A 24-Decade History of Popular Music
The crowning jewel in Melbourne Festival’s program is a 24-hour feat of endurance that aims at nothing less than changing your life – and maybe even the world
WHEN PEOPLE SPEAK of life-changing theatre, it’s not always hyperbolic: New York playwright and performance artist Taylor Mac says that people who have met at previous stagings of A 24-Decade History of Popular
Music have started businesses together, fallen in love – even had children together. Part concert and part theatrical extravaganza, 24-Decade takes audiences on a tour of ‘popular’ music through American history, taking in 246 songs from across 240 years, arranged in decades. It starts in 1776 with a big band, and ends in 2016 with Mac alone on stage playing ukulele and piano; in between there are performance artists, puppets, a marching band and acrobats. “It’s a history of music and the United States, but what it’s really about is how communities build themselves as a result of being torn apart,” says Mac. Melbourne Festival director Jonathan Holloway, who has programmed the show as four six-hour chunks across the two weeks of the festival, jokingly describes it as a “queer American Ring Cycle”.
Mac, a playwright and icon of downtown New York’s queer performance scene (who uses the pronoun judy – as in Garland – instead of ‘him’ or ‘her’) has been working on the show since 2011, leading up to a once-only 24-hour marathon of the final work at New York’s St Ann’s Warehouse in 2016, which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and awarded the Kennedy Prize for drama inspired by American history. Mac describes
24-Decade as a “radical faerie realness ritual” in which the duration and format of the show is as important as the musical content. “We’re essentially building a community in the theatre,” judy says. There are sing-alongs, getting-to-knowyou exercises – even beer pong. In New York, audiences were invited to re-enact the Civil War, and take part in a funeral procession for Judy Garland – among other things. “As a result [audience members] start to get to know each other, because they’re sharing these participation moments together, and they’re helping to make the show together, but also because we’re going through this history together.” Cassie Tongue with Dee Jefferson àthe Forum, 154 Flinders St, Melbourne 3000. 03 9299 9860. www.festival.melbourne/2017/. $199$699. Oct 11-20.