Kicking off Pride Month with alum Taylor Mac
Taylor Mac (Class of 1996) has one of the most extensive, eclectic, and exquisite careers in the theatre. Recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship (the “Genius Grant” as it's known informally), winner of the Drama League Award, the Guggenheim Award, the International Ibsen Award, and a Pulitzer Prize finalist, Taylor Mac has worked in theaters across the globe, from New York to Los Angeles and Sydney to Stockholm.
Mac's determination to create theatre goes beyond a desire to merely entertain. judy (lowercase sic)—which Mac uses as a gender pronoun—creates theatre intended to challenge audiences. After graduating from The Academy, Mac penned several plays, and in 2002 “The Face of Liberalism” made its premiere at the Slide Bar in New York City, debuting Mac's cabaret style to New York audiences—a style which judy has pioneered ever since.
As a young actor in New York, Mac remembers navigating the industry with both confusion and awe. “I discovered this club world that was so fascinating in the sense that there were rules, but they were completely different. You didn’t have to ask permission to be creative—you could just show up and do it,” judy says. A “liberating” way to view art, Mac holds this close and creates work that goes against typical social constructs.
Premiering in 2016, Mac unveiled a 24-hour epic titled “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music.” Throughout the days long journey, audience members are transported decade-by-decade through the history of the United States, from 1776 to the present. Each decade receives one hour, extravagant costuming, and ten songs from the time. The piece has garnered widespread acclaim for its length and frequent audience involvement. (At one point, audience members have an unhinged ping-pong ball match.) It’s nothing shy of brilliant.
“The show is about different communities that are building themselves because they're being torn apart... the AIDS epidemic—the queer community built itself because of the epidemic and because of the government and how it was treating queers at the time,” says Mac.
In 2013, “Hir” (pronounced “here,” and the preferred gender pronoun of Max, the play's protagonist) debuted at the Magic Theater in San Francisco. A dramedy (though Mac prefers to think of it as absurd realism), “Hir” is “a piece that is addressing homogeneity and heterogeneity, and it is trying to be multiple things in a world that’s asking it to be one thing.”
The play follows a straightforward “kitchen sink” format and is in-part based on judy’s upbringing in Stockton, California. “We always think of the prodigal son as the metaphor for America, what if the metaphor for America was the transgender kid.” Mac begs the question: “What does that do to our understanding of the United States?”
With over 70 productions and the recipient of the Sydney Theatre Award for Best New Play in 2017, “Hir” has become an important piece of contemporary theatre.
It wasn't until 2019 that Mac's work made it to Broadway, however. “Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus” made its premiere at the Booth Theatre on April 21st of that year, with Nathan Lane in the titular role. The survivor of the massacre, Gary is tasked with cleaning up the mounds of corpses left at the closure of “Titus Andronicus,” one of Shakespeare's bloodiest plays. With stage directions reading “There is at least 1,000 corpses on the stage,” the play lent itself to high production value with a sardonic twist. Throughout, Gary questions his purpose in life while discarding the mangled remains of lifeless Romans. The production received seven Tony Award nominations.
This past winter, Mac revived his annual holiday show “Holiday Sauce” but this time reimagined as “Holiday Sauce…Pandemic!” Unable to follow an in-person touring schedule, the production was broadcast internationally just in time for the holidays. Across three days of performances, the production reminded viewers of the value of theatre when so many of us were without it.
Recently, Mac performed “Whitman in the Woods,” a project that explores one of America's most prolific writers—Walt Whitman. The project marks the debut of Mac as the first artist-in-residence for ALL ARTS, a new position for the multimedia platform with a “devotion to numerous artistic genres.”
Mac performs several of Whitman's poems outdoors and in drag, with judy's flair for the theatrical. The piece is intended to be light, comedic, and brings a queer lens to the poet's work (one that is often overlooked). Of this, Mac says “Like many others, my introduction to Whitman happened indoors and in an academic, humorless, and heterosexual lens. Whitman was so clearly in love with the outside world and with men, and he had a unique sense of humor. This is our way of finding the fairy in Whitman, by which I mean, the queer and the wood spirit. I sing America indeed.”
For this project, Mac collaborated with Noah Greenberg, a cinematographer making his directorial debut with “Whitman in the Woods.” The project was produced with Pomegranate Arts.
Upcoming, catch Mac performing during Pride in New York.
Discover more about Taylor Mac on judy's website.