Performer and playwright Taylor Mac will, for only the second time, be performing all 24 hours of his epically ambitious A 24-Decade History Of Popular Music this fall at The Curran. The wildly inventive and partly improvisational musical play, which Mac has workshopped and performed in pieces both in New York and across the country over the last several years, has only had one continuous, 24-hour performance, last October at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn with Mac himself on stage all 24 hours, often in platform heels. Producer and patron Carole Shorenstein Hays says, "I am thrilled to be welcoming the exceptional mastermind Taylor Mac back to the Curran. That he will be gracing our stage with the show in its entirety for the first time since that ever so magical evening in Brooklyn, makes me very excited for the Curran and for the Bay Area as a whole."
Hays previously booked Mac at the Curran during its Under Construction series in January 2016, doing only six of the 24 hours of the piece over two weekends and I reviewed Act 2: 1806-1836 here. Mac performed with his orchestra and troupe of "Dandy Minions" (a rotating cast of local performers and stagehands) with both the audience and performers sharing the Curran stage, the curtain and main theater at his back, while the theater itself was under renovation. The full-scale production will be done in six-hour segments over four days in September, spanning two weekends, and this time with an entire house full of seats and no one sitting on the floor.
It's a co-production of the Curran and Stanford Live, in association with Magic Theatre and Pomegranate Arts. And most recently, the show was a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and it won the Edward M. Kennedy Award for Drama Inspired by History.
The four parts in which Mac performs and reinterprets over 240 songs, about ten per decade per hour, beginning with America's independence in 1776, all through a radical queer lens and touching on moments affecting minority communities in each decade will be as follows:
- Friday, September 15 at 5pm (Chapter 1: 1776-1836): The American Revolution from the perspective of the yankee doodle dandy, the early woman’s lib movement, an epic battle between drinking songs and early temperance songs, a dream sequence where the audience is blindfolded and the heteronormative narrative as colonization.
- Sunday, September 17 at 2pm (Chapter II: 1836-1896): Walt Whitman and Stephen Foster go head to head for the title of Father of the American Song, culminating in the queerest Civil War Reenactment in history. Oh, and: a production of The Mikado set on Mars.
- Friday, September 22 at 5pm (Chapter III: 1896-1956): A Jewish tenement, a WWI trench, a speakeasy, a depression, a zoot suit riot all make the white people flee the cities.
- Sunday, September 24 at 2pm (Chapter IV: 1956-the present): Bayard Rustin’s March on Washington leads to a queer riot, sexual deviance as revolution, radical lesbians, and a community building itself while under siege.
Following this complete performance of the piece, Mac will be doing an abridged, three-hour version on the Stanford campus and prior to the Curran performances, he and his company will be working in residency with Stanford students, some of whom will have the opportunity to perform in, or work backstage on, the Curran and Stanford performances.
Mac has said that he was first inspired to create this piece in San Francisco, participating in the first AIDS Walk here in 1986. As he puts it, via the New York Times, bringing together parts of his New York company with members of the Bay Area theater community "allows the form of the creation to mirror the content of the work: a community building itself through the performance of all that history and music on our backs."
And he is no stranger to intensely long theatrical creations that ask almost as much of their audiences as they do of the performers. Previously, he brought his five-hour-long The Lily's Revenge to the Magic Theatre in 2011, which like the Brooklyn performance of this latest work, required meal breaks.
In a 2016 interview with the Curran, Mac said he was inspired to make this epic sort of "durational" theater by the incredibly complex, grief-ridden, and cathartic circumstance of that first AIDS Walk when he was a queer teenager living in Stockton. "I wanted to put the audience in a situation in which they are under some kind of complicated circumstance and I’m under some sort of complicated circumstance and as a result of falling apart together we’re building bonds."
A 24-Decade History Of Popular Music will move on to be restaged in Spring 2018 in Los Angeles, at the Theater at Ace Hotel, again in four six-hour segments, and the abridged version will also be performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington on March 6, 2018, and at Arizona State University in Tempe on April 27, 2018.
You can sign up at the Curran's website to be alerted when tickets go on sale, and this will, in fact, be the next show occurring at the theater following a four-month hiatus, following the current run of The Encounter.
Below, a behind-the-scenes look at A 24-Decade History Of Popular Music from the January 2016 preview run.