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Julie Taymor
Julie Taymor
Profile of Julie Taymor Biography of Julie Taymor Interview with Julie Taymor Julie Taymor Photo Gallery

Julie Taymor Biography

Theater, Opera and Film Director

Julie Taymor Date of birth: December 15, 1952

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  Julie Taymor

Julie Taymor was born in Newton, Massachusetts, outside of Boston, where she took an early interest in theater and the performing arts, putting on shows with her sister in their backyard. At age 10, she joined the Boston Children's Theater Company. Along with her passion for theater, she developed a lively interest in other cultures and faraway places. At 14 and 15, she made trips to both Sri Lanka and India with the Experiment in International Living program. At 16, she traveled to Paris to study at the mime school of Jacques LeCoq.

Julie Taymor Biography Photo
By the time she entered Oberlin College, she knew she was headed for a career in the theater. Rather than following a conventional theater arts curriculum however, she earned a degree in folklore and mythology, pursuing many of her studies far from the college's Ohio campus. She studied with Joseph Chaikin's Open Theater in New York City, then returned to Ohio to join the theater company of director Herbert Blau. Often, she was the youngest member of the companies she joined as a performer. In the summer of 1973, she attended a program of the American Society for Eastern Arts in Seattle, studying traditional Indonesian masked dance-drama and shadow puppetry.

After her graduation in 1974, it was inevitable that Taymor's interest in traditional performance practices would take her to Asia for more intense study. On a Watson Fellowship, she traveled first to Japan, where she studied the roots of traditional Japanese puppetry. By her own account, a transforming experience occurred on the island of Bali in Indonesia. Alone in the darkness outside a remote village, she observed an ancient ceremony, performed in the moonlight by the male elders of the village. She believes that the energy and concentration with which these elderly men performed this ritual -- without an audience, for purely spiritual purposes -- has informed and inspired all of her subsequent work. Taymor lived for five years in Indonesia, where she founded Theater Loh, an international company of Javanese, Balinese, Sudanese, French, German and American actors, dancers, musicians and puppeteers. Her original productions with the company included The Way of Snow and Tirai.

Julie Taymor Biography Photo
Returning to the United States in 1979, she soon made a name for herself as an innovative director and designer with her stunningly original costumes, masks and puppets. A powerful new influence entered Taymor's life in 1980, when friends introduced her to the young composer Elliot Goldenthal. The two quickly became partners in life and art, collaborating on numerous projects over the years. Among her early works was Transposed Heads, a stage version of a story by the 20th century German novelist Thomas Mann. While creating original works with Goldenthal, such as the musical Liberty's Taken, Taymor was also directing productions of classic plays, including Shakespeare's The Tempest and The Taming of the Shrew.

In collaboration with the Romanian director Andrei Serban, Taymor created a dazzling production of the fairy tale The King Stag, by the 18th century Venetian playwright Carlo Gozzi. Taymor designed the costumes, masks and giant puppets, and helped Serban devise a style of movement drawing on the Japanese kabuki theater and Balinese ritual, as well as Italian commedia dell'arte. The production first appeared at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1984. It was subsequently staged in New York and Los Angeles and has traveled to Venice, Madrid, Tokyo, Taipei and Moscow. It has been revived numerous times, and in 2000, the production was taken on a 66-city tour of the United States and Europe.

Julie Taymor Biography Photo
Taymor and Goldenthal enjoyed a creative breakthrough with their original production, Juan Darien, a Carnival Mass. A multimedia performance, based on a story by the Uruguayan novelist Horacio Quiroga, the work premiered Off Broadway in 1988 and received two Obies as well as numerous other awards. It later enjoyed an extended run in San Francisco and was performed at festivals in Canada, France and Israel. In the same year, the New York City Public Library mounted a large exhibition of Taymor's work, featuring her drawings, costumes, puppets and other constructions.

In 1992, Taymor moved into the world of opera, directing a production of Igor Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex in Japan, with conductor Seiji Ozawa. Taymor's film of the performance was shown to critical acclaim at numerous film festivals. Broadcast nationally in the United States; it earned numerous honors, including an Emmy Award. In 1993, she directed Mozart's The Magic Flute in Florence, Italy, with conductor Zubin Mehta, and in 1994, a production of Richard Strauss's Salome in St. Petersburg, Russia, with conductor Valery Gergeiev.

