Taymor, Julie 1952-
TAYMOR, Julie 1952-
Born December 15, 1952, in Boston, MA; daughter of Melvin Lester (a gynecologist) and Elizabeth (a political science teacher; maiden name, Bernstein) Taymor; companion of Elliot Goldenthal (a composer). Education: Oberlin College, B.A., 1974; studied anthropology at Columbia University.
Agent—International Creative Management, 40 West 57th St., New York, NY 10019.
Film and stage director, set and costume designer, producer, puppeteer, playwright, actress, and writer. British Theatre Group, Paris, France, creator of puppetry, masks, set, and costumes, 1970; Bread and Puppet Theatre, VT, 1971; Robin Wood, Boston, MA, theatre director, 1972; Ohio Arts Council, teacher of workshop in puppet construction, 1974; conducted lectures and theatre workshops in Tokyo, Bangkok, Singapore, Manila, Sumatra, and Java for U.S. Information Service, 1977, and for Baltimore International Theatre Festival, 1979; New School for Social Research, New York, NY, teacher, 1981-82.
Creator of puppets, costumes, production design, masks, and sets for stage productions, including The Elephant Calf, Oberlin College, OH, 1973; Seeds of Atreus, Oberlin Group, 1974; Way of Snow, Treatr Loh, Java, Bali, 1976, Ark Theatre, New York, NY, 1980, and World Puppet Festival, Washington, DC, 1980; Tirai, Teatr Loh, Java, Bali, 1978, La MaMa Theatre, New York, NY, 1980; The Odyssey, Center Stage, Baltimore, MD, 1979; Sea Rhythms, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, 1980; The Haggadah, New York Shakespeare Festival, New York, NY, 1980-82; Black Elk Lives, Entermedia, NY, 1981; La Gioconda and Si-u, Dance Theatre Workshop, Talking-Band, La MaMa Theatre, and European cities, 1982; Savages, Center Stage, Baltimore, MD, 1982; Do Lord Remember Me, American Place Theatre, New York, NY, 1982; This Chameleon Love, Theatre for a New Audience, New York, NY, 1982-83; Transposed Heads, Lincoln Center Theatre, New York, NY, 1984; The King Stag, Loeb Theatre, American Repertory Theatre, Cambridge, MA, 1984; Juan Darién: A Carnival Mass, St. Clement's Church, New York, NY, and in international cities, 1988, Vivian Beaumont Theatre, New York, NY, 1996-97; The Green Bird, Theatre for a New Audience, then La Jolla Playhouse, San Diego, CA, 1996; The Lion King, New Amsterdam Theatre, New York, NY, 1997-98.
Director of stage works, including The Haggadah, New York Shakespeare Festival, New York, NY, 1980-82; Transposed Heads, Lincoln Center Theatre, New York, NY, 1984; Liberty Taken, Castle Hill Festival, 1985; The Tempest, Theatre for a New Audience, San Diego, CA, 1986, CSC Repertory Theatre, New York, NY, and American Shakespeare Festival, Hartford, CT; The Taming of the Shrew, Theatre for a New Audience, San Diego, CA, 1988; Oedipus Rex (opera), Saito Kinen Festival, Matsumo, Japan, 1992; The Magic Flute, Teatre della Pergola, Florence, Italy, 1993, Piccolo Teatro del Communale, Florence, Italy, 1997; Titus Andronicus, Theatre for a New Audience, then La Jolla Playhouse, San Diego, CA, 1996; Juan Darién: A Carnival Mass, Vivian Beaumont Theatre, 1996-97; The Lion King, New Amsterdam Theatre, New York, NY, 1997-98. Director of Salome, Kirov Opera, St. Petersburg, Russia, and The Flying Dutchman, Los Angeles Opera, Los Angeles, CA; also director of Way of Snow and Perjuangan Suku Naga.
Producer, director, and creator of puppets, costumes, and set designs for television productions, including "Fool's Fire," American Playhouse, PBS, 1992; "Oedipus Rex," Great Performances, PBS, 1993. Appeared in television productions, including The Music Center 25th Anniversary, PBS, 1990; Broadway '97: Launching the Tonys, PBS, 1997; and Behind the Scenes, PBS, 1992.
Director of films, including Titus, Fox Searchlight, 1999, and Frida, Miramax, 2002.
