Taylor Mac bills his current touring show as a “history of popular music,” terminology that might suggest a lecture or at least a dry, academic concert.
In fact, what he’s scheduled to create this weekend at OZ Arts Nashville is a sort of Technicolor performance-art cabaret, layering humor and music over a well-researched structure.
Mac's end goal is a 24-hour singing marathon, set to take place later this year. It will start in 1776 and cover 240 years of popular songs, a decade each hour. In preparation, he’s been working through chunks of the material at venues across the nation since 2013.
While the final show will plow straight through from the birth of the United States in 1776, he's jumping from era to era in this initial phase. What's always the same is his approach, illuminating some type of social change while singing and bantering, covered in elaborate, drag-tinged costumes.
Mac expects his audience to take an active role, too, through motion and theater-wide use of props. In San Fransisco, apples and ping-pong balls came into play as he sang music from the years following the Revolution. After one New York show that covered the start of the Eisenhower years, reviews described white audiences being told to move to the suburbs by shifting to one side of the theater. Gay audience members were free to move “downtown” and fill in the spaces that had just opened up among the racial minorities.
That last detail is an important one: inspiration for the show came to Mac during a Gay Pride event in San Fransisco. Woven throughout is an exploration of what it was like to be homosexual in the various stages of American history; commentary about current societal trends; and more generally, how communities of people who are in some way considered “other” form and evolve.
In Nashville, Mac will be tackling the years 1806-1836, and his website gives a hint of what audiences here can expect. For the first decade, 1806-16, he plans to tackle the theme of songs that were popular “while escaping the heteronormative.”
Blindfolds will be handed out for the next hour, which deals with music that was popular with a blind audience. And finally, in the city that the architect of Cherokee explusion, Andrew Jackson, called home (surely no coincidence), he’ll address the Trail of Tears through children’s songs from the late 1820s and early 1830s.
Complete information about this weekend's shows can be found on our Arts Calendar.
View a sample of Taylor Mac's project, from an hour covering the 1890s (includes some language not intended for children).