24 October 2017

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL: Taylor Mac, Chapter IV & Manifesting Pussy

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL 2017
A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, Chapter IV: 1957–present

Taylor Mac, Pomegranate Arts and Nature's Darlings
13 October 2017
Forum Theatre
www.festival.melbourne

Taylor Mac. Photo by Sarah Walker

Is it really time to wash off the Taylor Mac glitter and go back to real life?

Every so often a work changes how we see and make theatre. We are now post–A 24-Decade History of Popular Music and we're going to see its influence on our stages for a very long time.

Every so often a work changes how we see our world and we're going to see its influence in our lives for a very long time.

Taylor Mac, Steffanie Christi'an Mosley. Photo by Sarah Walker

Taylor describes the 24-hour experience as a "radical faerie realness ritual sacrifice" and adds that the audience is the sacrifice. Back in Chapter I, we had no idea of how much of ourselves we were going to willingly sacrifice or how much we had to let go of.

James Tigger! Ferguson. Photo by Sarah Walker

I'm still struggling to find the words that come close to describing the joy and absolute fucking happiness that this work has created. And the uncontrollable tears – that start again as soon as I try to explain and understand why I'm still crying.

When the Forum fire curtain lifted, we were heading to the 1960s – the decade many of us were born. Taylor descended from the gods reprising his rock "Turn! Turn! Turn!" (Matt Ray's musical arrangements deserve their own multi-page review). Looking Jacqui Kennedy–esque with polka dots, soup cans and a USA-flag dress (Machine Dazzle's costume designs also deserve pages), judy was harnessed to matching polka-dot pop-art angel wings, which Machine had made the day before. With finger guns and "BANG", they were a tribute to the Art Deco angel on the fire curtain and a response to gun control – something the political right got right in Australia.


Taylor Mac. Photo by Sarah Walker

And it was time for us white people to flee back to the suburbs at the sides of the room and embarrassingly express our white guilt to the point that we finally dump it and start understanding and sharing our fucking power.

I knew Chapter IV was going to be something else, but I had no idea.

Chanon Judson, James Welsby. Photo by Sarah Walker

I started crying at Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall". I think this was before Nina Simone's "Mississippi  Goddam", when I knew I needed to get to the bar and fill up my water bottle and marvel at the waterproof blue mascara I bought in Tokyo and never thought I'd wear.


Taylor Mac, Viva DeConcini. Photo by Sarah Walker

As I wasn't on a media ticket, I didn't take notes, I turned off my devices and drank gin – leaving Chapter IV a magnificent blur of tears, rock, glitter and joy. (But please read Cameron in The Age and Steph in the Guardian.)

There was Daniel and I squealing at "show tops".

There was the Cold War giant inflatable USA and USSR cocks floating around the audience.

Photo by Sarah Walker

There was slow dancing with Katie at the queer prom to destroy the credibility of a homophobic singer.

Taylor Mac. Photo by Sarah Walker

There was hugging Richard during "Purple Rain" – and only now remembering that it was a section about back room sex parties. But it was the late1980s: a time when friends were dying from AIDS. Taylor was wearing a head piece of skulls screaming in clouds and a coat made of cassette tapes, we'd already sung "Oh Superman", and I didn't know if I wasn't coping or if it was the most powerful hour of my life.

And I  couldn't imagine how my heart was going to melt as we made our way to the present with a manifestation of pussy.

Taylor Mac. Photo by Sarah Walker

Bitch and Animal's "Pussy Manifesto" (look it up; I want it in search engines rather than an easy click) – "Let Pussy manifest and let freedom sing!".

The Womb. Photo by Sarah Walker

Lesbians moved only onto the stage, with beers and a barbeque. Lesbians were front and centre. Without jokes, without question. Women were celebrated. Pussy (I'm even saying "pussy" and I was such a "cunt" reclaimer) was celebrated. For a couple of hours, pussy was central to our world.

Stop reading and try to replace every reference to cock and male power in your world with pussy. Now take away every bit of language that uses women, pussy and cunt as an insult and a reference to weakness. For the last hours of this show, that world existed.

 Taylor Mac. Photo by Sarah Walker

(I nearly didn't wear my #pussyhat when we were making things in Chapter 1, but the company manager said "Yes" when I suggested it. I'll also be saying "Yes!" a lot more from now on.)

 Machine Dazzle, Taylor Mac, Matt Ray. Photo by Sarah Walker

For 24 hours, we'd been part of seeing how communities are built from marginalised, ignored and shamed people being torn apart. We'd been sacrificed, we sacrificed others and everyone who was there became a community where otherness didn't exist.

At the company's In Conversation on Saturday, Taylor said, "Manifest the world that we want by creating the world we want."

We were so involved and so safe that I want to see it all again tomorrow, even if just to see the contributions of the 32 people who came with the company and every other artist who is a part of this experience (their names are in the program). But I suspect I'd be just as involved.

Photo by Sarah Walker

For the last hour Taylor wore a dress made from a giant vulva and sang his own work. The band were gone – one left every hour for the last 24 hours. We sang along and I have never cried so much in a thearte.

I washed most of the glitter off – the glitter I put on in the Forum bathrooms with other women who also hadn't worn glitter since we were in our 20s – and am back in day-to-day life, with a pile of work waiting for me.

Photo by Sarah Walker

What's left to say when I experienced the theatre experience I've been waiting my life for?

But perhaps life is going to be different. I'm still going to roll my eyes at dull theatre, but I'm going to:
  • Spend less time alone. Maybe with the new friends I made at this show.
  • Talk more with people I don't know.
  • Dance in public.
  • Wear all the high heels I have in my cupboard.
  • Wear more blue mascara.
  • Sing "Purple Rain". 
 Machine Dazzle, Matt Ray. Photo by Sarah Walker


PS. Can we have a 24-hour long recording, please?

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