Betty Buckley

Betty Buckley Debuts “The Mayfly” at Palm Springs Cultural Center

Ahead of its premiere screening at the American Documentary and Animation Festival, Betty Buckley discusses her inspiration for her animated short.

Amber Juarez Arts & Entertainment

Betty Buckley

Tony Award winner Betty Buckley felt called to pen a story about a mayfly. She turned the narrative into a seven-minute short that will screen Sunday, March 24, at AmDocs.

New York actor Betty Buckley witnessed a miraculous moment while attending a Judy Collins concert at Café Carlyle in 2019 that curiously sparked her creativity. Amid the twang of the folk musician’s chords, a tiny golden creature danced in the air above Collins onstage, creating beautiful light patterns under the concert glow. That creature was a mayfly.

“The last chord that she played on the guitar, the little mayfly was suspended in space for a second, and then floated down like a little paper boat and landed in her hair,” Buckley says.

After witnessing the mayfly at the concert, a voice in her head kept whispering, “write my story, write my story.” When the Tony Award winner returned home to her ranch in Texas, another tiny golden creature buzzed by her head on the front porch while she was walking her dog late one night, further emphasizing that tiny voice’s big demands.

“I’m very touched by the natural universe and all the creatures that live on our planet,” she shares.

In awe of what she witnessed, Buckley crafted a story about that mayfly’s journey to the cabaret. “It’s been kind of divinely inspired, or there’s been a spirit to this that’s been very touching to me,” Buckley says. “I just kept following the next clue, and the next clues.”

A seven-minute-long animated short, The Mayfly debuts during the American Documentary and Animation Festival (AmDocs) on Sunday, March 24, at the Palm Springs Cultural Center.

Megalyn Mayfly dancing.

A film still shows Megalyn Mayfly dancing.

The central character, Megalyn Mayfly, is born in Central Park under Bow Bridge. As she emerges from the water, she hears music playing in the park and begins to dance to the beat. She confronts her parents, refusing to be confined to the typical mayfly life. After leaving her home, she follows Judy Collins’ pianist and winds up at Café Carlyle, where she is finally able to dance freely.

The main theme in The Mayfly is to break free of societal and social norms and follow your heart. Mayflies, although important to the ecosystem at large, only have a lifespan of three to four days, Buckley says. With such a short amount of life to live, Megalyn must make the most of it.

Buckley herself resonates with Megalyn because of a confrontation she had with her own father when she expressed an interest to pursue acting. Her father served as lieutenant colonel in the Air Force and was strongly opposed to her dreams of becoming a singer and actor. “That’s the thrust of Megalyn’s journey as well,” she says.

Before Buckley moved to New York to become an actor, she majored in journalism and worked for a few newspapers. She went to therapy for many years to give herself permission to do what she believes she is here to do, she shares.

Armando’s Bar

Broadway actor turned animated filmmaker Betty Buckley.

Prior to creating the animation, Buckley wrote the mayfly story as a song. She sent the lyrics to her pianist, seven-time Grammy nominee Christian Jacob, who rejected it, saying it wasn’t a song. “I kept saying, ‘There’s something to this. I want you to score this like a movie. So he finally did,” Buckley says.

While recording the vocals and narration herself, Buckley collaborated with bassist Trey Henry and percussionist Jamey Haddad for the score. After recording the various components, she still didn’t know how to release their new creation. That’s when the lightbulb went off: She would turn it into an animation. Buckley asked DC League of Super-Pets director and friend Sam Levine to listen to the score. He gave her names of animation studios and introduced her to character designer Eugene Salandra, who has worked on numerous Disney shows. Salandra sent sketches immediately and introduced Buckley to award-winning animation director Sue Perrotto.

 “My wonderful assistant of 24 years, Cathy Brighenti, remembered this incredible couple in Austin, Texas, who are independent film producers and friends,” Buckley says. “We sent them the track, and they called us the next day … and said they would pay for the whole thing.”

Megalyn Mayfly and her parents.

Megalyn Mayfly and her parents.

In February 2021, Buckley and her team began working on the animation. She and Perrotoo looked at different animation studios before finally selecting BluBlu Studios.

With The Mayfly screening at AmDocs, Buckley hopes the audience is moved by little Megalyn Mayfly’s journey as she follows her passion — even when it goes against the societal norms of a mayfly’s life.

“I was led on this journey to tell this story,” Buckley says. “I’m delighted by it. I didn’t think of this, I was just inspired by things that really happened.”

Although this is Buckley’s first animation it’s certainly not her last. “I think Megalyn revealed to me that I have a lot of stories to tell,” she says.