The iconic Gloria Steinem took centre stage, in the auditorium of the Brooklyn Museum, for the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center’s “First Award”, an honor which celebrates feminine firsts in a wide variety of fields. This years recipient Julie Taymor is a highly respected American theatre, opera and film director.
The evening opened with each woman outdoing each other, in an over the top display of praises. Ms Steinem opened with her unabashed praise and awe for Julie Taymor’s ability to create her art with such a signature and unique style. Steinem defined genius as achieving the inexplicable. She asked Taymor “How did you get this way?” and Taymor began by speaking about her childhood. Her mother and sister who were in the audience stood to a round of applause. TAYMOR said “I owe everything to my upbringing. I was given total freedom to dress up, to travel, to build a tree house, to do whatever I wanted.”
She went on to say “ I came from an upper middle class neighborhood right outside Boston. I wanted to be in the theater and at an early age got involved with the Boston Children’s theater. I was cast as Cinderella, even though I desperately wanted to play one of the bad sisters. Who wants to be the goodie two-shoes!. Later though, I did turn down a role as Snow White.
Taymor also spoke about the origins of her interest in tapping into other cultures for inspiration. “The Boston Children’s theater was in a very mixed neighborhood so right off I was introduced to worlds beyond what I knew. This sparked an interest in travel and exploring different worlds. I first went to Ceylon in Sri Lanka and that is where I understood there is no separation between art and religion. Ceremony and performance are one. There was no television so theater was their everyday culture. We create humanity through the education of culture. I next went to Bali and what was supposed to be a 3-month trip turned into 4 years of working and learning about puppetry. Again, the lesson took me to see how entwined the spiritual and the physical can be, the shadows in their puppet theater represent the ancestors and back karma of the puppets. “
Gloria STEINEM asked the audience: “How many of you have seen the Lion King? “ Every single person raised their hand. Julie began to explain what she feels to be the secrets of her theatrical success. She straddles a balance of high tech/low tech theatrical design by exposing wires and making no attempt to hide the art itself. An example she mentioned was how she suggested the desert drought in “The Lion King” By using a silk tarp that is drawn into a hole center stage until it disappears. Rather than attempting to recreate reality she instead calls upon the imagination of the audience. She reaches into the inner reserves of her audience by using techniques of choral chant or sound that defy the English language. She said “Language limits the mind.”
When asked about the tormented legal saga of the Broadway production “Spiderman” Julie Taymor replied “If you have never done something before, you can’t know how long it will take. Trust and patience is required to see a project through to its final form. We were bound to a pre-described lot of time and we were punished at a stage when we were most vulnerable.”
Currently Julie Taymor is holding auditions for The Theater for a New Audience ‘s production of Shakespeare’s “Midsummer’s Night Dream”. The play will open in November and will inaugurate the theater company’s brand new building in downtown Brooklyn. She remarked “People keep telling me- ‘That is such a perfect play for you to do!’ That makes me scared! It means they have a pre-ordained idea of what to expect and that adds pressure.”
Taymor mentioned that she is also hoping to get financing for a new film project based on Wagner’s “Flying Dutchman” opera. She said “It’s a great epic love story. When you think about it, there really are so few unique stories. Shakespeare knew that. That is why he stole from the Greeks. The trick is you have to make it your own. She added that “ the film business is really a tale of two cities. Your film budget is either above 70 million or below 10 million. I want to be somewhere in the middle. “
Gloria Steinem asked Julie if she ever feels confined by being labeled as a woman. Julie said “The audience doesn’t care if I am a woman or a man. The producers do though!” When Gloria asked Julie whether she calls herself an artist or a designer? Julie replied “Artist is like a scarlet letter. That big A. it implies you can’t deal with commerce. As I said before creating takes a lot of trust. Patience and trust can lead to happy successful endings.”
Words/Photos Lizanne Merrill © Artlyst 2013
Photo top: Gloria Steinem presents award to Julie Taymor Photo below: Artist Barbara Nessim, Gloria Steinem and Julie Taymor