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Pure Genius

Jaclyn Jermyn | October 16, 2017 | Feature Features

This past spring we interviewed playwright Taylor Mac as the artist prepared to bring the play "Hir" to the Steppenwolf mainstage. Now that Mac has been awarded a 2017 “Genius Grant” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, we like to think we know a genius when we see one. Here's an except of our conversation.
Taylor Mac performs in "A 24-Decade History of Popular Music"

How did you get into performance art and theatre?

One of the weird things about my life is that I decided what I wanted to do when I was five, and have been doing it ever since. That’s either pathetic or really amazing! When you’re a kid you think, “Oh I’ll go to Broadway and I’ll do musicals.” and then as you get older and your tastes kind of mature a bit, you think about the kind of art you want to make. I didn’t get involved in the theatre so I could do the same part, or character, or idea over and over again. You do it so you can be a chameleon and explore the full range of who you are and the full range of the world. So that’s what I try to do.

What is your perception of yourself as creator?

I kind of go all the way back to the Egyptians really, who were our first kind of playmakers. They would put on these plays where they were dealing with the gods battling each other and there was always a sacrifice. I think of that when I make my work. The root of what we’re doing is sacrificing something. I’m always trying to reach into the audience and see how it can bring a little doubt into the room and into our understanding of things so that we question more and try to gain a collective authority by questioning.

You’re coming to Chicago to work with Steppenwolf—what has that process been like?

They’ve been amazing! They’re so dear and kind. I’m overjoyed that Amy Morton is cast—one of the great actors in the world. I can’t believe it. The real thing is that it’s happening on the mainstage because all the productions so far have been in the smaller theaters. It’s more Greek, that giant theatre that they have at Steppenwolf. The audience is looking down on the action instead of in a small space where you’re kind of in the action. I think comedy often needs space, it needs air in order to really hit it’s mark. You need a little space.


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