Ohio Arts Council grant, 1974; Watson fellow in Eastern Europe, Indonesia, and Japan, 1974; Ford Foundation grant, 1977-78; U.S. State Department grant, 1978; Villager Theatre Award, distinguished prop and set design and puppets, and Maharam Theatre Design Award, both 1979-80, both for The Haggadah; International Communications Agency, Ford Foundation, and Asian Cultural Council, special funding to direct Asian and American Theatre Workshop sponsored by La MaMa Third World Institute of Theatre Art Studies, 1980; Villager Theatre Award, art of play direction, 1980-81, for Way of Snow; Citation of Excellence in the Art of Puppetry, American Center of the Union Internationale de la Marionette, 1980-81, for Way of Snow and The Haggadah; Maharam Theatre Design Citations for Way of Snow and in costumes for Tirai; Peg Santvoord Foundation grant, script development, 1981; National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Opera-Musical production grant for Revolutionary; Creative Arts Public Service (CAPS) Award, 1982, for development of a mixed media theatre piece; NEA grant, Artistic Association to the American Place Theatre, 1982-83; OBIE Award, special citation, 1984-85, for Transposed Heads; OBIE award, best direction, 1988, for Juan Darién; Guggenheim fellowship, 1990; Dorothy B. Chandler Performing Arts Award, 1990; Brandeis Creative Arts Award, 1990; MacArthur Foundation fellowship, 1992; Emmy Award, outstanding individual achievement in costume design for a variety or music program, 1992, for "Oedipus Rex," Great Performances; International Classical Music Award, best production, 1994; Tony Award, best director of a musical and best costume designer, Outer Critics Circle Awards, outstanding director of a musical and outstanding costume design, and New York Drama Critics Circle award, best musical, all 1998, all for The Lion King; Norton Prize for Sustained Excellence, Boston Theatre Critics Association, 1998.
Liberty's Taken, produced at Castle Hill Festival, 1985.
Juan Darién: A Carnival Mass, St. Clement's Church, New York, NY, 1988.
(With Eileen Blumenthal) Julie Taymor, Playing with Fire: Theater, Opera, Film, Henry N. Abrams Books (New York, NY), 1995, revised edition, 1999.
(With Alexis Greene) The Lion King: Pride Rock on Broadway, Hyperion Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Titus: The Illustrated Screenplay, Newmarket Press (New York, NY), 2000.
(Author of introduction, with Salma Hayek) Frida: Bringing Frida Kahlo's Life and Art to Film, foreword by Hayden Herrera, screenplay by Gregory Nava and Anna Thomas, Diane Lake, and Clancy Sigal, Newmarket Pictorial Moviebooks, 2002.
Contributor of music and lyrics, The Lion King, New Amsterdam Theatre, 1997-98.
Julie Taymor built a distinguished career designing masks, costumes, sets, and puppets for theater productions before achieving fame for her musical The Lion King and later for her films Titus and Frida. Taymor, who grew up in the Boston suburb of Newton, Massachusetts, loved theater as a young child and enjoyed putting on juvenile plays in the family backyard with her siblings. She participated in children's theater programs, becoming the youngest member of Boston's experimental Theater Workshop at age eleven. After graduating from high school at age sixteen, Taymor decided to go to France to study mime with Jacques LeCoq. In Paris, she discovered the expressive potential of masks and puppets, which have figured prominently in her work ever since. "I learned how to transform myself into a nonhuman object," she noted in a Smithsonian interview quoted in Authors and Artists for Young Adults (AAYA), "and how to infuse an inanimate object with character. It was the beginning of my interest in how form shapes a story."
After completing her undergraduate degree at Oberlin College in 1974, Taymor earned a Watson traveling fellowship to study in Indonesia and Japan, and she remained in Java and Bali for four years. The performances she saw in Bali, where theater is part of everyday life, transformed her conception of theater and inspired her to form her own company, Teatr Loh, or theater of the source. Taymor premiered several works with the company, including Way of Snow and Tirai.
