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If you like Julie Taymor's story, you might also like:
Michael Eisner,
Athol Fugard,
Jeremy Irons,
Chuck Jones,
James Earl Jones,
Maya Lin,
Audra McDonald,
Jessye Norman,
Trevor Nunn,
Harold Prince,
Lloyd Richards,
Twyla Tharp,
Kiri Te Kanawa and
Robert Zemeckis

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Julie Taymor
Julie Taymor
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Julie Taymor Interview (page: 4 / 6)

Theater, Opera and Film Director

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  Julie Taymor

We've read that art is a way to try and find a life more real than life, that we go after art to transform ourselves. Here we are, finding out about ourselves from an ancient tale, finding out how we are in 2006 from looking back a thousand years ago.

Julie Taymor: Well, "the monster" hasn't disappeared. With all the technology, you'd think communication would be better, but it isn't. I think it's worse, in a certain kind of way. We've made our little clubs and our little cultures.

Americans in particular are myopic. They're not traveling as much. When you were a college student, the next thing you would do on graduation was to take a year off and travel. That's what I did. I went to Indonesia. I stayed four years. Now, you've got to go and make sure that you get that job or become a movie star or plan your plan so you can have your merchandise, so you can -- I am telling you, it was not even remotely important to me where I lived or what I owned. And I didn't for years have a place that was my own, and I don't think that's the values of young people today at all.

Even for a very successful artist, there are setbacks; there are times when you doubt yourself. You've had some awkward moments in the last couple of weeks with this opera, with an elaborate set that didn't work as you planned at first. Can you tell us how you came through that?

Julie Taymor: Well, it was funny. I heard Ralph Nader speak earlier, and he said, "When you're in your 50s and 60s, you're more seasoned." That was the word, "more seasoned." He was talking about how you have to risk failure. Well, I suppose in the sense that I didn't have a complete mental breakdown over the last two weeks, I'm more seasoned.

What happened here? How did I allow this production to be so ambitious and a set to be created that was impossible for this opera company with this limited amount of time and this budget? I allowed my imagination to just play out. Now, as of today, I can say, "All right." Because we had an okay performance last night. It's not perfect. It will never be perfect, not this set. We don't have time. So I have to deal with my discomfort with the fact that I am a perfectionist, and I know it should be better, but what I really bow down to now is that the music and the performers sing and dance, meaning that it's good. They're good. The technical stuff is still messy, and I can't do anything about it, which is annoying, because I've done much better productions than this that way.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

So it's been a total nightmare. Dangerous.

We had to push to producers to postpone, which is unheard of in opera, they say. But I said, "It's safety. If you don't postpone, I'm not going to back going on that stage, because we have people on high cliffs and mountains and flying in the air, and staircases flying all around. It's too complicated." So later than sooner they decided to postpone the opening and call it two previews -- our premiere was a dress rehearsal. And we haven't had that much time to fix it, but it is definitely running now. Knock on wood. Because who knows? You know, it's human error or computer error.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

That's part of the arts -- and scientists say this too -- that it's through failure, through disappointment, through experiment that you are able to find the theorem or the name of the fish or the right chemical.

Julie Taymor: I really do believe that if you don't challenge yourself and risk failing, that it's not interesting. This is a story that was told many times with The Lion King, but when I first created this concept, none of that brass at Disney -- except for the producer, Tom Schumacher, and one other, Peter Schneider -- really believed in it. So I said, "Fine. If you don't believe that you can put masks on people's heads and create this dual event, where you have the human and the animal simultaneously, get me the money to do it properly and I'll do a workshop. And I'll do three different kinds: I'll do my original concept, I'll do makeup and I'll do a mask. Because I've got nothing to prove. I just believe that this is the right technique for telling this story."

We did the right workshop. I set it to be on a stage with the right lighting and the costumes, because you can't judge in a fully lit rehearsal room. "I can, but you can't, because you're film people." I mean, they can't make the leap. So they need all of the advantages that they should have. When we finished, every one of the techniques worked, which of course they would, because Peking opera works, and Kabuki theater works and Javanese shadow puppetry works. And what Michael Eisner said -- God bless his soul -- he was there last night, actually. He said, "Well, they all work, and your original idea I think we should go with, because it's the most risky, and therefore the payoff, if it works, will be the biggest."

Probably even he couldn't have imagined how big that pay-off would be.

Julie Taymor Interview Photo
Julie Taymor: No. No. The point is that they didn't do the safe thing. Even hiring me wasn't the safe thing. It was potentially interesting. I had never done a commercial hit before, or a Broadway show. But there was a sense that I had a way to tell this story, and they trusted me. They let me, as an artist, do it, and they supported me. I've had that rarely. I have another theater company that has done it very well. L.A. Opera did it. But they couldn't necessarily quickly support it because it was bigger than our time allowed. Now, we hope that, after last night, it will be smoother. It worked very well last night, so it was exciting.

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This page last revised on Sep 28, 2010 16:31 EST
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