Taylor Mac’s “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music”
“The costumes changed and developed over the entire run of the show. Sometimes costumes would get lost or parts would be destroyed, or walk off with a fan. I continued to research and learn about American history, the good parts and the really not so good parts—the more I learned, the more I wanted to integrate this knowledge and awareness into the costumes.”—Machine Dazzle
Machine Dazzle created the costumes for Taylor Mac’s “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music”—a singular 24-part performance art concert series that narrates a subjective (and queer) history of America from its founding in 1776 to the present day, explored through popular songs from each era. In addition to creating 24 costumes for Mac, one for each decade, Machine also created costumes for audience members as well as for himself, as Machine would dress Mac onstage. The project culminated in a one-time 24-hour marathon performance for a sold-out audience in Brooklyn, NY on October 8, 2016 that included over 200 performers (including a 24-piece orchestra, an ensemble of “dandy minions,” and countless special guests). Produced by Pomegranate Arts, the project continued to tour nationally and internationally over the course of eight years. In his designs, Machine looked to the styles and histories of each historical decade. His layered incorporation of forms and materials in these costumes extended and amplified Mac’s queer re-telling of American history, as the costumes often reference political and social histories, inventions, and other notable events of each era. For example, the costume worn during the WWII decade is made of an army duffle bag and is completed by airplane propellers and a slinky headdress, highlighting the technologies of warfare that contributed to the rise of postwar consumer culture. Other decades incorporated references to popular American foods, toys, artists, and cultural figures, expanding and moving the narrative along.
For these designs, Dazzle was the co-recipient of the 2017 Bessie Award for Outstanding Visual Design and was awarded a Henry Hewes Design Award by The American Theatre Wing. The original stage production has been adapted into an HBO Original Documentary Film directed by Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein and co-produced by Pomegranate Arts. CLAMP is presenting photographs of Taylor Mac wearing an iteration of each of the 24 costumes created by Machine Dazzle. Photographed by New York-based photographer Gregory Kramer, a behind-the-scenes look at this portrait session is featured in the film.
Taylor Mac Biography
One of the great artists of our time, Taylor Mac—writer, performance artist, director, actor, and singer—creates fearlessly experimental works that build community through the making of theater. Mac [who uses judy (lowercase) as a gender pronoun] breaks performance conventions—inviting audiences to consider questions of gender, identity, queerness, and performance itself. Taylor’s joyful, charismatic, and vulnerable performance style disarms the audience, turning passive spectators into active collaborators. In the hugely ambitious “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music” (2013–2023), Mac used the tools of performance, communion, and sensation to ask rooms full of strangers to collectively reframe America’s history from its founding in 1776 to the present day. Years in the making, the project culminated in a one-time 24-hour performance in Brooklyn, NY in October 2016. Mac is the first American to receive the International Ibsen Award, and is a MacArthur Fellow, a Pulitzer Prize Finalist, a Tony nominee for Best Play, and the recipient of the Kennedy Prize (with Matt Ray), the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, a Guggenheim, the Herb Alpert Award, a Drama League Award, the Helen Merrill Playwriting Award, the Booth, two Helpmann Awards, a NY Drama Critics Circle Award, two Obies, two Bessies, and an Ethyl Eichelberger. An alumnus of New Dramatists, judy is the author of “The Hang” (with composer Matt Ray); “Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus”; “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music”; “Prosperous Fools”; “The Fre”; “Hir”; “The Walk Across America for Mother Earth”; “The Lily’s Revenge”; “The Young Ladies Of”; “Red Tide Blooming”; “The Be(A)st of Taylor Mac”; and the revues “Comparison is Violence”; “Holiday Sauce”; and “The Last Two People on Earth: an Apocalyptic Vaudeville” (created with Mandy Patinkin and Susan Stroman). Taylor Mac’s latest collaboration with composer Matt Ray and creative producers Pomegranate Arts is “Bark of Millions,” a rock opera meditation on queerness that premiered at the Sydney Opera House in October 2023 and will tour internationally in 2024-25.
Gregory Kramer is a photographer acclaimed for his evocative portraits of New York artists and personalities. His notable 2017 book, DRAGS, explored a diverse cross-section of drag artists, featuring both iconic and emerging talents. In 2020, his publication DOWNTOWN documented contemporary performers, reflecting the vibrant spirit of the downtown scene. He has also worked extensively with Machine Dazzle to photograph many of the artist’s maximalist costumes.