Taylor Mac’s compassion is even more radical than his makeup.
The New York drag artist will perform his solo show, The Be(A)st of Taylor Mac, as part of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival’s ongoing cabaret, Club PuSh, at Performance Works on January 27 and 28. As you can see from his photo on the cover of the PuSh programme, his style is out there: blue-green face, sequined eyes and lips, and red wig that looks like he’s cleaned the floor with it.
But it’s his generosity that’s really arresting. The Be(A)st, a pastiche of some of Mac’s earlier shows, includes standup comedy, yards of fabric, and a handful of sad, beautiful, funny songs, including “The Palace of the End”, in which American vice president Dick Cheney’s wife, Lynne, and Saddam Hussein briefly recognize one another’s humanity. By the end of the song, you feel empathy for them both.
Why is his heart so open? Speaking on the phone from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where he’s performing, Mac replies: “Well, something I learned from my friend Penny Arcade is that a queer person isn’t gay or straight. They’re someone who was shunned at an early age by society to such a degree that they could never shun anyone else.”
Mac was ostracized growing up in conservative small-town California. “Everyone had to be the same,” he says. “I was ridiculed for being effeminate and beat up at school. Eventually I had to figure out how to deal with it and take care of myself. I’ve learned that the best way to communicate with people is to express your humanity as opposed to hiding it.”
Mac uses that kind of personal revelation as a strategy in The Be(A)st. “I think that with my drag, I’m really exposing who I am, what I look like on the inside,” he explains. “I’m really saying, ”˜This is how ugly and beautiful I am, and amateur and professional and chaotic and graceful and violent and peaceful. And masculine and feminine. This is all of the things I can be that you don’t normally see if I’m just walking down the street in jeans and a T-shirt.”
Mac maintains that his drag is also about real revolution, which he distinguishes from taking a revolutionary pose. “I was in Berlin on May Day this year,” he remembers, “and they all go out there and the riot police come, and they’re all in their punk clothes, and it’s all like, ”˜Yeah! Yeah!’ And I thought, ”˜This is commercialism! This is buying the right beer and wearing the right clothes and having the right attitude.’ The revolution is freedom of expression. In the truest form, the revolution is joyful. And it’s certainly peaceful, in my opinion. And fluid. Yes. And full of possibilities.”