Thank God for Taylor Mac.
I’ve only ever loved judy (Taylor Mac’s preferred pronoun) from afar through articles, youtube clips and stories from others. I came close to seeing judy perform at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. The tickets were bought months in advance but it turned out I had tech for a show and couldn’t attend. Devastated, I sent a playwright friend as my proxy and he brought me back a ping-pong ball that had been bounced off of Taylor’s bare bottom. I cherish it.
Taylor Mac is an enigma. Part drag queen, shaman, Elizabethan fool, cartoon character, fashion icon, fortune teller, life coach and goddess.
Here is one of my favorite clips of judy:
You see what I mean? There is some magic here (I don’t know how else to describe it).
In 2013, Taylor wrote a manifesto of sorts called “I Believe” for the “From Where I Stand” symposium at the Under the Radar Festival. I use it as a theatrical bible of sorts. It reminds me of what is important and what is possible. It gives me strength and encourages me to do better.
“I believe, to learn what your audience needs, is the job but caution that sometimes we confuse need with want. Giving our audiences what they want is not the job. Sometimes giving them what they want is a fringe benefit or happy accident but it is not the job. I believe you may be saying to yourself, “That’s very presumptuous of him to think he knows what the audience needs” but I believe if I were a plumber you wouldn’t think it was presumptuous of me to say my job is to learn what your plumbing needs. You would say I was a good plumber.”
I love this. It simultaneously it holds artists responsible for the work we create while also empowering us. I can’t tell you how many times I have diminished what I do because I assume that’s how other people think of it (me). Screw that. I want to hold myself to this responsibility and authority. It forces me to consider audience from the beginning of a process. It reminds me how I need to love them. And on that note:
“Most importantly I believe in surprise and that if you want to remind your audiences of the things they have dismissed, forgotten, or buried, then you need to surprise them.
I believe, in the theater, something surprising should happen every ten seconds.
And that, that surprise does not have to be big; it can be a breath.”
This is an essential quote for me. It speaks to the quality of theater making more than anything else. If everyone in the room is really listening and working moment-to-moment there are an endless number of possible surprises. This sensibility applies to actors, designers as well as administrators. Sometimes I imagine I am creating tiny gifts for the audience throughout the course of a play.
As an audience member, the theater events that have changed my life are the ones where I couldn’t assume what was going to happen next. There is a feeling of discovering together.
Taylor also talks about the difference between surprise and shock: surprise opens people up and shock shuts them down. I believe this to be an essential truth of the theater. I mean, everyone’s threshold of surprise vs. shock is different (and I know plenty of audience members who might not know the difference) but if we are always making theater in the hopes of opening people up we are treating our audience with generosity and compassion.
If you would like to watch Taylor read “I Believe” click here and go to 36:22.
Taylor Mac is also my hero because judy is a risk taker. Really. Whenever I think, “I probably can’t do this” I look to see what Taylor is up to and feel empowered. Taylor Mac is not afraid of failure, judy embraces it.
Taylor Mac is currently in performances of A 24-Decade History of Popular Music which will culminate in a 24 hour marathon performance on October 8 – 9. That’s right, judy will be performing for 24 hours.