It does seem the world is mostly spinning into the toilet. Then a glimmer of nice shows up, today shining a light on amazing tour de force Taylor Mac, in the form of a 2017 “Genius Grant” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Born Taylor Mac Bowyer in Laguna Beach, CA, the treasured theatre artist uses judy, purposely with lowercase, as a gender pronoun. Mac’s list of hyphenates is breathtaking: playwright, actor, singer-songwriter, performance artist, director and producer. Mac’s productions are steeped in all forms of theatre, from Greek to drag, judy being a self-described “fool” and “collagist.” Notable works include The Lily’s Revenge, mounted in 2009, an “allegorical breaking down of binary conventions of sexuality” in which the audience is invited to connect with performers during intermission. HIR (2014) involves changing power dynamics of the nuclear family, with a wife and gender-transitioning teen of a traditional home unit emerging and breaking out of patriarchy. From 2014 to 2016, Mac enacted the impressive spectacle A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, a rethinking of “America’s history through a queer lens,” exploring “the homophobia, racism, and other forms of exclusion that have marked the American experience.” In the work, each decade of U.S. existence is represented by one hour of popular music and historical commentary by judy, usually performed in segments of three or four hours, though in 2016 A 24-Decade History of Popular Music was performed in its 24-hour entirety. The audience is enveloped (as in The Lily’s Revenge) in the extravaganza, with a large group of viewers moved to the stage to represent immigrants arriving to America. For the 1920s portion, Mac sings about packed New York tenements with the entire audience crowded on stage. During the 1966-1976 decade portrayal, a “gay junior prom” occurs with audience members encouraged to dance with a partner of the same gender.
Although Mac is plenty lauded for a prolific body of experimental work, to be a MacArthur Grant fellow is acknowledgement on an extraordinary level. A fellowship is a $625,000 “no-strings-attached award” as an “investment” in the work of the recipient. Judy was chosen for “challenging audiences to reimagine our relationships to one another and demonstrating ways in which the arts can be a tool for inspiring social change.” A sound investment.
If this video of Taylor aka judy singing “Amazing Grace” along the streets of San Francisco doesn’t restore your faith in humanity, you may want to check your pulse.