Taylor Mac Returns to San Francisco with A 24-Decade History of Popular Music

Playwright, actor, and singer/songwriter Taylor Mac was inspired to create A 24-Decade History of Popular Music: 1776 – 1836 when he came San Francisco for the first AIDS Walk.

“I grew up in Stockton and I hadn’t seen an out homosexual,” he said. “Then the first time I did, I saw thousands at the same time. And they were deteriorating, but building a community at the same time. And they were both strengthening and weakening. So I wanted to make a show about that metaphorically. A 24-Decade History is concerned with and falling apart and coming together and the musical foundation of community and how do you build it out of something broken like the history of America?”

The first two parts of A 24-Decade History of Popular Music will be part of the series “Curran: Under Construction” bringing works with times to the Bay Area. Mac says this series is willing to try something different and bridge the gap between the theater world and the art world. 

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But Mac hasn’t been sitting and waiting to do this show since he went to the AIDS Walk as a teenager. He has written 17 plays — some he describes as “palate cleansers,” such as Comparison is Violence or The Ziggy Stardust Meets Tiny Tim Songbook. Then, some take a lot more time, like the two that came to San Francisco’s Magic TheatreThe Lily’s Revenge and Hir. The latter went on to New York, where it ended up on critics’ top ten lists for 2015.

Mac gives a lot of the credit for the success of Hir to Loretta Greco, the artistic director at the Magic. Before she was interested, he had a hard time finding theaters to produce an unsettling comedy involving gender ambiguity and family dysfunction.

“Loretta’s been a huge champion,” he said. “She helped open the door to a tighter theater world, and it’s really because of Loretta this has been possible.”

On Monday, Mac and Greco will do a City Arts and Lectures on Arts and Politics at the Magic. Mac says his plays aren’t overtly political, but since he’s interested in politics, it shows up in his work.

“I wouldn’t write a play about climate change, but it shows up in Lily’s Revenge,” he said. “And 24-Decade History isn’t agit prop, but anything about how you build community in America ends up being political.”

A 24-Decade History of Popular Music: 1776 – 1836, Jan. 21-30, $50-$75, at the Curran Theatre 445 Geary.

City Arts and Lectures: On Art & Politics, Monday, Jan. 25, 7:30 p.m., $30, at the Magic Theater, Fort Mason Center
2 Marina Boulevard, Building D, 415-392-4400.

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