Gender-bending performance artist Taylor Mac may be the only queen to use inner turmoil as drag inspiration — and drag as therapy
THE BE(A)ST OF TAYLOR MAC at Undermain Theatre,
3200 Main St. Through Feb 13. $15â€“$25.
For many, drag is merely a man putting on women’s clothes lip-synching to cabaret torch songs amid melodramatic arm choreography and audience tips. For others, it’s that one Halloween costume that checks off a bucket list item.
But drag with psychology and theater behind it? That’s Taylor Mac.
"It’s so much more than lip-synching and vagina jokes," Mac says.
A man who sees his drag costumes stemming from emotional descriptives might never have spoken truer words. He literally turns words of what he’s feeling into metaphoric designs and outfits. When his two-week run of The Be(a)st of Taylor Mac at Undermain Theatre meets Dallas audiences, he’ll not only play here for the first time, he’ll expose himself — even with layers of makeup, glitter and costume.
See, Mac is a drag anomaly.
"I ask, ‘What is it that I look like on the inside and how can I expose that?’" he explains. "I write it down and that’s how I created this weird drag monster. I didn’t expect it to be drag. But honestly, I feel both masculine and feminine. I needed to represent that. The only people who would book my shows were clubs and thus I became part of the drag community. I think it’s fantastic, but it came out of a concept."
His garments range from thrift store concoctions to outrageous designs, but all are in the name of his art. Mac runs a spectrum that would include the likes of Hedwig, Cabaret’s Master of Ceremonies, RuPaul’s Drag Race and varied characters from any Troma film. But the drag didn’t come first.
As Mac worked his theater career, applause wasn’t enough. In his mind, his theater should have an impact to allow people to feel and be reminded of their humanity. Mac didn’t want to ask for permission to be creative so he commenced his own and it evolved into this mashup of performance art, musical theater, stand-up and drag.
"I think this is the magical pastiche of it all," he says. "I want it to be lacking in any kind of homogenous nature. The aesthetic of play needed to match the topic as well and it’s all in a heightened theatrical way. That’s what I’m interested in. Every time I go to the theater, that’s what I get excited about."
As the author of his pieces, Mac wants to create a universe that takes him outside his comfort zone, which the costuming helps accomplish. That more than anything makes the experience theatrical for him.
"Theater is about risking and exposing myself, so I try to write the one thing I don’t want anyone to know about me," he says. "When I’m wearing my jeans and a tee, that’s safe! You’re not risking anything. Risk to me is, if it makes you nervous, it’s worth doing. I use all these techniques and crafts to not make it therapy onstage because there is nothing worse than that. The world needs one more person to do what I’m doing."
For now, Dallas will have to do.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 5, 2010.