Wow! It’s really hard to find the words to describe this show. First of all, because it is not exactly a show, nor is it a concert. It is a beautiful sharing of Taylor Mac’s enormous talent, intelligence and particular view of the world.
The key aspect of the magic that is created at Hackney Empire is the fact that Mac is one of those rare souls that was born to communicate his emotions and ideas on stage. As he enters the space you feel an energy that you can’t explain, something that is seldom found: an instant bonding with the character standing in front of you.
This character is a drag queen who sings wonderfully and is accompanied by five charismatic musicians. It’s hard not to fall in love with Mac’s appearance; with the way he moves, he speaks, he sings, he makes jokes and he incorporates the audience in the show.
What the LIFT festival production presents in London is just a part of a bigger experience that Taylor Mac and his band are going to present soon: a 24 hour concert, during which over 240 popular songs from the last 240 years of the United States are performed. I was lucky enough to watch two and half hours of it, which represents the twentieth century.
The geniality of it is that through these popular songs, the performer finds triggers to reference themes that have been crucial to the decade he’s portraying and that are still currently undeniable realities.
For instance, Mac finds the space to talk about the war, the relationships between powerful countries, stories of mothers and sons, gender issues in the past and nowadays, AIDS, society’s hierarchy and much more. All of this was addressed to the audience not in a moralist way, but rather with an ironic and funny subtext, that leads you to think about what your principles as an inhabitant of the planet.
What is so fresh about this performance is that it is a mirror of society and it’s not possible to escape the facing of some harsh clichés that we all still take part in.
The audience is required to participate a lot during the show either creating rhythms or just saying hello to the person sitting next to you. There is really no big separation between the stage and the rest of the room, as a spectator, you are part of creating these unique moments and it is clear that some of the text is totally improvised and adapted to the people Mac finds sitting in front of him.
All the song are carefully chosen and bring deep messages with them. Taylor Mac is a wonderful singer and performer and so are the musicians, that have to be ready for the least expected to happen.
Taylor Mac performed at Hackney Empire as part of LIFT Festival on 1 June 2016. For more information see LIFT Festival website.
Photo: Ves Pitts