Taylor Mac: how a 24 -hour pop odyssey redefines American history
The performer is embarking on an ambitious project a 246 -song marathon performance that seeks to sum up a new, queer vision of America
A couple of weeks ago, Taylor Mac spent the evening rehearsing a number from A 24 -Decade History of Popular Musicat St Anns Warehouse in Brooklyn. An ecstatic and skeptical exploration of American song, Macs project is divided into eight three-hour concerts that will eventually be scrunched together into one 24 -hour cathexis.
The number at hand was Tiptoe Through the Tulips and Mac was rehearsing an epic dance-off between 12 ukulele-strumming Charles Dickenses and 12 tapping Tiny Tims. As none of the strummers or hoofers had been called to rehearsal, Mac was alone onstage.
It didnt seem that route. Mac constructed the tinselswagged platform feel crowded, hectic, delirious. A sometimes solo artist with titanic presence, outsized glamour, and coruscatingly queer sensibilities, Mac can fill a room as awesomely as the gods of the Homeric hymns, who would cast off their human disguise and abruptly soar to the ceiling.( He can display a gods cruelty, too. Especially if youre a patron with a bourgeois air and an aisle seat .)
But offstage, bereft of eyeliner and trash-drag couture, Mac looks virtually poignantly human with a bald head, sad eyes and a demure smile. Mac prefers the equivocal gender pronoun judy, which is, Mac says, its own performance art piece and its own fun, but when garmented down he presents as male. Theres something almost childlike about Mac and you can glimpse that queer kid from the California suburbs, who first found refuge in community theater and then in the wild club scene.
Macs oeuvre includes pieces in which Mac has imagined the apocalypse, played a sentient bloom, portrayed Macs dead fathers former pen pals. Mainstream culture is not exactly judys thing, but for the past five years, Mac has heard America singing, then selected 246 ballads that define the country from 1776 for the purposes of this, finally working with the pianist and arranger Matt Ray to adapt them for Macs voice( a warm and unexpectedly hardy tenor) and for an orchestra that begins with 24 musicians and shrinks to simply one. The producer Mark Russell, an early champ of Macs, calls the result a magical act and a music act and a complete surprise at all times.
Mac describes the show, being carried out by more than 200 people, as a revolutionary fairy realness ritual. Like Macs last piece, the more or less realistic Hir, A 24 -Decade History isnt an outwardly political work. But the popular songs and the tales Mac swirls around them are designed to make American audiences face up to the nations past, especially the parts of the past that weve repudiated, stifled, scaped. A 24 -Decade History offers a return of the repressed. This time the repressed is wearing sequins and a hot-pink merkin.
Its about were all in this room together and we happen to have this history on our back, Mac says. How do we deal with it?
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