Multimedia artist and MacArthur Fellow Taylor Mac is bringing his mammoth 24-hour show, A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, to the Kimmel Center's Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA). He'll perform it at the Merriam Theater in two installments, the first 12 hours on June 2 and the second on June 9.
Speaking by phone from a New York sidewalk, Mac said this is "most probably the last time" the 246-song piece will be performed this way: "You can put your body through that only so many times."
And this time 24 Decades will be Philadelphianized.
"We always include local artists," Mac said, "and we give them space to do what they do. It's always a joy to see how the show changes from place to place, performers and audience alike. If this is this show's last hurrah, what better place than Philly, where so much of our history happened, and where so much is happening right now?"
Prominent among Philadelphians onstage will be drag star Dito van Reigersberg, alias Martha Graham Cracker. "I feel like Dito and I are from the same school of drag," Mac said. The minute I saw Dito perform, I was like, `There's my family.' And he's super-talented and superintelligent."
Calling from Las Vegas, where he's currently performing, van Reigersberg said, "I'm honored to be on the same stage with that guy. Seeing 24 Decades is almost like seeing Taylor sacrificing himself, he gives so much to it."
Both were eloquent on the role of drag in the piece. Drag is fun, of course, but it can also interrogate history, picking apart social pretension. "I love the music and costumes and razzle-dazzle," van Reigersberg said, "but both Taylor and I also understand that drag has got that deeper meaning."
"There's a generosity to it, an invitation," Mac said, "and in the end an empathy, a joyfulness. We have history on our backs and are trying to figure out what to do with it."
On Monday, the Kimmel Center announced other local artists for 24 Decades. They include aerial dance theater group Tangle Movement Arts, musical performance artist Cynthia Hopkins, and the Camden Sophisticated Sisters/Distinguished Brothers, a non-profit — organized as a drill team — that motivates and empowers youth.