Taylor Mac is the most talented solo performer that I've seen in a long time. He often sells out the venues he appears in -- e.g., recently, the Public Theater and the Sydney Opera House (presumably one of the smaller rooms). But in Bath last night he drew only 23 adults, and a well-behaved baby, to the Rondo Theatre.
Taylor tells us that his performance is actually a play, which he has written himself. Very clever people, he added, refer to it as performance art, and other complicated things, but really it's just a one-man play. And so it is. But a very unusual play.
He came onstage via the auditorium, and we are at once faced with a kind of deranged Carmen Miranda; or possibly an unusually colourful and mad bag lady. Anyway, there he is. You could say that he appears in drag, except that his initial 'dress' last night was made from surgical rubber gloves and his wig was more Rastafarian than Elizabeth Taylor. So at first no one knew quite what to make of him.
However, before long you realise that Mr Mac is harmless, and that, in his curious, larger than life way, he is really rather beautiful.
And what does he do, you will want to know. Well, he talks a bit, and he sings songs, accompanying himself on the ukulele. And he changes his clothes once in a while. How then does he make any impact?
The answer is that he makes an impact by being human. And sensitive. As are we all.
The main purpose of this post is to alert UK readers that Taylor is touring, and, if you're close enough, and interested in theatre, I recommend that you go and see him. During the rest of May he is appearing at various places in London and the provinces: a full list is at the bottom of the front page of his web site.
In case you're worried whether you might or might not like him, the web site provides plenty of pictures and some videos. Again on the front page of his web site, I recommend the song about Fear Itself. But none of these, please note, compares with a live performance.
Well, Mr Mac is very definitely an acquired taste, but in any case, you may be wondering, what does he have to do with books and publishing?
The answer is that there are, to my mind, significant parallels between Mr Mac's writing and performance, and the activities of self-published writers.
Taylor Mac appears to be a young man who does pretty much whatever he wants to do in the theatre. Of course he pays some attention to general conventions. He produces a show which runs about 75 to 90 minutes. He uses lighting, sound, costume, music, movement, and so forth. But within those broad boundaries he does whatever comes into his head.
A similar freedom is now available to writers. Just as Taylor can put his videos on his web site, and use them to advertise his public appearances, so, nowadays, just about any writer can publish their work, or tasters of it, on the web, and make it available for a modest charge in book form. Within that framework you can do whatever you like.
If you want examples, try The Greatest Show on Earth, or Bed, or Blazing Embers. Just to mention a few that pop into my head.
Now it may be, of course, that Taylor Mac dreams of becoming a Broadway star. And he might. But he probably realises full well that it is more likely that he will remain something of a cult figure, known mainly to the gay community, but also admired, from a safe distance, by elderly Englishmen with very odd tastes. And so it will be with self-publishers. The best -- the very best -- that they can reasonably expect is that they may become known to a small coterie of readers (with exquisite sensibilities, naturally). But they will, with luck, find an audience.
However, there is one other point that I am morally obliged to mention. And it is one which is frequently overlooked in enthusiastic paeans to the new publishing paradigm. It is that, to succeed even in the most modest manner that I have described, a performer or writer does need to be very, very talented. In fact very to the power of ten or so. The talent may not be immediately obvious. Indeed the wise performer/artist will not flash it around and thrust it down people's throats. But it's gotta be there. Otherwise it ain't gonna work.