Show your cape, Julie Taymor!

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Julie Taymor 2
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Photo by David Shankbone via Flickr
Julie Taymor
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Photo by Suzie Katz for TED 2011 via Flickr

Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to scale tall buildings better than Spiderman, it’s . . .

Julie Taymor! The brilliant! The invincible! 

It’s not because she hails from my hometown, or because she’s beautiful, or because she’s brilliant, or because in 1997 she was the first woman to win a Tony Award for Best Director (it only took 50 years of Tony history), or because she is the most nimble cross-trainer who moves between theatre, opera, and film, between Shakespeare, the avant-garde, and ethnic-mythic-folk storytelling with the greatest of ease; or because she will fight to the death in defense of an idea or “ideograph” (her term for the most stripped-down form of imagistic expression), but because amidst all of that, because of all of that, she is a revolutionary who has changed the frontier of what theatre can be, what women can achieve, what producers will invest in, and what rights she demands (and deserves) for her creative direction (case in point:  the Spiderman skirmish). She is theatre’s comeback kid and high priestess, all rolled into one.

Julie is a woman who knows her worth and has followed her inner compass. She has blazed a brilliant path from the suburbs of Boston (where she began her early theatre training), to France to study the Lecoq technique, then to return to create her own major in mythology and folklore at Oberlin College, while at the same time performing with a variety of professional companies. Then, she secured a fellowship enabling her to live, study, and work for four years in Indonesia, establishing a theatre company whose repertory she remounted in NYC for eager and willing producers. Clear, focused, the author of her own destiny, all roads she paved lead not to Rome, but to the beginnings of a new way of storytelling that spans mediums.

Thirty years later, she is the same whirlwind of creativity and productivity as in her early years as demonstrated when she tosses off a list of current projects for a videographer and reporter at The Atlantic magazine, who caught her for a brief moment in between events during last week’s Aspen Ideas Festival, which for over 60 years has been a gathering place for leaders and individuals across the globe to explore the ideals and ideas that define a good society. If you want to hear her wax poetic on the “low-tech beauty, high-tech spirituality” of theatre, check out this four-minute interview with former CEO of Disney, Michael Eisner, also from this year’s 2012 festival.

At the end of a 2007 interview on In the Charlie Rose Green Room, Julie, in reference to her 2007 film Across the Universe, a romantic drama set in the 1960s and to the music of the Beatles, says:

“Youth, young people . . . change[d] their way of living, their way of thinking, and the world around them. It really is possible. And I think complacency is our enemy. And comfort is also dangerous because you sit back, and you don’t take responsibility. And it doesn’t have to be a chore. This is the way I do it! I do it by doing my art . . . But I think everybody has the ability to transform themselves and the world around them. Even if it’s a teeny, teeny bit, it’s still worth doing.”

It’s refreshing to hear those words, standard in the 60s, but alive and well now, in this millennium.

I wonder . . .

How can we cultivate more female artists like Julie Taymor? Artists who combine brilliant innovation with bold direction? Women directors who traverse within artistic genres as well as across the business strata with (generally) critical, cultural, and commercial success? Women artists who care about making the world a better place and who have the power, talent, resources, and vision to do so? (Let’s “ideograph” Julie! Again and again!). But seriously, what are your thoughts? I’m curious; I’d like to know.

Julie Taymore rejects the idea that there needs to be a separation between entertainment and content. So, in that spirit, enjoy these entertaining and content-filled video clips. The first is a trailer of Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark, which gives you a taste of how far Julie Taymor is willing to push the limits of Broadway. The second is the 2007 interview on Charlie Rose-- her words and passions inpsire. Enjoy!

This post on Julie Taymor is the second in a series on “Jewesses with Attitude”—Women Who Have Inspired Change.

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