Taylor Mac previews ambitious ’24-Decade’ at Under the Radar Festival

Taylor Mac, a gender-bending, freethinking actor-writer-performance artist, earned raves last season for his extraordinary performance in Brecht’s “Good Person of Szechwan.”

He is now working on his most ambitious project to date, “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music,” in which songs from 1776 to 2016 will be explored decade by decade.

As part of the Public Theater’s annual Under the Radar Festival of downtown experimental theater, Mac will present the portions exploring the 1900s-50s. Next year, he will perform the entire piece from start to finish over the course of 24 hours.

amNewYork spoke with Mac about the festival.


Where did the idea for this come from?

I wanted to make a show about a community being built via deterioration and imperfection. It seemed a performance art concert of popular songs was the best form because the goal of a popular song is rarely to achieve perfection (they use imperfect rhymes and simple chords structures and rhythms that mass groups of people can easily assimilate), but they still manage to bring people together.


How are you presenting each decade?

Each one deals with, in a different way, how communities are built and supported through complicated circumstances. For example, in the 1900s, we sing songs that were popular in the Jewish tenements. In the 1820s, when Braille was invented, we blindfold the audience while singing songs that were popular during that decade. In the 1910s, it’s songs that were popular in the WWI trenches. It goes on and on like that.


How will you get the energy to do a 24-hour concert — and how will the audience be able to watch it for so long?

Everyone is encouraged to stay for the 24 hours, and we’ll have tents and hammocks and cots set up (and we ask the audience members to bring toiletries and bedding) but obviously not everyone will want to stay for the entire thing. To give those people an opportunity to see some of it, the concert is broken up into 8 acts. In terms of how I’m going to do it, the performance is about things falling apart and how bonds happen as a result. So if I’m unable to do it, then that’s part of the art.


But what’s the point of doing it over the course of 24 hours?

The [length] aspect felt important because I would be putting myself and the audience in a circumstance where perfection couldn’t possibly be achieved or expected, and yet a kind of bond would be achieved by going through an abnormal circumstance together.


What kind of costumes will you be wearing?

I’m not about to spoil that surprise.



Other Under the Radar productions to check out:


‘The Cardinals’

The English company Stan’s Cafe presents a comedy about traveling puppet theater troupe run by three cardinals and a female Muslim stage manager.



This Spanish-language drama by an Argentine author explores four filmmakers living in Buenos Aires, utilizing an intricate two-level set and a cinematic structure.



Performed in Farsi, an Iranian theater artist revisits his own 2004 drama by imagining his original cast having a reunion.


‘A (radically condensed and expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again’

Using audio recordings of the late author David Foster Wallace, four actors will attempt to recreate Wallace’s unique presence.


If you go: The Under the Radar Festival runs through Jan. 18 at the Public Theater. For full schedule, visit publictheater.org.


If you go: The Under the Radar Festival runs through Jan. 18. For full schedule of events and ticket info, visit undertheradarfestival.com.