Returning to the United States in 1980, Taymor worked with playwright Elizabeth Swados on The Haggadah for the New York Shakespeare Festival. This experience introduced her work to a growing audience and paved the way for a succession of notable works, including the puppets for the American Repertory Theatre's production of The King Stag in 1984. Her production of Juan Darién: A Carnival Mass, however, established her reputation on the New York theater scene. The play, inspired by a short story by Uruguayan writer Horacio Quiroga and featuring music by Taymor's life companion, composer Elliot Goldenthal, tells the story of an orphaned jaguar cub who is adopted by a village mother who is grieving for her own dead child. Transformed by this love, the cub becomes a human child. All too soon, however, his adoptive mother dies of plague, and the boy takes refuge with a circus troupe. At first, the animal trainers treat him kindly, but when they begin to suspect his true origins they turn on him. Now an object of hatred, the boy turns back into a jaguar, which then takes its revenge on the village. Critics marveled at Taymor's use of masks and puppets to express the magical and surrealistic elements in the play. Reviewing a 1996 reprise production in Time, Richard Zoglin called the play a "visually dazzling and utterly original piece of stagecraft."
Increasingly admired as a designer and director, Taymor achieved widespread fame for the stage adaptation of the Walt Disney animated movie The Lion King. Taymor felt the story—in which the cub Simba unwittingly causes his father's death, is banished by his evil uncle Scar, and finally overcomes his false guilt and returns to kill Scar and reclaim his kingdom—had much potential. But she had no wish to treat the material in the sentimentalized manner typical of children's theater. Instead, she chose to incorporate elements from folk rituals and spectacle. As J. Sydney Jones noted in AAYA, "The Lion King was a triumphant showcase for all Taymor's work, from Balinese dance to Javanese shadow play, masks and puppets, and most of all, Taymor's irrepressible creativity." Critics and audiences raved about the show, often describing it as magical. Taymor won two Tony awards, for direction and for costumes, for The Lion King.
With the fame and financial independence that she earned for The Lion King, Taymor went on to focus on a more controversial project, a film adaptation of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, which she had earlier directed for the stage. It is one of Shakespeare's least-known and least admired plays; dealing with themes of extreme violence, it is not often produced. Taymor's adaptation, which blurs time periods and uses startling visual elements, was widely admired. "I was shocked by the play when it was offered to me five years ago," she told Boston Globe writer Peter Brunette. "It's very contemporary. It has an incredible amount to say about people's fierce bloodlust, family ties, culture, and tribal wars, everything that's going on in such a horrific way right now. The play has been out of fashion for a hundred years because people thought it was terrifying and in bad taste. But everything that made it scary and ungenteel in the past is what makes it powerful today."
"Taymor felt strongly that the play lent itself to adaptation as a film," wrote Maria De Luca and Mary Lindroth in Cineaste, "especially because of its thematic resonance in an era when audiences 'feed daily on tabloid sex scandals, teenage gang rape, high school gun sprees, and the private details of the celebrity murder trial.…it is rare to find a film or play that not only reflects the dark events but turns them inside out, probing and challenging our fundamental beliefs of morality and justice.'"
Many critics felt that Taymor's approach in Titus is an appropriate means of dealing with the play's violence. "Unafraid of confronting issues of violence," observed De Luca and Lindroth, Taymor "uses stylization and underscores the play's dark humor to heighten its profound impact and to prevent the film from deteriorating into exploitative sensationalism." Taymor's "dazzling layers of imaginative juxtapositions," they added, "take us beyond the brutality and madness, and provide viewers with a catharsis." Theatre Journal critic Robert F. Gross also respected the way in which Taymor blurs the boundary between real and imagined violence in the play, observing that she "rejects a theatre in which the spectator identifies, however frivolously, with the perpetrators of violence in favor of one which gives witness to suffering." At the same time, however, Gross felt that Taymor neglects the play's language. By focusing on the visual and "neglecting the verbal dimensions of the production," he wrote, "Taymor substantially weakened the power and diminished the complexity of her otherwise insightful and provocative investigation."
