With Pride, Taylor Mac "Sings America Indeed"
With an extensive, exquisite career in the theatre, Academy alumnus Taylor Mac (’96) loves to pull at traditional techniques and turn them on their head. 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, Mac has worked in theaters across the globe, from New York to Los Angeles and Sydney to Stockholm, all with a uniquely Mac style.
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—a style judy continues to pioneer.
Mac remembers navigating the industry with both confusion and awe during judy’s first years out of drama school: “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. Throughout the day-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 (a feat unto itself) 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 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 as the recipient of the Sydney Theatre Award for Best New Play in 2017, Hir has become an important piece of contemporary theatre. The play is analyzed in drama classes around the country signaling its presumed importance in shaping the future of the American 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 most gruesome plays. In the midst of this brutality, Mac wasn’t afraid to indulge in some over-the-top comedy, with a particularly jarring stage direction reading: “There is at least 1,000 corpses on the stage,” that opens the play. With its thousand corpses, the play was uplifted by creative sets and staging, costumes and makeup, all that set the show apart from others on Broadway. While Gary cleans up the lifeless, mangled remains of Romans, he questions the purpose of his own life. The play received seven Tony Award nominations.
It seems fitting for Mac, who has a taste for cabaret-style theatre, would have developed a holiday show. Titled Holiday Sauce, Mac put the show online and appropriately titled it Holiday Sauce…Pandemic! during the coronavirus pandemic that swept across the globe. Unable to follow an in-person touring schedule, the production was broadcast internationally just in time for the holidays.
Last spring 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.”
With Whitman in the Woods, 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 (one that is often overlooked) to the poet's work. 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.
Mac’s inclination to bring a queer lens to historical LGBTQ+ figures continues with The Hang. 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.”