17 October 2017

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL: Taylor Mac, Chapter I & #QueerGrannySquares

A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, Chapter 1: 1776–1836

Taylor Mac, Pomegranate Arts and Nature's Darlings
11 October 2017
Forum Theatre


Taylor Mac. Hour 1. Photo by Sarah Walker

With a Milky Way of critical stars and superlative quotables, review voices can do little more than add to the glorious noise and love that leaves little room for objectivity when describing Taylor Mac's A 24-Decade History of Popular Music.

One song per year for 240 years over 24 hours. It was performed once over 24 hours last year in New York, but Melbourne gets four shows of six hours. This gives us over a week of being thrilled to count the sleeps until the next show.  

If it somehow hasn't been made clear, by everyone who was at parts I and II, missing parts III and/or IV isn't worth the regret.

One of the many joys I've experienced, so far, was sitting on the stage as one of six people – with Zeb, Dierdre, Daniel, Phil and Julia – who "made things" in respect to the first 30 years of music, that started in 1776. I made #QueerGrannySquares.

About a month ago I crocheted my first #QueerGrannySquare. It was the same week that the not-binding not-votes of survey disgrace started arriving in our letter boxes. I've filled in many government forms and never been so disgusted by one. I still can't get it into my head that our government is so cowardly that they have to ask if we are equal.

Counting down to hour one. I know where I am on the stage.  Photo by Sarah Walker

Reading Facebook on the train one afternoon, I didn't know what to do. I'd seen the "protect my children from the nasty queers" ads, I'd seen the posters that equate having sex with wearing a seat belt – they really aren't doing it right – and I'd been handed pamphlets by Christians who insult every thing that religion and faith stand for; these just made me swear. But this afternoon I saw so many posts from people who were breaking; mostly people who I never thought would break. And if confident, happy and loved people are hurting this much, the damage this vile survey is doing is going to be deep.

I can't stop ignorance, fear and hate, but I can sit on my couch and make rainbows.

Taylor Mac and costume designer Machine Dazzle. Hour 2. Photo by Sarah Walker.

I was inspired by Sayraphim Lothian's live art project A Moment in Yarn. She asked me to tell a happy story and made me a granny square that tells the story of a cat called Flue moving in with me.

The square still sits with Flue's ashes and it still makes me cry; a handmade object can hold a story and a memory so powerfully.

Some of the Dandy Minions. Photo by Sarah Walker

It took me three more years to learn how to crochet (at classie.com.au). I was also inspired by the #PussyHat movement and knitted (I could knit) my first #pussyhat in January on the day of the Women's March in Washington against he whose name I don't need to write. I spent the next couple of months making them for anyone who asked. The cost was do something nice for someone else.

I bought most of the yarn from op shops (charity shops) – every ball had already been used to make someone else's story and the money was going somewhere positive – and some of my favourite moments of this year have been seeing photos of friends and their daughters (and one cat; it was a one off) wearing their hats. Making these hats even rekindled a friendship with someone I knew in kindergarten.

It also connected me with other craftivism projects and it inspired some new #pussyhat knitters. One of them was Daniel.

Daniel didn't tell me that he'd also been chosen to make stuff with Taylor until we both turned up at the theatre with our bags of yarn!

Pre-show on-stage selfie by Daniel Kilby. We were a bit excited.

A few minutes into the show, I whispered to Daniel, "I think I've found my happy place". As an extroverted introvert, there isn't anything much better than being in the best seat, being irrelevant enough to blend in, being surrounded by cool people (the band), only having to interact with one person (a friend) and being able to do something that doesn't involve interacting.

But what was even more amazing was watching the audience. I've been to hundreds –  and hundreds – of shows and I have never seen or felt an audience who were this happy.

And that includes the National Theater of Oklahoma Life and Times: Episodes 1–4  that was so glorious that the friend and I who went together decided that we can't see shows together because it will never be that good again. Bryce, you need to come to Taylor.

Richard Watts being comforted by a stranger. Photo by Sarah Walker

It was more than happy.

Sparklie makes me happy.

Subversion makes me happy.

Deconstructing the heteronormative musical narrative wearing a blindfold makes me happy.

We kept them on for an hour. Photo by Sarah Walker

But Taylor Mac, and everyone his USA company and the Australians who have joined them in Melbourne, have created a space without shame.

Stephen Russell telling his story. Photo by Sarah Walker.

We're dealing with an active campaign that's about creating shame, especially queer shame. It's trying to create shame for being who you are, who you fuck and who you love. It's about making children ashamed before that know who they are. It's about families being shamed for being families. It's disgraceful.

This year, the gorgeous Hannah Gadsby has been talking about the damage done by kind of shame in her show Nanette. It's the best piece of stand up I've seen; it broke me. It's also had all the critical stars and won a pile of awards, but I recommend going to Twitter and reading the responses to its Australian and UK seasons to understand how this piece of theatre is changing lives. There might still be some tickets left for her Hamer Hall shows at the Arts Centre in December. This is the other show that missing isn't worth the regret.

Taylor Mac et al have created a world where this kind of shame doesn't exist.

Taylor Mac. Hour 3. Photo by Sarah Walker.

And even if we're only in that world for a few hours, we're taking its acceptance, love and outrageous kink out of the theatre, into our hearts and our lives. We may not be able to stop ignorance, fear and hate, but we can do everything we can to drown out the shame with as many rainbows as it takes.

Taylor Mac Hour 4. Photo by Sarah Walker

PS. Seeing friends and strangers – on and off the stage – with the squares has also made me so fucking happy that I've cried.

PPS. I have a pile of new mini ones for Wednesday night. If you want one, please just ask.

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