Sackler Center First Award Recipient Julie Taymor Talks About Women in Theatre and Staying True to Her Vision

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14 Jun 2013

Julie Taymor
Julie Taymor
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

"I did play Cinderella," Julie Taymor said of her childhood performing in the Boston Children's Theatre program. "But I turned down Snow White."

This decision, made by Taymor when she realized she was always cast as the princess but really wanted to play "one of the juicy bad guys," was indicative of the Broadway-bound child's future. She would make her own decisions, carve out her own path and refuse to be defined by anyone else.

The path that Taymor carved out for herself has included several years of world travel and studying different forms of theatre and puppetry, which led to directing operas and Broadway plays as well as numerous feature films. The recipient of the 1991 MacArthur Genius Fellowship, Taymor made her Broadway debut with Juan Darién: A Carnival Mass, which earned five Tony nominations. Her theatre credits also include The Green Bird, Titus Andronicus, The Tempest, The Taming of the Shrew, The Transposed Heads and Liberty's Taken. In 1997 Taymor directed the stage adaptation of Disney's animated film "The Lion King" and won the Tony Award for Best Costumes and Best Direction of a Musical — the first woman to do so.

On June 14 Taymor was honored with the Sackler Center First Award at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum. The award recognizes women who are "first in their field," and was presented by Sackler in honor of Taymor's lengthy and varied career. Taymor also participated in a Q&A with feminist author and activist Gloria Steinem.

Taymor spoke with about the award, her career and her upcoming projects — of which there are many.

"I love it," Taymor said of the honor. "And the best part of it is having Gloria Steinem interview me. She's an icon and a phenomenal woman and presence. I've known her for a long time, but we've never done anything in-depth like this, so I'm excited."

Excitement about women in theatre was a common sentiment following the 2013 Tony Awards, where Pam MacKinnon and Diane Paulus won for Best Direction of a Play and Musical — the second time in Tony Awards history that women had taken home both honors.

"It's just ridiculous that it would take this long, and it becomes something you talk about when it should be the norm," Taymor said. "It should be much more common. Can you imagine someone saying, ‘Oh my God! Two men won the Tony Awards for directing!'? It's fun when you turn it around."

The lack of women in leadership positions — a hot topic after the release of Sheryl Sandberg's book "Lean In" — has been credited by some to a lack of mentorship. Taymor, who has participated as a mentor in the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, said, "I get very excited when young women come up to me and I am a role model for them. I find it incredibly fulfilling that girls use me or think of me as a model for what they would like to be doing…I do think women have a hard time, and I still feel that's been a part of some of the success and difficulties I've had in the last few years. They can be attributed to that gender difference, but in general, I've put my blinders on. I just go out and do the work and work with who I feel is the right talent to work with — male or female."


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