Return of the Mac

By |2016-01-28T09:00:00-05:00January 28th, 2016|Michigan, News|

Taylor Mac says “it’s good to leave a lot of assumption at the door” when theatergoers attend “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music” at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre in Ann Arbor Feb. 5-6. Mac, who uses “judy” not as a name, but as a gender pronoun, is a playwright, actor, singer-songwriter, performance artist, director and producer. Judy is returning to Michigan to surprise and engage audiences during a three-hour event focused on the period 1956-1986. Mac’s creation, which explores the history of popular music in the U.S. from the 1770s to the present, will culminate in New York City in late-2016 during what’s being called an “ambitious” and “epic” one-time only 24-hour event.
“The older stuff is fun, but it will be nice to hang out with more contemporary people while doing Act Seven for the first time. We haven’t shared any of this decade yet,” Mac says.
Judy will fearlessly tackle subject matter like the 1969 Stonewall disturbances that created the modern-gay rights movement, the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and the decade known for sexual liberation. When the Universal Musical Society of Ann Arbor began its collaboration with Mac, they agreed to bring the community together in a more authentic way by choosing decades people may have experienced or lived through in their lifetime.
“I remember vividly two of these decades. It’s really fun to hear someone interpret a song you knew, loved or have forgotten,” says UMS Director of Programming Michael Kondziolka. “For an artist of Taylor’s skill to reimagine and make sense of these decades … really tumultuous times. This is real stuff he’s singing about. It’s all stuff that’s touched our lives in immediate and direct ways.”
Mac, who has lived and worked in New York City for two decades, was born in 1973 and raised in Stockton, California, where judy says there was an “absence of culture.” Mac relates to the time when “anti-gay people thought they would contract AIDS by simply talking to a gay person.”
Now, Mac’s work is about heterogeneity. “When people are expected to adhere to being one thing, how can you express the full range of who you are? I may be the oddest looking person in the room, but the point is to get everyone to connect with what’s going on. Everybody will feel a little bit of everything. They will see me chaotic and well-crafted, beautiful and ugly, disturbing and calming. It’s varied. That doesn’t happen a lot in performance. I’m creating a tangible thing,” Mac says.
The audience can expect Mac to perform around 30 songs from different artists, but judy says, “I rely on surprise,” and teases only one: Nina Simone, a popular jazz, blues and folk musician in the 1950s and 1960s. Kondziolka added there will probably be some surprise guests, Detroit-based artists, who may join Mac on stage.
Each decade will feature a unique costume designed by Mac’s longtime costume designer Machine Dazzle. They met while working on Mac’s Obie-award-winning play, “The Lily’s Revenge.”
“I can’t spill the beans completely, but you’re going to see some recognizable costume elements. I’m still working on and creating brand new images. Taylor is open and there are many iconic moments I will play with,” Dazzle says, adding that he will transform the theater lobby into a playful gallery inspired by the show. “I am finding it harder to be abstract because a lot of us have been alive during the ’50s through the ’80s. It’s familiar, and I know what it should look like. What I come up with will be unexpected though. The last thing I want is for Taylor to walk on stage and it be exactly what you expect.”

So it might be stilettos, a glitter-bedecked dress and elaborate headgear, or makeup generously applied and sprinkled with sequins. Whatever Dazzle dreams up, it will be another form of communication and a tool they use to help get the story across. “We are of like minds and have a similar aesthetic. I don’t force him to adhere to my vision. We work together. That’s how I treat him and vice versa,” Mac says, adding that performing in drag allows judy to reveal something personal that would normally be hidden in public.
“Off stage, I’m in man drag. I’m presenting masculinity or relative masculinity. On stage, I’m exposing something, taking a risk, showing what I look like on the inside. There is societal pressure to be a certain way and this lets me release things. It helps me perform and express myself,” Mac reveals.
“With this particular show, a day doesn’t go by when I’m not working. It’s a monster, but I love it,” Mac says. “I’m pretty happy with how things are going. I like my down time. I hang out with my lover, we read the paper, cuddle and go to dinner parties. I have dear friends. I’m making really good art. What else do you need?”
UMS supports innovative artists like Mac through their Renegade Series, which is focused on artists who are changing the way we look at and think about performance. “Taylor is an artist whose work I’ve been following for a long time. (Judy) is audacious and thrilling … an interesting choice for our season,” Kondziolka says. “(Judy) is a unique and original voice. Anyone interested in adventure and discovery should not miss (judy’s) performance.”
Time Out New York has called Mac, “One of the most exciting theater artists of our time.” The Village Voice named judy Best Male Vocalist 2015. Mac was also honored with the 2015 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts.
“A 24-Decade History of Popular Music” is created, written, co-directed and performed by Mac, with co-direction by Niegel Smith and music direction by Matt Ray. The work is co-produced by Pomegranate Arts and Nature’s Darlings. Performances will be held at 8 p.m. Feb. 5-6 at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, 911 North University, Ann Arbor. Prices for tickets start at $40 each. For more information or to make reservations, call 734-763-3333 or go online at

About the Author:

Kate Opalewski is BTL's features editor and has been since 2015. She has covered a variety of topics ranging from art, politics and community outreach. Recently, she was honored by the Detroit Police Department LGBT Advisory Board for her work for the local LGBTQIA community.