Legendary New York performance artist Taylor Mac presents one hundred years of popular song in one glorious evening at Lismore City Hall this Wednesday. Tell me, what you mean when you say ‘artists should be students of humanity’?
We should learn what makes people tick, how we function, what people need (not to be confused with what they want) so we can try to give it to them. I think of the arts as a service industry, which means I’m here to help the audience. People often think it’s presumptuous when you say you know what you’re audience needs but I think my job is to pay attention to people and see what they’re crying out for that they don’t necessarily even know they’re crying out for. If a plumber says she knows what my sink needs, I don’t think that’s presumptuous of her. I assume she knows how to do her job. Learning what makes people tick is my job. I don’t always succeed, as people are bit more elusive than plumbing. But the attempt is what makes the arts a noble profession.
Most of the social issues I’m interested in, such as religious persecution (by which I mean persecution from religious people), equality, and class struggles stem from my distaste of homogeneity. I’m fascinated with the ‘other’ and wish that everyone could spend more time celebrating and experiencing things that are different from themselves.
How do you think music and the arts can help empathise or politicise people?
It’s their nature. I think you can make art that doesn’t try to create empathy or politicise people but you have to work really hard at it. People are art. Stories are art. The clothes you wear are the story you’re telling the world. They way you walk is a dance of some sorts. I think more things are art forms than we generally acknowledge. Civil disobedience is an art form. Go to any protest and you will see art: homemade signs, t-shirts, chants, songs, etc. A political speech uses many of the same tools that great Aristotelian drama uses. A political filibuster is durational performance art. A couple fighting or kissing on the street: the greatest show on Earth.
Do you think gender has been too rigid? What freedoms have you found artistically and personally in a more boots-and-all approach?
Well yes. Much too rigid. I like specific things and believe in specificity. But just because something is specific doesn’t mean it can’t change. Rather than saying that everyone is every gender, I prefer to think that everyone can be every gender at some point in their life. The second question here is better answered by coming to the show. You’ll see the freedom in it. Maybe one day I’ll want to describe it but right now it feels better experienced.
Do you believe there is a little Snow White and evil queen in all of us?
Absolutely. There’s a naive heroine and vainglorious crone in us all. Thank god.
What stories of life and humanity are you trying to tell us in your show?
I’m trying to remind us of the things we’ve forgotten, dismissed or buried. I often say my job as a theatre artist is not to teach my audience anything but to remind them. I’m an awful teacher. But I do know how to remind people of things they already know and do it in a way that they can see those things from a slightly different perspective. That doesn’t really answer your question but that’s the answer my addled jet-lagged brain can come up with at this moment. I promise I’ll be recovered by show time!
How do you know when you have touched a crowd?
Many different ways. Laughter. Silence. Cheers. Gasps. Heckles. Walk-outs. Applause. A lack of applause. Emails and letters and posts and tweets. If someone talks to me about the ideas in the show as opposed to simply saying they liked it or didn’t like it, then I know I’ve gotten through.
Tickets A$47 | S $42 | C $38 | U/18 $20
Bookings – Phone 1300 066 772 or www.norpa.org.au.