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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Taylor Mac closes out APAP 2017 on 'calamitous' and riotous note

Taylor Mac discusses his "24-Decade History of Popular Music"

"We are living in a time when people are using the literal meaning of a metaphor to disprove fact," said Taylor Mac at the closing plenary of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters' APAP|NYC 2017 conference at the Hilton Hotel yesterday.

But what really got the audience going was his initial shout-out: "What's gonna happen?" Of course, everyone in the arts crowd knew to whom the acclaimed actor, playwright, performance artist, director, producer, and singer-songwriter was referring to.

"There's a calamity in the air," Mac continued, not naming the unnameable, and surely telling his listeners what they already knew. "Every person I pass on the street has that look on their face--the look of, 'What's going to happen?'"

Mac continued, uproariously: "No matter who you voted for, everyone has the expression of 'everybody hates me.' It's palpable--like you could scrape the coagulation out of their faces and make stir fry out of it!"

This, he said, was an acknowledgement of "the elephant in the room."

"Everything can go wrong," said Mac, "[but] if you acknowledge it, maybe it won't [and] if you think it might be okay, maybe it will be."

Mac merged these acknowledgements into the bulk of his talk, which centered on his ambitious show from last year, A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, in which he performed 246 popular songs covering 240 years (1776-2016) in 24 hours—"building bonds through exhaustion!"

But he also saw the marathon performance as a means of "dreaming the culture forward," and projected it into his "what's gonna happen" theme. Recounting his many trials and challenges in conditioning himself for the show, he spoke of "our ability to incorporate calamity to overcome oppression" and urged the audience to "be makers instead of markers."

"The world I want is not utopian," Mac thundered. "It has obstacles"—one being, he joked, that "revolutions are halted by the musical director's brief lapse in memory."

Returning from 24-Decade History to his opening theme, he said, "No, it's not an actual elephant in the room, but the Arctic is melting," and lest they forget, "Trump is elected." But he said that he was "trying to cut down on hyperbole so as not to sound apocalyptic."

"We in this room are not on our death beds," Mac affirmed. "We will be one day, but we do not get to pretend without being challenged."

He proclaimed: "We believe art is going to change the world." And after all this calamity, he reiterated, "What's gonna happen?"



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