The Botany of an Event

SEP 9, 2012

Taylor Mac on Myths, Weddings, and Dreaming the Culture Forward;
Morgan C. Goldstein Interviews Taylor Mac: Writer and Lead Actor of The Lily’s Revenge

Morgan C. Goldstein: When did you know that you wanted to work in theater?

Taylor Mac: Well, there are two answers. One is that I did my first play when I was five and it clicked. And the other is that I had a big shift when I went on the Walk Across America For Mother Earth, which was a political walk from New York City to a Nevada nuclear test site. I knew I wanted to be a theater artist but I didn’t necessarily know what the options were, because I grew up in a small city and wasn’t exposed to a lot of different kinds of theater. There were all these queers and alternative thinkers on the walk, so I learned about alternative culture, and when I finished the walk I realized that I could incorporate that into my theater work.

You’ve said that your “job as a theater artist is to remind your audience of the range of their humanity.” What do you mean by that?

I think that we don’t always express everything that we are in our lives. In order to make sense of the world at large and the many possibilities in it, we try to reduce ourselves. Human beings are so varied and multi-faceted, and the theater gives us an opportunity to experience and express some of that variance within ourselves. So I try to create situations where the audience is given permission to connect to the full range of who they are. They see people who are unabashedly doing that on stage and can relate to it. Theater also gives audiences practice in dealing with emotions, thoughts, and ideas that they don’t normally deal with in their everyday lives. Then when those heightened moments come to them in their real lives, they’ve had some experience with them and can handle those moments with a little bit of grace and maybe not as much panic or violence.

And how do you accomplish that?

We do it by surprising them. We stitch together each piece with as much surprise as we possibly can, because the only time you can feel anything is when you’re surprised. That’s not to say shock; shock shuts people down, but surprise opens them up to let them feel. My goal is really to invite the audience into the experience.

Why is it important to do The Lily’s Revenge right now?

The Lily’s Revenge is about narrative, and the traditions, tropes, and myths that we hold onto; it’s about how we can use all of those myths and traditions as a way to foster community or to break community apart. Lily offers up that conversation. It asks how myths and traditions affect us, and if we can create a new myth or even a new tradition. Of course, myths are impossible to create—you can’t just decide to create one. But can we try to create a new myth or a new tradition? One that helps us live in the present moment and dream the culture forward? And that’s what the end of The Lily’s Revenge is—an offering of that conversation.

The Lily’s Revenge plays with the performer/audience paradigm—this is not a show that the audience watches passively. What is your ideal performer-audience relationship?

Well, it’s different with every play. Content dictates the form for the work. Since Lily is about myths, traditions, genres, and how we tell stories, I said, “Let’s squish every single genre and style and form of narrative that I can think of into one play.” And many of those forms utilize audience participation. So the audience is participating in this particular play because of the content, not just because I wanted them to participate.

Lily is a long show! Why?

I modeled it after a wedding, which goes on for about five hours. So that’s how long the play is. You’re asked to be a silent observer at a wedding, so we’re going to have the audience sit and watch at certain points and not participate. But you’re also asked to be a participant at certain points in a wedding—everyone has to stand when the bride comes in, for example. So we’re going to make the audience do things in this show. There’s dancing and food at weddings, and we’re going to have dancing and food. You meet people you don’t know and you come with people that you do know. So we’re creating a situation where people are meeting other audience members and performers.

Morgan C. Goldstein is a first-year dramaturgy student at the A.R.T./Moscow Art Theater School Institute for Advanced Theater Training at Harvard University.

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