Director, playwright, puppeteer, designer. Born on December 15, 1952, in Boston, Massachusetts. The creative force behind numerous stunning productions, including Broadway’s smash musical The Lion King, Julie Taymor has become a much-admired, innovative director in the worlds of theater and opera. She has also employed her visionary talents to create several feature films, including Frida (2002) and Across the Universe (2007).
Growing up in Newton, Massachusetts, Taymor developed a love of theater at an early age. She enjoyed putting on shows at home and later joined a Boston theater company. Also interested in other cultures, Taymor spent time in India and Sri Lanka when she was 15 as part of an educational program. She then went to Paris to study mime with Jacques LeCoq after finishing high school. This trip was also an introduction to theatrical potential of masks and puppetry, two art forms that would be reappear in her later work.
After graduating from Oberlin College in 1974, Taymor traveled to Asia on a fellowship. She visited Indonesia, Japan, Bali, and Java during her travels and decided to remain abroad after her program ended. In Bali, Taymor established her own theater company, Teatr Loh. She told Back Stage that she was impressed by theater’s role in society there. “I was very taken with the fact that the theatre productions there were a part of everyday life. . . . You don’t do it because . . . you’re going to be reviewed in Time magazine, but it’s part of what it is to be a living human being.
Returning to the United States in 1980, Taymor continued to pursue a career in the theater. She won the American Theatre Wing’s Hewes Design Award for Scenic, Costume, and Puppet Design for her work on The Haggadah. For Juan Darien, Taymor won the Hewes Award for Concept Puppetry and Masks in 1988. She did not only design the puppets and masks for this production, however.
She directed and wrote the book for this musical, which drew its inspiration from a story by Horacio Quiroga. For the music, Taymor had turned to her life partner, composer Elliot Goldenthal. In 1996, a Broadway production of the play earned five Tony Award nominations, including one for Taymor’s direction and another for Goldenthal’s score.
Propelling Taymor’s career to new heights, the musical The Lion King demonstrated her immense talents in many aspects of the theatrical arts. She helped translate a popular Disney animated film about a lion cub—and on a grander level, about the cycle of life itself—into one of Broadway’s greatest spectacles. As with Juan Darien, Taymor was deeply involved in much of the design work as well as directing the project. She even contributed lyrics to some of the songs.
All of her hard work paid off. After its fall 1997 debut, the production received a lot of critical attention and netted 11 Tony Award nominations, including two wins for Taymor for Best Director and Costume Designer. The musical featured an interesting fusion of actors and puppets. “You’re getting the human and the animal simultaneously. The audience is able to follow the story and the character, but you’re also enjoying the art of it,” she explained to Back Stage. The Lion King continues to attract eager audiences today—more than a decade after its premiere.