Windy City Media Group Frontpage News


home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2022-03-16



PASSAGES Pansy Kings performance artist, education advocate Murray McKay
by Carrie Maxwell

This article shared 2437 times since Thu Jan 20, 2022
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Pansy Kings performance artist, education advocate, curator, designer and LGBTQ activist Edward Murray McKay died Jan. 4 of cancer. He was 53.

McKay was born Oct. 2, 1968, in Brussels, Belgium. The family moved to Toronto and then Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he spent his early childhood. They then moved to St. Peter, Minnesota, when McKay was 8; he lived there until he went to college.

When Murray was 12, he starred in a production of Oliver at Mancato State University; his performance was highlighted in the Mancato Free Press. Years later, he studied communications at Bradley University before transferring to Indiana's University of Evansville, where he received his bachelor's degree in theater performance. McKay also got his Masters of Fine Arts in interdisciplinary performance art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and trained as an actor at Chautauqua Institute Theatre Conservatory.

While at Bradley, McKay took part in theater productions such as Ted Tally's play Terra Nova, in which he played the villain Roald Amundsen; and Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, as Demetrius.

McKay's academic career included stints in senior leadership enrollment roles at SAIC; Bowling Green State University, in Bowling Green, Ohio; Studio Arts Centers International, in New York City and Florence, Italy; Parsons School of Design at The New School in New York City and Paris; Drexel University's Westphal College of Media Arts and Design, in Philadelphia; and, most recently, at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA).

During McKay's 21 years as an education enrollment leader, he was responsible for thousands of students being able to attend the art and design colleges he worked for. This included finding numerous scholarships for students who had no financial resources.

Additionally, McKay was instrumental in opening Parsons School of Design at The New School's Paris campus in 2015. While at MICA, McKay played a vital role during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in his interim senior leadership position on the president's council. At Drexel, he innovated marketing presentations. He also received over a dozen awards for his achievements.

While living in Chicago, McKay made a name for himself as an actor and performance artist including a stint with the Pansy Kings. McKay started with the Pansy Kings with their second holiday pageant at the now-defunct Live Bait Theater in 1995 as "Dingle Barrie," Santa's favorite drag elf. He also took part in the Pansy Kings first show at Park West in 1996 as the "Cookie Diva" and a reunion performance in 2003 among other appearances with the group.

McKay performed at Millie's Orchid Show playing various characters. He appeared in Shakespeare's The Tempest at Victory Gardens and starred as Norman Bates in Psycho: An American Musical among other roles. McKay also worked for a time on the technical staff of the Blue Man Group Chicago.

Additionally, he worked at the Northalsted eclectic clothing store Flashy Trash, where he expressed himself through his colorful outfits.

He met husband Gregory Downer seven years ago. Downer is an artist and graphic designer, including his longtime stint as the art director of Metropolitan Opera Guild, Inc's Opera News.

Downer said that from the minute they met, there was a strong bond and it was destined that they would be together forever. They got married in October 2020 in what Downer called a "pandemic wedding" with an officiant and one witness: their friend Chris Welles Feder.

McKay was also involved with many organizations, including the NAFSA: Association of International Educators Creative Industries Member Interest Group, where he served as co-chair since 2018; Council of International Schools International Admissions Counselor; National Art Education Association; National Portfolio Day Association; Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design; Forum on Education Abroad; Arts School Network and College Art Association.

He is survived by Downer, father Dr. John McKay, sisters Johanna and Elizabeth McKay, and countless chosen family members and friends. He was preceded in death by his mother, Sara (Hayden) McKay.

"Murray was and is the light of my life," said Downer. "His infinite kindness, generosity, easy laughter, keen intelligence, compassion and grace will remain with me every day."

"Murray was a luminous light," said longtime friend and former roommate Kristin Amondsen Sassi. "We met in August 1986, his freshman year at Bradley University. He was a magnet: funny, kind, so talented, quirky and mischievous. He was intuitive, articulate, wonderfully polite and hilariously crass when he was feeling wild. Murray made friends wherever he went and loved deeply: children, animals, family and friends.

"Murray was a brilliant creator of whatever he built from the ground up. He was a legendary college roommate, creative genius, and angel who helped others to win multiple individual titles for our speech team. He was my peer coach, loudest cheerleader, collegiate shenanigans partner and was the 'best man' at my wedding. Murray loved costuming and costume parties, sent me wonderful Christmas cards, and left me with so many memories. I feel so very blessed to be his friend. I am so grateful to Murray's loving husband Greg for caring for him in his final days. Murray will forever shine in my heart."

"Murray was like no one else I have ever met," said longtime friend Dave Awl. "He was completely and utterly himself. I first met Murray circa 1986, when we were both on the Bradley University speech team. When I launched the Pansy Kings performance series in 1994, I knew I wanted Murray to be part of it. He eventually joined us for several shows and created the character of Dingle Barrie, Santa's favorite drag elf. Of course he brought the house down.

"Murray had a quality of intense earnestness that was striking. He would tell you just exactly what was on his mind, ready or not. But his sincerity was one of his superpowers in life, I think; it was one of the things you grew to love about him and it served him well as he grew older and more judicious. He was also kind, forgiving and deeply loyal to his friends. I did not get to see much of him in recent years. And like so many of us, I did not get to say goodbye to him in real life, so I will say it here: Murray, you were the best drag elf ever, and a dear friend who will always have a place in the corner booth of my heart."

"Every encounter with Murray was a true joy," said longtime friend Heather Elliott-Famularo. "His laughter and smile were contagious. He had a passion and talent for all art forms. And his design taste was impeccable. Murray told the best stories and he captivated audiences, whether he was giving a recruitment lecture, performing in his wild MFA productions, or simply recounting memories from one of his rousing travel adventures. And he was hilarious. No one could make you laugh more. But most importantly, he was a wonderful friend to so very many people.

