Born in 1952, Julie Taymor got involved in her life’s work and passion at age seven by acting and making scenery and props with her sister in backyard productions in the family’s suburban Boston neighborhood. Three years later, her “real seriousness” about theater led her to join the Boston Children’s Theater, and in her last year of high school she became the youngest member of the Theater Workshop of Boston, an avant-garde troupe that presented original work. At age 16, Taymor went on her own to Paris for a year to study at L’Ecole de Mime Jacques LeCoq, where she first worked with masks. Outside the classroom, Taymor engaged in a less formal investigation of cinematic technique by going to see films almost daily, which would prove to be influential later in her career.
In 1970, Taymor entered Oberlin College in Ohio. During a particularly creative era for off-off Broadway, she took advantage of an Oberlin program that allowed her to earn credit working with theater companies in New York. In addition, she studied acting at the Herbert Berghof School as well as anthropology at Columbia University. Taymor returned to Oberlin at the invitation of the legendary experimental theater director, Herbert Blau, to participate in his company’s creation of original work. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1974 with a major in folklore and mythology, Taymor performed with Blau’s group in Chicago and New York.
Taymor next devoted her energy to the study of visually-oriented theater and experimental and traditional puppetry. She was awarded a Watson Fellowship to study in Eastern Europe and Asia. Her first stop was Indonesia, where she planned to stay for a few months but remained for four years. Inspired by theatrical traditions there, she founded a theater company, Teatr Loh (“the source” in literary Balinese, and “oh my God!” in everyday Indonesian), with an international ensemble of actors. Cultural and individual boundaries were the themes of their inaugural work, Tirai
), a play that included six languages and toured Indonesia. When Taymor returned to New York, she designed for productions, and in 1984 began directing, drawing artistic inspiration not only from Indonesia but also from Japan, Mexico, Latin America, Europe and Africa.
Taymor delved into the art and life of these cultures to express universal human themes. Not one to shy from challenges, she did not hesitate to assume many artistic duties and mix art forms to create productions that would move audiences both visually and emotionally. Juan Darién: A Carnival Mass
, which was first staged in New York in 1988, blurred the boundaries between film and theater, by altering the size and orientation of scenic elements in the production to achieve the cinematic effects of pans, zooms, and close-ups. The production brought major attention to Taymor’s work, including two Obies for exceptional achievement off-Broadway.
As director, co-composer, costume designer, and co-designer of masks and puppets for the spectacular critical and commercial success The Lion King
, Taymor has now become widely recognized as the extraordinary, multifaceted artist about whom theater aficionados have know for years. The Lion King
won six 1998 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Awards went to Taymor for Best Costume Design and Best Direction of a Musical. Taymor is the first woman ever to receive a Tony for directing a musical.
Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH, USA (1970-1974)
L’École de Mime Jacques LeCoq, Paris, France (1969)