Friday, October 07, 2011
I Interview Playwrights Part 389: Taylor Mac
Hometown: Stockton, California. Not the land of the sea but the land of tract housing and blending into nothing.
Current Town: New York City and Southfield, Ma
Q: What are you working on now?
A: A few projects: the libretto for a composed-through musical about the ethics of small government, the philosopher Philippa Foot and her grandfather Grover Cleveland; an all ages play set in an actual mud pit that celebrates failure (and where the entire audience is dressed as frogs); a kitchen-sink drama about the end of men and the changing demographics of our country; and a twenty-four hour concert of the history of popular music.
Q: How would you describe the process by which you create a new piece?
A: It's always different but they tend to use pastiche, which can be confusing because pastiche is often associated with work that's hodgepodge or stolen from other sources. My work is about variance. I like to show the full range of who we are as people and the themes I'm discussing in the work. If we're honest great works of art are often in the genre of pastiche: "War and Peace" is a pastiche of romance novel, critical theory, and history. One could make the same argument (and I do) for any Shakespeare play. My plays often squish genre's, styles, and forms together with the hope that by doing so I'll create work that honors (by acknowledging) the past and present but whose goal is to help dream the culture forward.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: I was just reading Steve Jobs obituary in the Times this morning and when asked about market research he said, "It's not the consumers job to know what they want". I've been trying to get the theater community to recognize this for awhile now. We ask our audience to tell us what kind of theater we should be making way too much. Instead I'd like us to become experts on the needs and wants of humanity. That's our job. A true curiosity and a disciplined exploration of what's under the surface. If we ask the audience what they want, they'll tell us to give them what they know, which keeps the work stuck in tropes, nostalgia, and safety. If we do our job and figure out what our audience needs in the present moment, we dream the culture forward.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Plato, Molière, Shakespeare, Wilde and his sister Wilder (Thorton), Shaw, Rice, Williams, Kondoleon, Ludlum, Eichelberger, Papp, and Harry Hayes are the ones whose work has inspired me but who I never met. Elizabeth Swados, Morgan Jenness, Justin Bond, Michael Warren Powell, Lanford Wilson, Romulus Linney, Mercedes Ruehl, Bill Irwin, Karen Finley, Sam Shepard, Naomi Wallace, Penny Arcade, and David Greenspan are the ones who I've been taught by, encountered, and/or admired from a distance.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: When theater reveals something I didn't know about the world, my understanding of myself and the others around me; when it reminds me of something I'd forgotten about the world, myself and others around me; and when it creates a community out of the audience and players, allows them to be present in the moment and inspires them to further the conversation the work put forth.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Write, write, write. Make, make, make. Share, share, share. And whatever you do, don't ask for permission to be creative.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Three upcoming concerts at Joe's Pub in NYC (Oct 16th, Oct 23rd, and Nov 6th) and two upcoming productions of "The Lily's Revenge" (one in New Orleans in the spring of 2012 and one in Edinburgh in August of 2012).