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Taylor Mac’s ‘Joy and Pandemic’ Is Postponed as Covid Cases Surge


Taylor Mac’s “Joy and Pandemic,” a play set during the 1918 flu pandemic, was a bright spot on the horizon at the Magic Theater in San Francisco: a world-premiere production, to open in September for what would have been the theater’s first live audience in 18 months.

But now, in a further life-meets-art-meets-life twist, the production, which was announced in March, has been postponed indefinitely because of the Delta-variant-driven surge in Covid cases.

“Timing is everything,” Mac said in a statement. “With the rise of infections, this is not the time to engage wholeheartedly with the themes in this work. Our hope is that time will come soon.”

Mac is best known for “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music,” a marathon 24-hour performance piece that takes in all of American history through song, refracted through a radical queer lens (and involving some exuberant audience participation). “Joy and Pandemic,” to be directed by Loretta Greco, was partly inspired by some of Mac’s research for that show and had been commissioned by the Magic, a 144-seat nonprofit theater with which Mac has a long association, before the Covid-19 pandemic.

The play (in which Mac will not appear) is set in Philadelphia in September 1918, near the end of World War I — on the day of the Fourth Liberty Loan Parade, which became an infamous superspreader event — and also flashes forward to 1951. It is set in a children’s art school and deals in part with Christian Science, in which Mac was raised.

In an email on Wednesday, Mac called “Joy and Pandemic” a work “with a lot of humor,” and wrote that the realization that the Delta variant can infect even vaccinated people “would alter the way the audience is able to listen.”

But “‘Joy and Pandemic’ isn’t really about a pandemic (just set during one),” Mac said. “It’s more about how belief, hope and faith collide with reality. So our pandemic’s progress, and the way Americans have politicized it, has only deepened the major theme of the play.”

The postponement came as some live theater has begun an uncertain return in the San Francisco Bay Area. On Tuesday, “Hamilton” reopened at the Orpheum Theater, where the audience of roughly 2,000 were required to submit proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test. And on Wednesday, the Berkeley Repertory Theater pushed back its season opening from Oct. 1 to Nov. 12, and will now open with Charles Mee’s “Wintertime.”

Sean San José, the Magic’s recently appointed artistic director, vowed that Mac’s show will, ultimately, go on.

“This is, as Taylor Mac has reminded me, a time for ‘radical empathy,’” San José said in a statement. “This piece WILL be premiering at Magic, but with the uncertainty around variant strains, we cannot fully embrace the resonance in the work. We need proper reflection time for this piece to be rightfully presented.”


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