On Taylor Mac and Dame Edna

taylor mac photo

Taylor Mac. Photo by TheArches

I believe that truth, in the theater, is often confused with a clearing away of theatricality.  I believe the clearing away of theatricality is as much of a glorious lie as the theatrical.
-Taylor Mac, “I Believe

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Taylor Mac’s theater manifesto, which judy delivered in 2013 at the Under the Radar festival.

There’s a lot in the talk that really resonates, but this idea in particular really switched on a light: maybe the clearing away of the theatrical is a cheap trick. Maybe the stripped down monologue has no more natural claim on meaning and truth than does the big production number.

(To be fair, I’m not entirely sure that’s what judy meant. The next sentence is

“I believe homophobia, racism, and sexism—in the theater—often manifests itself through the championing of “Realism” and or “Quiet” plays.”

so maybe my interpretation of “clearing away” to mean the self-aware fourth-wall breaking of an avant garde troupe like Forced Entertainment, or the pseudo-intimacy of the performing monologist is not true to Mac’s intent. Probably, judy’s talking about the “well made play.” But bear with my idiosyncratic interpretation for a minute–)

I spent the day yesterday cleaning house and watching a couple of documentaries about Barry Humphries. Humphries, who has played the character of Dame Edna for nearly sixty years now, is one of my all-time heroes.

dame edna photo

It struck me that one reason Dame Edna is so successful is that she runs headlong into theatricality. It is, paradoxically, her amped up theatricality that allows her to cut through so many conventions and to connect with the audience in such an immediate way. In so doing, she defies the (incorrect) intuition that I had not even realized I held: namely, that a sweeping away of theatrical conventions makes room for a more authentic connection to an audience, a more direct pathway to meaning onstage.

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