PuSh 2012: Taylor Mac at Club PuSh

Waiting for Taylor Mac to take the stage at Club PuSh

If you were a very lucky person last Friday or Saturday, you may have had the benefit of spending 90 minutes breathing the same air as performance artist Taylor Mac, as he rocked my world with his latest show, Comparison Is Violence or The Ziggy Stardust Meets Tiny Tim Songbook as part of Club PuSh at Performance Works on Granville Island. Often identifiable as a performer by the glitter on his face and the ukulele he plays, Mac has been described by the press many times throughout his career as a “Ziggy Stardust meets Tiny Tim” performer. Annoyed both by the comparisons, and by the obvious lack of originality within the press, Mac decided to battle Comparison (as an action) with a show devoted entirely to the singing of Tiny Tim and Ziggy Stardust songs.

[Side note: I had always imagined Tiny Tim to be some adorable, soft little man. I had no idea he was so creepy-looking. Yikes.]

I fell in love with Taylor Mac three years ago when I watched his Palace of the End on YouTube. The performance was interesting, and provocative. Mac used the tools he uses best, glitter and a ukulele, to tell a complex story and I was very drawn to and inspired by that. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend Club PuSh in 2009, the last time he was performing in the city. That is why the minute I saw that Taylor Mac would be returning to Club PuSh for the 2012 PuSh Festival, I rushed to buy tickets to Comparison Is Violence.

I suppose many would describe Mac as a drag artist–he’s certainly sparkly enough, and the Ariel-like mane of his red wig certainly isn’t all that manly. Despite his clear stilettos and red lipstick, however, Mac didn’t actually try to appear to be a woman (no stuffing a bra or referring to himself as a “she”–come to think of it, I’m not sure Mac referred to himself as belonging to any gender). To me, the performer Taylor Mac is simply a creature–a sparkly, gorgeous, who-knows-WHAT’S-going-on-with-that-human creature. He has a powerful singing voice, a slight Southern drawl, and a sense of humour that is by turns incredibly diva-esque in its selfishness or incredibly generous in its intent. Mac owns his stage, and by default, his audience.

For a show that, on the surface, seems to consist primarily of a “gender-bender” covering Ziggy and Tiny Tim songs and saying FABULOUS funny things between-times, I found Comparison Is Violence to have a lot of depth. Mac himself stated that there was what he was saying he was doing in the show, and then there what he was actually doing, and that these things were actually different (although even this sentiment he buried in a discussion about why we shouldn’t get too drunk during the show). This might seem to be an overly-confident, or perhaps pretentious, claim to make about one’s own show, but I found it to be true, at least for me. Yes, I found Taylor Mac to be outrageous and hilarious (his referring to his Christian mother as a “fundy cray-cray” for telling him that “Jesus wouldn’t have a feminine walk” almost made me wet my proverbial pants) but beneath the spontaneity and the almost overwhelming energy zooming from Mac on all sides there was a sense of stillness and quietude, belonging to a person who really does seem to feel the violence inherent in the act of comparison, and really does want us to think before we box in someone by labeling them with someone else’s name. Why is it that we can’t describe something without comparing it to something else? Why do we always have to compare people to pop culture, to our past lovers, to politicians? Whatever happened to comparing ourselves to nature, experiences, and ideas (if compare we must)?

Taylor Mac also shared with us the fact that he finds reviews of shows to just be saying “Buy This” or “Don’t Buy This”. He said a critique is more useful–addressing where this art form is coming from, and where it might be going. Unfortunately, I have never seen a performer like Taylor Mac, so I don’t know where he came from, and I am not sure where it’s all going. But I can rest on review and say, yes, if you get a chance, buy into Taylor Mac, Buy This Buy This Buy This. Even if you don’t like it you’ll have an experience you’ve never quite had before. Which I think is the point? Yes. Probably. Buy This!

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And now a note about the PuSh Festival itself, the festival that brought the electrifying Taylor Mac into my world. Last Thursday, I attended the reception for PuSh sponsors and members of the board at Subeez Cafe. I was one of a handful of bloggers invited partially as a thank you for spreading the word about PuSh in the past, and also I think as encouragement to continue doing so if I so choose. And I do choose to.

As Max Wyman, Board President of the PuSh Festival, put it that night, every year the performances on offer as part of the PuSh will “provoke, sometimes enrage…always engage.” As if to prove this point I also received a complimentary ticket to attend last Thursday’s opening night of El pasado es un animal grotesco (The Past is a Grotesque Animal) which played on a revolving stage in SFU Woodward’s Fei and Milton Wong Theatre. The play was entirely in Spanish with English surtitles, unflinchingly narrative, and quietly, terribly sad. Had it not been for the PuSh Festival I highly doubt I would have had much chance to see work by an Argentinian theatre company and this story, though universal in its themes, would never have reached me.

And here is the part where I talk about money (which is no one’s favourite part but which is necessary). An international performing arts festival of this size and scope requires a lot of support and costs a lot of money. Though of course the point of the festival is that people come to PuSh and take in some amazing events, PuSh cannot support itself through ticket sales. As both the provincial and federal governments have made significant cuts to arts funding in recent years, festivals like the PuSh have been forced to rely more and more heavily on private and corporate sponsorship and donations.

I love PuSh. I want it to exist. I know many of you who have been to PuSh events agree. If you are a Vancouverite who wants to continue to experience the spellbinding intrigue of the PuSh Festival each year, or an incredibly altruistic non-Vancouverite who wants to help Vancouverites enjoy the PuSh each year, and you have a bit of money to spare, or work in a company/corporation that may benefit from supporting the PuSh Festival, please consider visiting the festival’s donation page and giving them “a PuSh” (their pun, not mine).

Sadly, the PuSh Festival has finished for another year. Until next time, this is NiftyNotCool, reminding you to keep mid-January to mid-February open on your calendar for 2013, and to remember to PuSh it good.

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