Taymor's next project was the film Frida, which was about the life and work of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, who lived from 1907-1954. The artist lived in pain for much of her life, having suffered from polio in childhood and having sustained severe abdominal and spinal injuries in a tramcar accident. Married to the famous mural painter Diego Rivera, Kahlo associated with both avant-garde artists and revolutionary politicians, including an affair with Bolshevik revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky. Her paintings, often depicting views of her own tormented body, are noted for their intense emotion and their surreal blend of realistic and symbolic elements. Taymor explained to San Jose Mercury News writer Bruce Newman that the film posed several challenges; she wanted to convey Frida's psychological depth without diverting attention from her paintings. "Deciding to have life literally imitate art in the film," Newman observed, "Taymor re-created Kahlo's self-portraits as 3-D paintings, with [actress Salma] Hayek suddenly coming to life in such famous pictures as 'Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair.'" Frida generated much praise; though some critics identified weaknesses in the film, many nevertheless admired its ability to, in the words of Art in America contributor Katie Clifford, "honor the spirit of Kahlo's art."
Though her work is rooted in the visual, Taymor has also written plays and lyrics. In addition, she has contributed to three books. The Lion King: Pride Rock on Broadway and Frida: Bringing Frida Kahlo's Lifeand Art to Film deal, respectively, with the play and the film. Julie Taymor, Playing with Fire: Theater, Opera, Film, which Opera News critic Patrick J. Smith deemed "fascinating," documents Taymor's career. Sean Abbott in American Theatre offered an equally admiring assessment, describing the book as a "sumptuous" volume that chronicles Taymor's many artistic adventures. Abbott found the material about Taymor's early career—in particular, her experiences in Asia, where she suffered from malaria and hepatitis, as well as a gangrenous leg wound that required emergency surgery without anesthesia—to be especially interesting.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 42, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2002.
Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Volume 20, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.
American Theatre, April, 1996, Sean Abbott, review of Julie Taymor, Playing with Fire: Theater, Opera, Film, p. 30; December, 1999, Mel Gussow, "Mask On, Mask Off," p. 10.
Art in America, December, 2002, Katie Clifford, review of Frida, p. 61.
Back Stage, December 6, 1996, Irene Backalenick, review of Juan Darién: A Carnival Mass, p. 40; April 21, 2000, Victor Gluck, review of The Green Bird, p. 31.
Back Stage West, October 26, 2000, Rob Kendt, review of The Lion King, p. 22.
Boston Globe, January 16, 2000, Peter Brunette, "The Shock of the Old," p. N1.
Cineaste, summer, 2000, Maria De Luca and Mary Lindroth, "Mayhem, Madness, Method: An Interview with Julie Taymor," p. 28.
Dallas Morning News, August 15, 2000, Al Brumley, review of Titus; October 29, 2002, Philip Wuntch, review of Frida.
Economist (U.S.), August 25, 2001, "Light and Shadows."
Entertainment Design, March, 2000, John Calhoun, "Taymor Tackles Titus," p. 8.
Entertainment Weekly, February 11, 2000, Steve Daly, "Julie Madly Deeply," p. 43.
Film Journal International, October, 2002, Maria Garcia, "Portrait of Frida," pp. 14-15; November, 2002, David Noh, review of Frida, pp. 31-32.
Hollywood Reporter, August 3, 2002, Stephen Galloway, "Artistic Rivalry," pp. 8-10; August 30, 2002, Kirk Honeycutt, review of Frida, pp. 11-12; January, 2003, "The Composer-Director Relationship," pp. S12-S15.
Library Journal, October 15, 2002, Rachel Collins, review of Frida: Bringing Frida Kahlo's Life and Art to Film, p. 75.
New Republic, April 22, 1996, Robert Brustein, review of The Green Bird, pp. 30-31; May 15, 2000, Robert Brustein, "On Theater—Women in the Theater," p. 32.
Opera News, May, 1993, Patrick J. Smith, "New Masks for Old Myths," p. 30; January 20, 1996, Patrick J. Smith, review of Playing with Fire, p. 43.
San Jose Mercury News, October 28, 2002, Bruce Newman, review of Frida.
Sarasota Herald Tribune, March 31, 2000, Amanda Schurr, review of Titus, p. 19.
Theatre Journal, December, 1994, Robert F. Gross, review of Titus, pp. 551-552.
Time, December 16, 1996, Richard Zoglin, review of The Lion King, p. 85.
Variety, January 3, 2000, Todd McCarthy, review of Titus, p. 79; April 24, 2000, Charles Isherwood, review of The Green Bird, p. 37.
Victoria, November, 2000, Claire Whitcomb, "Julie Taymor: Sorceress of the Stage," p. 40.*