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Designing a 24 hour show: Machine Dazzle on his costumes for Taylor Mac's remarkable piece

Costume designer Machine Dazzle on creating 24 fabulous costumes for Taylor Mac

Taylor Mac
© Sarah Walker

The hardest part of working on a show like A 24 Decade History of Popular Music is that I really wanted to make sure I made 24 very different outfits. I think I did manage to do that, but as a costume designer, you have tricks that you use and I felt like I used all my tricks up in the first few outfits. So I had to find new tricks.

Most costume designers would probably have created period costumes for each decade. But I wanted to do something different. My approach on each one was different and some decades I researched far more than others. Some costumes are more conceptual and poetic, some are more technical specific.

I want to make sure I'm entertaining the audience. I want their approval. I'm on stage too, and I help him change his costumes between each decade [each decade – 24 from 1776 – is an hour]. The costume changes are usually around a minute and we usually play around – the changes are a performance unto themselves. Taylor often sings while I'm changing him, he's trying to concentrate on lyrics, putting on his clothes, I guide him and we try to have as much fun as possible. There are moments during the show where I think I could crash things and Taylor would have no problem with it, the audience would laugh. But usually I'm too busy, I change Taylor, I have to take care of the costumes, I change, I get the new costumes ready and by that point it's almost ready to change Taylor.

My favourite costume is the decade of the temperance movement and Taylor Mac wears a large whiskey barrel that's been decorated. I love those cartoons you see of people who are suddenly poor, for whatever reason, and find themselves wearing a big whiskey barrel. He has a big wig made out of corks and bottle caps and it's really crazy. Then a 24-member temperance choir come in and sing songs.

Taylor takes the barrel off and he's like Crazy Jane – she has everything she needs, she lives inside the barrel, there's a toothbrush, toiletries, garbage, there's some sex toys. It's not a complex costume, but there's a lot of fun details in it. I also love that decade musically.

I love to change things about the costumes along the way, I keep asking how can I add things to a costume without making it heavier. Some of these costumes, they are heavy. It's like an opera costume. Taylor's in high heels the entire time too. It's durational for everyone, especially for him. He's a superhero.

Taylor Mac
© Teddy Wolff

It was six years before we did the very first 24 hour show that Taylor came to me and asked me for a costume. But he didn't tell me what the project was, he just asked for a 1790s-inspired outfit. Then a year later he asked for a 1930s one and a 1970s one. Those outfits don't exist anymore, because then about two years before the show he came to me and said ‘I need a 1770s costume, and this is what the show is'.

It took me a long time to find my recipe for the show. Now I've found it I feel like I could make an alternative costume for every decade and it would be equally fun. It pains me that Taylor has to wear the same costume every time, I feel they are almost like a wedding dress – you wear it once and pass it down. The moments are very sacred. I'm also very greedy about that and I want to make something better and crazier, but there just isn't always time.

This is definitely the biggest show I have worked on and I am so passionate about it. But when I worked with Taylor on The Lily's Revenge, that was more difficult, there were 40 cast members, with multiple cast changes and I was dealing with different directors and I had a day job and the budget was terrible. With the 24 hour show, at least I had the luxury of time and for the most part, I'm just costuming Taylor.

I do have costumes too, but mine are a bit more slight. Some of them are crazy, but Taylor's the star, I don't want to outshine him. I'm already taller!

The first part of A 24 Decade History of Popular Music (the first three hours of it!) runs at the Barbican as part of LIFT between 28 and 30 June.

Taylor Mac
© Teddy Wolff