Taymor, Julie

views updated


TAYMOR, JULIE (1952– ), U.S. director. Born in Newton, Mass., Taymor had a passion for theater beginning at age seven with backyard performances of Cinderella. She began working with masks at 16 when studying at L'Ecole de Mime in Paris. Then she went to Oberlin College, where she joined Herbert Blau's experimental theater company and also studied folklore and mythology. After graduation, she went to Indonesia, staying for four years on fellowships, and developed a mask-dance troupe, Teatr Loh, living with one of the actors in a small compound with a dirt floor and no running water or electricity. The tensions she witnessed as a slow-moving individualistic culture confronted the fast pace of consumer-driven change inspired her first major theater work, Way of Snow, performed by an international company of actors, musicians, dancers, and puppeteers. Taymor designed her first American production, The Odyssey (1979), at the Baltimore Stage and achieved her first acclaim in New York City as production designer for Elizabeth Swados' The Haggadah (1980), creating a giant seder tablecloth that billowed up, Beijing Opera-style, to become the Red Sea, not to mention life-size puppet rabbis debating Passover scholarships, and alarmingly graphic plague effects projected through shadow puppets. She and a composer, Elliot Goldenthal, who later became her companion, collaborated on Juan Darien, A Carnival Mass (1988), which was revived at Lincoln Center in 1996, giving Taymor her first Broadway credit. From there, Taymor was engaged by the Disney company to take a story that many people know, The Lion King, a 1994 film that grossed $450 million worldwide, and elevate it to a theatrical event of enduring magnitude. The musical blended actors in masks and African costumes and life-size animal puppets operated by actors in full view of the audience. A giraffe is actually an actor wearing a conelike giraffe neck and head, balanced on arm and leg stilts. The show opened in 1997 and was a huge hit. It received 11 Tony Award nominations, including best musical, book, score and direction. Taymor won in two categories, direction and costume design. Besieged with opportunities after her overwhelming success, Taymor turned to film, directing Titus (1999), an adaptation of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, starring Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange. Taymor's edgy and avant garde take on Shakespeare's early drama, with music video-style editing, offended some by its goriness and supposed lack of reverence for the source material. The film was not a success, but Taymor triumphed with her next film, Frida (2002), a biographic portrait of the half-Jewish Mexican artist Frida Kahlo starring Salma Hayek. The film won six Academy Award nominations and won in two categories, for best makeup and original score.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]