In New York, her theatrical career continued to progress, with a powerful production of one of Shakespeare's most difficult plays, Titus Andronicus. In 1996, she revived Juan Darien at Lincoln Center, and directed an acclaimed production of Carlo Gozzi's The Green Bird. Her greatest success of all lay just around the corner.

Julie Taymor Biography Photo
The Walt Disney Company had enjoyed success with Broadway versions of its popular animated films, such as Beauty and the Beast, but creating a stage version of their greatest animated triumph, The Lion King, posed a special problem: the principal characters were all animals. In light of her known expertise in the theatrical use of masks, Disney Chair Michael Eisner asked Julie Taymor for a proposal. To the surprise of the Disney executives, Taymor dismissed the idea of concealing the actors in bodysuits and masks. Instead, she proposed clothing the principal actors in traditional African costumes, with stylized animal masks worn on their heads, leaving their human facial expressions fully visible. Other animals would be represented by large puppets, many operated by puppeteers who would perform in full view of the audience. The executives were skeptical, so Taymor arranged for a demonstration on stage, in a theater, with stage lighting. Chairman Eisner was convinced and Taymor was given free rein to stage The Lion King according to her own vision. Taymor directed the production, designed the costumes, co-designed the masks and puppets and re-wrote many of the film's scenes and songs. Giraffes were played by actors on stilts; a single elephant was portrayed by four actors, one for each leg. In all, the production employed over 100 puppets representing 25 different species.

Julie Taymor Biography Photo
When The Lion King opened on Broadway on November 13, 1997, it was received with delirious enthusiasm. The New York Times hailed it as "the most memorable, moving and original theatrical extravaganza in years." Taymor received two Tony Awards for the production. She was the first woman ever to receive the coveted award for directing a musical; she was also honored for her brilliant costume design. As of this writing, The Lion King is still running on Broadway, while touring companies take Julie Taymor's thrilling vision to audiences around the world.

The runaway success of The Lion King opened more doors for Julie Taymor's creativity. Her first feature film, Titus, was a startling re-interpretation of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, starring Anthony Hopkins. Photographed in Rome, the film mixed costumes and settings from many eras to stress the relevance of Shakespeare's story to our times. Elliot Goldenthal composed the film's powerful music. The couple collaborated again on an even more ambitious project, Frida (2002), using all of Taymor's ingenuity and visual imagination to tell the story of the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and her tumultuous life with her husband and fellow painter Diego Rivera. The film received six Oscar nominations and received Oscars for its imaginative make-up design and for Elliot Goldenthal's original score.

Julie Taymor Biography Photo
Her success in motion pictures has not drawn Taymor away from the world of live performance. In 2004, her production of The Magic Flute opened at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. For many years, Taymor and Goldenthal were occupied with writing an original opera based on the late John Gardner's novel, Grendel. The book, inspired by the Anglo-Saxon epic poem, Beowulf, re-imagines the ancient story from the point of view of the hero's monstrous antagonist. The work received its world premiere at the Los Angeles Opera in 2006. The Academy of Achievement interviewed Julie Taymor during the final rehearsals of this massive work.

Over the years, Taymor's work has been supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship and the "genius grant" of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Her work has been the subject of a number of books, including Playing With Fire and The Lion King: Pride Rock on Broadway, as well as books on her films, Titus and Frida.

Julie Taymor shows no signs of slowing down her work pace in any medium. Her third feature film, Across the Universe, opened in 2007. A musical story of the 1960s with music by the Beatles, it starred U2 lead singer Bono and American actress Evan Rachel Wood. Three years later, she released a new film version of Shakespeare's The Tempest, with actress Helen Mirren in the role of the sorcerer Prospero, usually played by a male actor.

Taymor's collaboration with Bono also continued with Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark, a Broadway musical with songs by Bono and U2 guitarist the Edge. The show started previews in the last month of 2010, with an opening scheduled for 2011. Prior to opening, it had already cost $65 million to bring Spiderman to the stage, making it the most expensive production in Broadway history. Early preview performances were plagued with accidents and injuries. In March 2011, Julie Taymor was dismissed from the production, which finally opened the following June. Despite its enormous production costs, it became one of the highest-grossing shows in Broadway history. By the following February, the legal issues surrounding Taymor's termination had been resolved and she was receiving a substantial royalty payment from the production.

This page last revised on Jul 04, 2013 02:02 EDT
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