Taylor Mac opens LIFT 2016 at Hackney Empire
Clad in killer heels, a sequinned gown and headdress, Taylor Mac owns the stage unlike any other performer. How better to begin Lift Festival? As a theatre artist, Mac is not just an actor, he’s a playwright, singer-songwriter, cabaret performer, producer and sometimes director. He takes many forms, as does this show, in which he shifts from witty speeches on present inequality to powerful renditions of 20th century pop songs. The show is part of Mac’s larger project, a 24-Decade History of Popular Music, 24 hours’ worth of performance split over two weeks, which intends to explore the ways that imperfection can foster a community. He works with pop songs because they aim to speak to the people and thus they reveal society’s imperfections. If anyone can pull off a 24-hour show it’s Mac, who soars with fabulous witty energy. This evening’s offering, at just over two hours, is shorter in length, but equally crammed full of material.
Mac likes to talk; he cuts off songs and addresses the audience, holding a continuous conversation with the crowd, often gliding down the bannister into the stalls. The audience is made to participate at several points: crying like babies, having a sing-off against other audience members. At one-point Mac drags two helpless volunteers on the stage and has them accompany his singing by making breathy throat noises. Whilst it is undoubtedly a fun experience, it is also politically knowing – Mac challenges conceptions of gender, racial and sexual inequality, insisting all the time that he is critiquing America’s prejudices not ours, but that ours are likely to be the same.
As a performer he is unforgettable; his songs retain emotional intensity even when they veer into the territory of cabaret. It is over-the-top, but not for the sake of it; it makes moments when he speaks to the audience honestly more powerful. His recollection of the AIDS march he attended as a child in 1987, is especially touching.
This is theatre like never before. It’s performance art, Mac tells the audience, “so any audience response from awkwardness, disgust, adoration, amusement means I have succeeded”. The show takes the form of a “radical fairy ritual sacrifice” that intends to rid its viewers of the cares and worries they have in the 20th century. Who knows if it will succeed in this, but it certainly opens a world of different theatre.
Taylor Mac was on for one night only to open LIFT 2016 on 1st June.
For further information about Taylor Mac and future events visit here.
For further information about LIFT 2016 visit here.
Watch a clip from Taylor Mac’s performance here: