Firing, shaking, howling, boiling with ideologies and catapulting audience members onto the stage (sometimes quite literally), Taylor Mac’s 24-Decade History of Popular Music: the 20th Century Abridged strutted through The Clarice Performing Arts Center with sparkles and a fist raised in the air.
Painting the canvas with laughter, genuine passion and enthusiasm, Mac, who uses the gender pronoun judy, commanded the stage with both the ease and elegance of an autumn wind and a poignant, feral spirit, constantly keeping the audience alert with sexual innuendos, comical stories and profound historical insight.
Which is what judy’s performance is about — is history really history? In what sense is our world different from yesterday? How far or how deep have we evolved from what we thought was in the past?
This wasn’t a history lecture or a sermon. This was a “reminder,” said Mac as he peered into the crowd, his magnificent, glittering sun headdress gleaming under the lights. “I am only reminding you what you already knew, or what has been buried by yourself or by others.”
Boundaries were bent a bit throughout the act—Mac picked certain participants to suit the needs of judy’s next action, whether that may be periodically breathing heavily into the microphone, being serenaded to, or putting on a Nazi armband and placing one’s head on Mac’s shoulder as judy sang and emasculated them.
Martin Wollesen, The Clarice’s executive director, was even brought to the stage, along with two other white men to represent the patriarchy. Mac sang and growled to them from the audience, spewing the demands that the patriarchy imposes on everyone, especially those who challenge gender and racial binaries.
The act concluded with Mac kissing each one on the cheek, earning chuckles, then howls from the audience as he pretended to kiss the last man on the mouth.
Matt Ray, the pianist and supporting vocalist, accompanied judy. The duo’s chemistry and charisma shone so vividly, it seemed like the audience were their puppets, commanded by the piano keys and the spectrum of Mac’s voice.
Were their plans for the future concerning some other worldly pursuits, reflecting from Mac’s sultry, dazzling dress?
Before imagining the future, one must “acknowledge the past … dream the culture forward.”
Singing to Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam,” a song regarding certain events in the black civil rights movement in the 1960s, Mac expressed his reluctance to singing the piece at first, not wanting to culturally appropriate it.
However, an experience at a shopping mall where people were casually humming to it, made him realize the song needed to be revisited, the lyrics needed to be dissected once more in order for society to realize just how far it has come and how far we have to go.
Judy took the chance to highlight the queer civil rights movement by adding, “everyone knows about Indiana,” in reference to the recent controversial law established in the state.
“The things that he chose, even though they were written a long time ago, everything still relates to today. It must have been so much research,” said Rebecca Mount, a junior theatre major.
The full extent of Mac’s research and the challenge to judy’s passion to this project will take place in October 2016 in New York City. After preparing for several years, judy will be under the clock while performing a 24-hour version of this “sample plate”—complete with 24 musicians, 24 burlesque dancers and 24 drag queens, as judy performs songs from each of the decades in the 20th century.
In a city that is notorious for its diversity of characters, dreams, cultures and destruction of norms, Mac’s hybrid child will claim a spot on the shelf, dousing it in gold and a potent voice that will not easily fade away.
Karla Casique is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.