The Musical Force Behind the Communal, Queer ‘Bark of Millions’

RAY WAS MAC’S MUSIC DIRECTOR for “The Lily’s Revenge,” a sprawling theatrical work from 2009. Since then, their collaborations have been prolific; Mac traced the inspiration for “Bark of Millions” to that show, but also to “24-Decade.”

“Almost all of those 240 songs are centered around straight people” and cisgender people, Mac said. “And there was this desire to give us some of the things that we’ve missed in life.”

“Bark of Millions,” which will feature supernova-spectacular costumes by another frequent Mac collaborator, Machine Dazzle, is considerably shorter but still unusually substantial — “party-length,” Mac called it. “We say this in the beginning of the show, and it’s tongue-in-cheek, but the goal is a reverse conversion therapy session,” Mac said. “We spend our entire lives being told to be something different, so it’s going to take more than 90 minutes to change that.”

During the pandemic, Mac and Ray wrote dozens of songs. Mac would send a steady flow of lyrics, and before writing a note, Ray would simply read them — studying the meaning, the narrative, the rhythm and the stressing of syllables. “Then,” he said, “I’d put it away, then do it all again.” Eventually, he’d record ideas into voice memos, then lay down instrumental tracks in the basement studio of his Brooklyn apartment. “Things,” he added, “kind of get born like a spasm. A lot of it is divine vomiting.”

They settled on 55 songs for “Bark of Millions” as an organizing principle — initially, to have one for each year since the Stonewall uprising, then for each year since the first Pride march, in 1970. (That would technically be 54, so Mac called the 55th song a “cherry on top.”) Each is named for a figure in queer history, but doesn’t represent or celebrate so much as use the person as inspiration for poetic meditation.

At a rehearsal last week, surrounded by furniture-like sculptures of genitalia and breasts, one with a pierced nipple, the cast sang with a communal spirit and nudged soloists, forward, including Mac, who unspooled cleverly colorful lyrics like “a queer is not a slut, but a slut is a queer” in a nod to Margaret Cho’s comedy during an ode to her. And, when blocking a scene, Mac told a performer who had been called a twink, “Welcome to 35, you’re now a ’twas.”

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