Diary of a Dandy Minion: Chapter 2— Grasping at Moments #TaylorMacMelb

In October I will be part of Melbourne Festival’s production of Taylor Mac’s 24 Decade History of Popular Music, as a Dandy Minion and Burlesque Dancer. I’ll be chronicling my journey before, during, and after the show, so follow along!

<< Chapter 1: Drowning in Sewing | Chapter 3: All Is Full Of Love>>

I had lofty dreams for this series. Documenting almost every moment of my journey, from preparation to rehearsal to show time; recapping the songs and dances and mayhem from each Chapter of the show; tellings stories of the shenanigans that take place in our Forum 2 dressing room, a balcony movie theater with carpets full of glitter and feathers from our costumes.

But it’s been more challenging than I anticipated to get much of my experience into writing.

Part of it is time: I signed up to assist with all the tech rehearsals, which are easily 9–10 hour days — and those are on top of the Dandy Minion rehearsals that happen the morning of the 6-hour shows. I do my morning routine (wash up & eat breakfast while catching up on my ever-growing Watch Later list on YouTube), take the train into Flinders St, sit through tech rehearsal or do the show, get the tram home (with or without dinner beforehand). Any days I have off I’ve spent with other people, or just rested and decompressed.

Part of it is secrecy: we’re not meant to talk about what happens behind the scenes so that we don’t spoil the audience. I already got into a brief bout of trouble when I gave my fellow Dandies some insider info only to find out that I wasn’t supposed to do that. (We talked it over, it’s fine, but still.)

Mostly though, this experience is really hard to put into words.

There’s just so much that happens, both behind the scenes and during the show itself. We are constantly busy— even when we don’t have specific Dandy Minion duties assigned, we’re hanging out with the audience, or keeping an eye on things, or taking in Taylor Mac’s extremely ambitious and highly interactive vision.

Oddly, as someone who can be prone to distraction to the point that I‘m seriously looking into ADHD resources, being in such an immersive environment has done wonders for my focus. There is a lot going on, but I am an active participant. Us Dandies, and everybody else in the cast and crew, are working together to pull off this production. Even moments where we mess up or panic are quickly mitigated: we got this. We’re in our element.

And being in this element means not having my journalist hat on. I’m not thinking about how to turn this show or this moment into a good essay. I’m too busy doing costume changes and taking care of the audience (who make me feel like a mother hen taking care of her chicks) to worry about whether I can get a book deal out of all of this.

There are definitely moments that stand out:

The Mikado set on Mars, with UV-reactive costumes and robotic modular voices and an audience volunteer playing Yum-Yum (via lines being fed from offstage through a headset) singing “Oh willow, tit willow, tit wIllOoOwwWWww” over and over and over at Taylor Mac’s urging. (At one point Taylor Mac doesn’t say anything but just sidles up to Yum-Yum and gives him a meaningful look; our Yum-Yum breaks into “tit wIlloowWW” on his own volition and the audience breaks.)

One of my fellow Dandies and dear friend Matista Silver spilling a whole tube of gold glitter on the carpet; Karen from Finance giving the tip of picking up glitter with gaffer tape; Matista deciding to just give into the glitter and overload their face with it.

The sheer number of Jameses in the entire production (3 Dandies alone!) so we’re reliant on last initials or stage names.

The audience volunteer playing minstrel songwriter Stephen Foster being absolutely pelted with ping-pong balls — and then everyone breaking into ping-pong ball fights. (So. Many. Ping-pong. Balls.)

Running around nude on stage kicking “Lord Macquarie” onto the ground.

People cheering after songs only to be told off by Taylor Mac as judy deconstructs the lyrics and reveals their racism (oh, why do the catchiest of songs have to be so terrible).

Roping my friend and semi-Dandy-by-proxy Zeb into knitting on stage for the first three hours of Chapter 1.

The audience blindfolded for an hour of sensory exploration; me asking some of the audience to extend their hands so I could give them flowers; me nearly killing an audience member by trying to feed them a grape that they cannot eat (crisis thankfully averted as I was warned in time — and ok, maybe they wouldn’t die, but still).

Us Dandies panic-running downstairs after we heard the balloons drop because we had a related task and we were still in the middle of a costume change; turns out there was quite a bit of time between the balloons dropping and our cue.

Playing with a cherubic puppet that turns demonic, licking random Dandies and audience members with my demon tongue.

And the costumes. Oh honey the costumes.

We’re only halfway and from what I know of the next two chapters, we are in not just for more massive performance art parties but also for some incredibly moving and heartwrenching moments. Even the barebones notes I’ve seen are enough to make me cry.

But I can’t tell you what they are just yet. And I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to, even after it’s over.

Here’s my looks for Chapters 1 and 2!

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