Garland in the mid-1960s for her never-written autobiography. Conceived and directed by Darren Stewart-Jones, the original production featured vintage film clips of Garland from MGM’s Till the Clouds Roll By. The Judy Monologues premiered at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto, Ontario in September 2010 and subsequently played The Pearl Company in Hamilton, Ontario. Performed by three male actors as a tribute to Garland’s influence on the gay community, the original cast featured Philip Cairns, Ryan Fisher and Darren Stewart-Jones. Nigel Gough (1982–2010) was the understudy. A Garland lookalike, Kimberly Roberts, also appeared in silent vignettes. An abridged version of the play was performed in London, Ontario as part of the London One Act Festival in April, 2011. Philip Cairns won Best Actor at the festival’s awards ceremony. The play also received two additional awards – special mentions for the concept and the audio/visual content. The Judy Monologues was performed at the 2012 Toronto Fringe Festival. Michael Hughes replaced Ryan Fisher in his role. A revamped version of The Judy Monologues was performed at the 2013 Hamilton Fringe Festival as a one-woman show, with Elley-Ray Hennessy portraying Garland to rave reviews. The Judy Monologues will be performed at the 2015 SpringWorks Festival in Stratford, Ontario.

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The Judy Room:  The tapes Judy Garland made in the hope of publishing a biography are not always “the best of Judy Garland.” Do you think they are an accurate depiction of her?

Darren Stewart-Jones:  I believe the tapes are an accurate depiction of Garland at a certain time in her life.

JR:  Many admirers of Garland may not want to see her through tapes for which she was not always sober or coherent. What do you say to those who might criticize you for your choice of sources?

DS-J:  We use what I believe are the best bits of the recordings. This piece of theatre celebrates Garland. Audiences leave with a respect for her talent and an insight into what it might be like to be one of the most famous people on the planet and an understanding of the kind of stress that level of fame might have on an individual.

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JR:  The double CD Judy Garland Speaks!, on which The Judy Monologues are based, is a bootleg never meant for public consumption. Garland herself would most certainly never have approved its public release. Did you have any moral qualms in using source tapes meant to remain private?

DS-J:  I would argue that the tapes were recorded as notes for a potential autobiography, so she must have expected that someone, somewhere would hear them. The fact that they exist as archives to this day is fascinating to me.

JR:  In his 2000 biography Get Happy, Gerald Clarke, like you, doesn’t wear rose-tinted glasses in dealing with his subject. Do you think that so many years after her death, the public is entitled to know everything about Judy Garland? Or do you believe she should be depicted in her best light?

DS-J:  I think many of us are intrigued by celebrity. Personally, I enjoy biographies written about individuals who reach the pinnacle of their chosen field as Judy obviously did. I am interested in what makes someone like Garland so unique. What is behind the genius and the talent?

JR:  At your blog, you state that the play was written “as a tribute to Garland’s influence on the gay community.” In a recent New York Times article by Robert Leleux, he states that Judy’s influence on gays today is over. Is “Judyism” dead or alive?

DS-J:  The original version of the play was performed by three male actors (including myself) in a gay theatre in Toronto, so in that sense it was a tribute. I think gay men have always had a fascination with female Icons. I was born the same month and year that Garland died, so she wasn’t exactly current when I was growing up but I was immediately drawn to her talent and to her life story when I discovered her. I believe all of the great performers continue to influence future generations, gay or straight.

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JR:  On the source tapes, Judy depicts herself as a victim. She also states that “being Judy Garland is quite a chore.” Do you think gays are victims? Do you think being gay is a chore?

DS-J:  I don’t consider myself as a victim or my sexuality as a chore. Life in general is probably easier for straight people but I came out at a very young age and luckily, have managed to surround myself with supportive individuals. I am also a white male so I have never personally experienced race or gender inequality.

JR:  Do you think straight audiences can appreciate Judy Garland, and your play?

DS-J:  The audience members I most enjoy meeting are the ones who know nothing about Judy other than that she was the girl in The Wizard of Oz. This play is an educational experience for many who come to see it. Remember, the monologues are interpolated with film footage of Garland from her Hollywood heyday. Several audience members haven’t previously seen the clips we use nor do they know anything about her personal life prior to seeing the play.

JR:  The play has been performed by three male actors, and more recently by a female actress. Do you prefer males or a female to play Garland? Why?

DS-J:  The initial version of the play (with three actors) was more of a workshop.  I was still trying to figure out how to use the material most effectively. I then had the good fortune of meeting Elley-Ray (who plays Judy) while working with her on another project. She is one of Toronto’s finest actresses. As a vocal coach, she is adept at mimicking people’s speech patterns and as an actress she bares her soul as Garland. A local theatre critic called her “Garland reborn” in his review of the play. You need to be at the top of your game to play Garland convincingly.Judy Monologues 2

JR:  Did you see Peter Quilter’s End of the Rainbow with Tracie Bennett? If yes, what did you think?

DS-J:  I saw End of the Rainbow in the West End. I thought Tracie’s performance was incredible. I really thought she was going to win the Tony after being nominated for the Broadway run of the show. The year she was nominated, the awards ceremony took place on the date of Judy’s birthday. Unfortunately, she didn’t win but she’s a great performer nonetheless. I have actually written a script for a musical about Garland myself. I’m hoping to produce it in the near future.

JR:  The tapes The Judy Monologues uses were made in the 1960s, when Judy was not always in physically or financially good shape. Just like End of the Rainbow, it concentrates on her anguish rather than her artistry. Why does her decline seem to be of greater interest than her glory days?

DS-J:  Any story has to have conflict in order to drive the plot and capture an audience’s attention. Judy is quite angry and bitter during some of the monologues but we also see her vulnerability, her intelligence, her love for her children and especially her sense of humour.

JR:  The play has been performed since 2010. What has been the public reaction? Has it evolved since it first opened?

DS-J:  Well, the fact that we are still performing the show five years later tells me that people are still interested in this story. Every time I think I have put it to bed, another opportunity to perform the play presents itself. Working with Elley-Ray is a collaborative process. We change the script here and there each time we go back to visit it. We have taken bits and pieces of the tapes and merged them together to make the story more coherent. I am also adding more film footage of Judy this time around.

Judy Monologues 6JR:  Has your perspective on Judy Garland changed since The Judy Monologues first opened? How so?

DS-J:  I am still in love with Judy as much as I ever was, if not more so.

JR:  Since the play has been performed so far in Canada, do you find Canadians have a different take on Garland than elsewhere?

DS-J:  I think her appeal is universal. Our Ontario audiences have been great. I’m looking forward to the show being performed internationally one day.

JR:  Why do you think Judy Garland is remembered today, ninety-two years after her birth and forty-five years after her death?

DS-J:  If I knew the secret to that, I would bottle it. She had a gift. Perhaps it’s as simple as that.

© 2015  Scott Brogan, The Judy Room & Judy Garland News & Events


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