Tonight is the opening of Taylor Mac's A 24-Decade History Of Popular Music, being performed at the Curran from start to finish (in four parts on four separate days, separated across two weekends) for only the second time ever, following a single continuous 24-hour performance last fall in New York as well as a two-part preview of sorts at the Curran in January 2016. Mac has called his work "durational theater," and "a Radical Faerie realness ritual sacrifice," and for those who have signed up to see all four six-hour installments, you will perhaps have a new understanding of what he means by those things once it's all over.
"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," Mac has said about the piece, which involves both scripted and unscripted moments, audience participation, and Mac himself performing hundreds of songs spanning two and a half centuries that were either broadly popular in American culture or at least popular in some segment of it at some point in our nation's history. And lest you think this is going to double as a rote US history lesson that hits all the well known events of each decade, Mac has constructed his history of the US not only around music but around the stories of oppressed, marginalized, or dispersed groups, sometimes through fictionalized accounts of imagined people. Feminists, for instance, figure into the 1910s and the 1990s, but also into the Revolutionary War period. He has the entire audience put on blindfolds to celebrate the invention of braille in 1824. And Native American and queer stories figure heavily into the 19th Century. (Mac also promises, in Sunday's Chapter II, "the queerest Civil War reenactment in history.")
In the video above, Mac talks about the original genesis of this epic performance piece, which came when he was 14 years old, growing up in Stockton, and coming to San Francisco for the very first AIDS Walk.
"It was the first time I'd ever seen an out homosexual, and the first time I ever saw one it was thousands of them at the same time," Mac says. "There is a history in our nation of queers and yet in all of my education I hadn't been taught anything about anything queer... There's such a force to discredit that there ever was a queer history. They'll give us Walt Whitman, begrudgingly."
The video was made by the Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College, where Mac brought the first three-hour segment of Chapter I (1776-1806) in the fall of 2015, and where he first toured around some old churches and museums in Hanover, New Hampshire and Vermont looking for inspiration to add to the performance. He says that a practice he wanted to use in the 24-hour performance, in which a person with a stick with a feather on the end of it goes around waking up any audience members who fall asleep, came from one of the 18th Century churches he toured in New England.
Tickets are still available for Mac's four performances at the Curran. Tickets for tonight's Chapter I (beginning at 5 p.m.) can be found here starting at $49, and $35 rush tickets may still come available on the Today Tix app. Discounts are available for packages of two or more of the chapters, with Chapter II beginning at 2 p.m. Sunday, Chapter III at 5 p.m. on Friday, September 22, and Chapter IV at 2 p.m. on Sunday, September 24. Mac will then be doing an abridged version of the show at Stanford on September 27.
For a primer on who and what the Radical Faeries are, local writer Andrew Sean Greer just wrote this piece for the Curran, by way of dramaturgy.
And if you didn't see it already, please watch the glorious promo Mac shot with his Dandy Minions earlier this year in San Francisco.
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