Diary of a Dandy Minion: Chapter 3— All is Full of Love #TaylorMacMelb
In October I was part of Melbourne Festival’s production of Taylor Mac’s 24 Decade History of Popular Music, as a Dandy Minion and Burlesque Dancer. I’m attempting to chronicle my journey before, during, and after, though it is turning out to be pretty tricky.
<< Chapter 2: Grasping at Moments| Chapter 4: TBC >>
The Taylor Mac experience has officially ended. The Inauguration, all 24 hours of the core show, The Wrap, opening night and closing night parties, Festival Club hangouts, artist talks, costume exhibitions, and many many hours of tech rehearsals: all done and dusted. Right now Taylor Mac judyself should be in Myanmar on a long-planned holiday; meanwhile, the cast and crew and audience are slowly transitioning to their lives outside the magical Faerieland that was 24 Decades.
So many stories. So much silliness and sadness and satisfaction. So much “fuck yeah THANK YOU for saying this” and “urgh geez that’s rather problematic”.
And so, so much love.
It’s really struck me just how much love has been given and shared through the whole process. Plenty has been said about the audience experience: slow-dancing with each other, placing their trust in each other to explore other senses while blindfolded, lots and lots of carrying random people around on their shoulders off the stage. And the audience showed us all kinds of love too: I have been showered with compliments and support and awe just about every night, even from The Inauguration onwards. But the experience of being a Dandy Minion was its own special kind of love.
I had only known a couple of the other Dandies personally when we started, but we all quickly bonded over costume changes, figuring out cues, and “does anyone have safety pins/scissors?”. Everyone was very supportive of each other: we all wanted each other to succeed, to do and look our best, while still holding onto “perfection is for assholes”. A couple of the Dandies had brought assistants backstage for costume & makeup help and those assistants quickly became part of our Dandy crew too, helping us with our own costume foibles. When we shared our dressing room with the night’s special guests — the Temperance Choir, the Burlesque Dancers, many others — they became part of our motley crew too.
The afternoon of Chapter IV, I bought a stack of postcards from a nearby convenience store and wrote up little notes of appreciation for each Dandy and various members of the crew. They were all very last-minute scrawls, heartfelt but not necessarily my finest writing (both in content and in form). Yet I was blown away by just how much every recipient appreciated the notes. A couple of Dandies that I had found intimidating and aloof became very affectionate and outwardly loving. The Dandies and crew reciprocated with their own kind words and cuddles and kisses (wow, a lot of kisses). One of the Dandy backstage assistants, Paige, sent me a message a couple of days later telling me she was going to frame my postcard with photos from the experience. Our care continued past that night; as we caught up at park gigs and closing parties, my fellow Dandies and I would proffer more hugs and kisses, talk shop and give advice, and continually reminded each other about how much we appreciated and cared for each other. We were Dandy Minions together, always will be, even after the show ends.
The night of Chapter IV itself brought about its own kind of love magic. Every chapter has been incredible, but there was something about that night in particular that seemed especially powerful. It was a fully sold-out night; most of the audience had been with us for all four chapters, and some who’d attended one or two other nights, but there were many for whom this was their first. Taylor Mac, as with every night, created opportunities for the audience to connect with each other, and tonight’s felt more intimate: slow-dancing with someone of the same gender (non-binary people got an open choice) during a remaking of Ted Nugent’s Snakeskin Cowboy to protest his homophobia, or inviting the audience to make out during Prince’s Purple Rain. (That last one was a bit fun for me: a friend who’d flown over from Brisbane to see the show found me at the bar area after the song ended and told me she’d been looking for me during that song. We made out at the bar.)
One of the most poignant moments of the show for me was when Taylor Mac picked someone to be Dead Judy Garland and be carried around by audience “pallbearers” for a funeral while judy sings Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
The funeral segment was plenty amusing (especially since Dead Judy Garland was a friend of mine) but what really struck me was when the first “ohhh ohhh ohhs” of the song came through — and everyone in the audience immediately joined in, just like they were at an epic rock concert. They were all so invested in the performance, in the community, in each other — so willing to pitch in even just by singing along. That was when it all clicked for me: the magic of art bringing people together, the connections built through endurance, Taylor Mac’s vision of creating a situation where people fall apart and then come together again with love.
(Now every time I listen to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, or watch my friend’s video, or even think of the “ohhh ohhh ohhs”, I cry. Taylor Mac performed that song at The Wrap and I bawled on a friend’s shoulder.)
The Dandy Minions had our goodbyes somewhere during Hour 3. It was partially to represent the AIDS Crisis, creating a “queer wound” of losing people that had been part of your life experience and that you thought would stick around. A couple of other Dandies and I would be the “survivors”, which mostly meant we’d still be around to help out with the forthcoming hours before Taylor takes the stage solo in the final hour. It was heartwrenching to be on stage with my entire Dandy crew (including Dandrogyny, who had to miss out on working the final night because of a bad injury, but who managed to come watch the show and be part of the final tableau) and know that this was it for most of us. It was almost worse being a “survivor”; I wanted everyone with me still. I nearly broke down on stage, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.
A couple of particularly heartfelt moments happened after the show, after the last bows and the last costumes and the last song (where the audience sang “you can lie down or get up and play” in unison). One was at the company champagne toast, where the Americans got to try lamingtons for the first time. I introduced Tigger! and Taylor Mac to a tradition within my Bangladeshi family: when it is someone’s birthday, the birthday person gets fed the first bite of the cake. It was a bit silly (for one thing, it wasn’t anyone’s birthday) but they both obliged and I felt happy being able to share a little part of my culture and history with them. Maybe they’ll pass it on!
The other was right after the end of the show, just before I headed downstairs for the toast. I want to get into more detail, but the moment feels so personal and intimate that I’m not sure if the other person would necessarily be open to me revealing all. So here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: a very close and dear friend finally managed to come to the show and was in awe. At the end of the show, as we thanked each other for being part of the experience, I told my friend that I loved them — hardly the first time I’ve said that to them, and hardly the first person I’ve said that to; I’m very effusive with my feelings. For the first time, however, they responded: “You too.”. It surprised me so much that I couldn’t believe it happened until the next couple of times I told them I loved them and they reciprocated. I mean, I knew they must have had some love for me, being one of my best friends and all, but finally getting verbal confirmation made my heart sing.
My heart has been singing for days. So many “I love you”s and “I love you too”s. Friendships and relationships growing closer, whether it’s because we spent two weeks as co-Dandys or because I’d been keeping them updated via WhatsApp while they’re living vicariously through me in Malaysia or because I finally got them to see the show and see them light up. People who have only known me for less than a month showing me so much love and care. Kisses and hugs and caresses and lingering looks. My heart is both broken and full: like salve on a wound, still stinging, but you know it’s healing.
It’s been a while since I’ve been in a space with this much love going around. 24 Decades is a show rooted in community-building and love, and that showed not just in the performances themselves but also in the relationships between cast, crew, and audience. It was messy and weird and falling apart at the seams sometimes, but it was also so heartfelt and earnest and sincere. The love shone through, shone through all of us, will keep shining through us as we slowly drift out of this Faerieland and create our own magic.
I love you.
You too — you’re awesome.
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