At the same Art and Social Change event I mentioned in my previous post, and what Jesse Richardson-Bull talks about here, the effervescent Taylor Mac (PGP: “judy”) was slated to speak. Mac was going to be the last to speak after four of judy’s contemporaries, and I was not alone in my anticipation of the wisdom that was surely going to be offered.
I received plenty of wisdom from Taylor Mac, just not in the way I expected.
Three of the speakers, Heidi Latsky, Shanta Thake, and Jessica Bauman, stood and spoke about the theatre they make and how it intersects with activism, accompanied by video examples of some of their amazing work. Chanon Judson, co-artistic director of the Urban Bush Women took the stage, took off her wedge-heel shoes, and literally danced through the origin story of her company. It was one of the most beautiful and generous things I had ever seen in my life. (More blogging about the Urban Bush Women soon, and if she answers the paragraph of questions I Facebook-messaged her, I will float into the aether)
Finally, it was time for Taylor Mac to speak, and I was ready to absorb as much as possible (after all, my dramaturgy presentation on Hir is in a week…) Literally, Mac took the stage, spoke a minimal amount about judy’s work, and then consulted the time, laughed and said, “If I take up any more space here we won’t have time for our panel! So let’s move into that.” And that was it! Everyone moved on to the next thing!
The educator/moderator of this conversation began by directing most of his questions towards Taylor Mac, who answered, but again and again deferred judy’s thoughts to the other members of the panel, referencing their work instead. Mac’s chair was faced inward towards the panel, listening to everything everyone else said and responding thoughtfully and simply when asked more questions. Mac took up the least amount of vocal space in the conversation.
Overall, I was reminded of status and structures of power. It was clear that Taylor Mac was the ‘biggest’ name on the day’s bill, and was potentially uncomfortable with just standing and talking about judy’s body of work. judy acknowledged the structure of power that was in place – with Mac at the top – and within the conversation worked to carefully and generously dismantle it. I’m pretty sure listening to Taylor Mac talk about judy’s body of work is what the audience wanted, not necessarily what we needed. This aligns with a piece of Mac’s unbelievable manifesto that I have been pouring over for the past two months:
“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.”
Essentially, Mac’s inner beliefs on activism in theatre, generosity, and audience were being actively practiced right there in this conversation. It was a marvelous reminder of how everything, at every moment, is the work, and it should be hard to separate our beliefs about theatre from our beliefs about life.