"For the past 25 years, he was my best friend, an uncle to my daughters, a colleague and an art partner. We never got to celebrate his marriage to his wonderful husband, Greg, but we were so incredibly happy that he found true love. We are grateful for Greg's passionate care during Murray's trial with cancer and his endless love during that difficult time. I do not know how or when our broken hearts will heal, but I pray that all of Murray's friends and family can grieve peacefully and stay connected so that we can share memories and heal together."

"Murray was one of my dearest friends and family of choice," said longtime friend Rick Anderson. "I met him in 1993, the same year I had lost my partner to the AIDS pandemic, and he literally talked me off the ledge. He was always so kind, polite, funny and enthusiastic. Murray was a key motivation for me to get sober and to accept life on life's terms. He was also a brilliant young Chicago actor and performance artist and so amazing to watch. I was proud of him for pursuing an MFA at School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and for the career in arts administration that followed. My life has been so much richer for having known him. Murray, you were someone rare and special. I will love and remember you always."

Downer is assisting in the process of establishing a scholarship fund in McKay's name to benefit deserving art and design students. For those interested in making donations, visit the Murray McKay Memorial Scholarship at

This article shared 2437 times since Thu Jan 20, 2022
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email


Gay News

About Face to run immersive comedy about climate-change activism
About Face Theatre brings its 27th season to a close with a world premiere comedy created by and starring the About Face Youth Theatre ensemble. Gayme Changers will run June 18-24 at The Den Theater, 1331 ...

Gay News

THEATER Steppenwolf's gay-themed 'Choir Boy' to run June 16-July 24
Steppenwolf Theatre Company will run the Tony-nominated play Choir Boy. by Oscar-winning Steppenwolf ensemble member Tarell Alvin McCraney (Moonlight), on June 16-July 24. Directed by Kent Gash, the production features ...

Gay News

Title: Seagull. Playwright: Anton Chekhov At: Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St.; Tickets: $20-$88. Runs through: June 12 The final test of success for any undertaking lies in how well it accomplishes its intended purpose. ...

Gay News

THEATER Lesbian-cruise drama 'Seven Days at Sea' running thru June 5
Light and Sound Productions is running the world premiere of Seven Days at Sea, written by Martha Hansen and directed by Margaret Knapp, through Sunday, June 5, at The Edge Theater, 5451 N. Broadway. The performance ...

Gay News

THEATER Musical 'Get Out Alive' running July 8-Aug. 7
Haven will continue its 2021-22 season with Nikki Lynette's multidisciplinary afrogoth musical Get Out Alive, co-directed by Roger Ellis and Lucky Stiff, which features the writer and her personal journey with mental health. The production will ...

Gay News

Billy Masters: Theater
"Well, thanks Colin. That's the end of my career. Because you know, that role really should have been mine."—Rupert Everett tells Piers Morgan his reaction when he heard Colin Firth would play the lead in Tom ...

Gay News

PREVIEW Here comes the sun: Summer plays are blooming indoors and outside
There were times when we thought that the sunshine would never return, but despite climate change and contagion, there's no stopping summer—and while we usually associate expanded daylight hours with outdoor activities, a number of theaters ...

Gay News

SHOWBIZ Broadway, JoJo Siwa, WEHO Pride, 'Jurassic World,' Madonna
The Broadway League announced that all 41 Broadway theaters in New York City have extended the current mask requirement for audiences through at least June 30, Playbill noted. Charlotte St. Martin, president of The Broadway League, ...

Gay News

It began in 1834 as an advertising gimmick: In order to promote sales of their Far East Oriental imported goods, the Carnes Brothers procured their company a real-life spokesperson. This was the teenage Afong Moy, known ...

Gay News

THEATER Season of Concern to present 'Jerry's Girls' on June 27
"Jerry's Girls: A Benefit for Season of Concern" will take place Monday, June 27, at 7:30 p.m. at Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. Season of Concern Chicago is dedicated to providing financial assistance to ...

Gay News

Quiz program 'Wait, Wait' to start taping June 16 at the Studebaker
Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!, NPR's weekly hour-long quiz program, will resume live audience recordings Thursday, June 16, in a new Chicago home: the historic Studebaker Theater at the Fine Arts Building, 401 S. Michigan Ave. ...

Gay News

SHOWBIZ Queer playwright, LGBTQ+ films, BMI Pop Awards, new superhero
Jeremy O. Harris, the queer Tony-nominated author of Slave Play, has been named the presiding playwright for the 2023 Yale Drama Series Prize—one of the theater world's most prestigious playwriting honors, Deadline noted. Harris joins the ...

Gay News

Los Angeles LGBT Center mourns passing of legendary LGBT activist, leader Urvashi Vaid
-- From a press release - LOS ANGELES, May 14, 2022—"The world has lost a giant in the movement for LGBTQ freedom, justice and equality. After a valiant battle with cancer, Urvashi Vaid died today," said Los Angeles LGBT Center CEO Lorri ...

Gay News

PASSAGES Urvashi Vaid dies, The National LGBTQ Task Force releases statement
-- From a press release - WASHINGTON, DC……Legendary attorney, LGBTQ activist, and author Urvashi Vaid, known for her extensive career an advocate for LGBTQ rights, women's rights, anti-war efforts, immigration justice and many other social causes ...

Gay News

PASSAGES Dr. David Ostrow dies at 74
Longtime researcher Dr. David Gene Ostrow, of Chicago, died unexpectedly on Feb. 16 at home. He was 74. The cause of death was end-stage renal disease, according to the Tribute Archive website. Ostrow was born on ...


Copyright © 2022 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.






About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam     
Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.