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  • Writer's pictureAugust Sorenson

Revisiting Taylor Mac's Career for Pride Month '24

Called a “shape-shifter of the highest order” by Elisabeth Vincentelli of The New York Times, Taylor Mac (’96) is an expert at reimagining classics. A recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship (the “Genius Grant”), winner of the Drama League Award, the Guggenheim Award, the International Ibsen Award, and a Pulitzer Prize finalist, Mac has worked in theaters across the globe. From New York to Los Angeles and Sydney to Stockholm, Mac’s eclectic style is borderless.

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 as a young actor in New York. 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.

Mac remembers navigating the industry with both confusion and awe during post-graduation years: “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.” 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. The piece has garnered acclaim for its length (a 24-hour concert!) and frequent audience involvement (at one point, audience members have an unhinged ping-pong match).

“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 drama is based in part on Mac’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 The Great White Way. 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 curtain rises on Gary, a janitor tasked with cleaning up the mounds of corpses left at the conclusion of Titus Andronicus, one of Shakespeare’s bloodiest plays. In the midst of this brutality, Mac wasn’t afraid to indulge in some over-the-top comedy; a stage direction demands “at least 1,000 corpses on the stage” at the play’s opening. The pile of corpses is complimented by creative sets and staging, costumes, and makeup, which set the show apart from others on Broadway. While Gary cleans up the mangled remains of lifeless Romans, he questions the purpose of his own life. The play received seven Tony Award nominations and ran for 65 performances.

In May 2021, Mac performed Whitman in the Woods, a project exploring one of America's most prolific writers, Walt Whitman. The project debuted Mac as the first artist-in-residence for ALL ARTS, a new position for the multimedia platform with a “devotion to numerous artistic genres.” Whitman in the Woods is light and comedic, with Mac sporting drag and bringing a queer perspective to the poet’s work. 

Mac’s inclination to bring a queer lens to historical LGBTQ+ figures continued with The Hang in 2022. Described as a “ritual celebration of queerness, questions, and the eternity of a moment,” The Hang is “rooted in the jazz tradition and operatic form, it imagines the final hours of the life of Socrates.” The show was hailed by critics for its ability to capture, and speak to, the moment.

In the spring of 2024, Taylor Mac starred in the Sarah Ruhl adaptation of Orlando in New York. The “fantastical trip through space, time, and gender,” starts with a young Orlando serving as courtier to Queen Elizabeth I, to, after centuries of life, a 20th-century woman figuring out her place in the Roaring Twenties. Mac graced the stage as Orlando one last time on May 12th, concluding a successful run at The Signature Theatre.

For more about the artist, check out judy's website.


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