Design: Theatre director, designer and film maker, Julie Taymor talks about her presentation at Open Design Afrika 2020 and reflects about the future of live performance
|What: Julie Taymor at Open Design Afrika Where: Online – Open Design Afrika When: Festival runs October 27-31, 2020 Julie Taymor presentation: October 27, session 4, Inspirator @Afrika is Rising Day Platform: https://opendesignafrika.org/festival/ Cost: no charge. The festival is not geo-locked for South Africa- click in and watch|
| “I’ve been asked: ‘What do I feel about the future of live performance.’ I’ve actually been trying to do something in a new kind of theatre that I think is a potentially very exciting way to work which is this new project of mine. I would like to work on live theatre and film simultaneously… I don’t believe that film should be used just as projections and backgrounds. I believe it can be subject matter moving into dimensionality and into live performance. That is something I would definitely be interested in developing in the future… It is not like I’m going to put a camera on a live theatre performance and just put it into movie theatres. It is two different mediums. I would make them very different. Same story; done differently. Elements might be the same though; elements.” |
Extracts from interview with Julie Taymor, October 2020, with TheCapeRobyn, for Open Design Afrika [October 27-31, 2020]. The acclaimed theatre director, designer and film maker is speaking at the festival, streaming live on https://opendesignafrika.org/festival/ Excerpts from the interview follow:
Theatre director, designer and film maker, Julie Taymor is a superstar in theatre and film. Her extensive body of work is extraordinary and includes opera, Shakespeare and her ground breaking musical theatre adaption of the Lion King Disney film, for stage. She came out to South Africa as part of the original Lion King production and then she subsequently returned to cast the international production.
Taymor’s film portfolio, includes direction of the Oscar nominated film, Frida, starring Selma Hayek. Her biopic, The Glorias [released January 2020] – inspired by women’s liberation movement icon, Gloria Steinhem – was screened to acclaim at The Sundance Film Festival. Taymor was scheduled to speak in Cape Town in January 2020-at the Rolex Weekend -but was unable to attend because of illness. Now, she will ‘visit’ Cape Town – albeit virtually as a speaker at Open Design Afrika which is on from October 27-31, 2020. Taymor will be presenting her talk from her home in Martha’s Vineyard, USA.
She is thrilled to be a speaker at Open Design Afrika. Her talk will focus on her epic staging of The Lion King- from animated film to theatre.
TheCapeRobyn: How did you get involved with Open Design Afrika?
Julie Taymor: A very good friend of mine, Richard Hsu from Shanghai called me and asked me if I’d be involved. [Richard Hsu is also a speaker at Open Design Afrika He is a founder and curator of TEDxShanghai).
TheCapeRobyn: What will be the focus of your talk at Open Design Afrika?
Julie Taymor: I think because of my connection to Africa through The Lion King, I think it’s talking more about what in the evolution of the Lion King from the animated film to the live theatrical production -what was the creative choices, the design choices, especially the choices that connect directly with Africa culturally , so I’m talking about how I worked as a, you know I’m not just a director, but I conceived the second part of the story, I wrote one of the songs with Lebo M, I brought Lebo into it the Lion King live, he was much more focused, as is the choral singing and having south African performers in almost every production around the world, and changing the lead character Rafiki to a female based on the sangomas – South African shamans. Basically I was the costume and set designer, so the influence of different tribal African design and how I did that- what were those choices and what was I looking for. At Open Design Afrika, I will be covering all aspects of Lion King and how I came to that creatively.
TheCapeRobyn: In an interview with Oprah, November 2001, when asked about your staging of The Lion King, you said: “My aesthetic is not a Disney aesthetic at all, but when I met with the wonderful producers at Disney, they weren’t looking for me to do their aesthetic. I’d already spent 20 years in the theatre, so if they were going to hire me, they’d be hiring me for what I have to offer.” You didn’t want it to be a Disney thing, you wanted it to look to Africa?
Julie Taymor: Well I would never say that you don’t say to Disney: “I’m not going to do a Disney thing.’ NO. It’s just they asked me to do what I do and what I do is very handmade. It’s inspired by Asia and Africa specifically for the Lion King. If you look at the poster for the Lion King, it’s more like a Japanese woodblock print. It is not airbrushed. If you look the original movie of the Lion King, it’s a very different style. It is very slick, and mine is much more: Every piece of fabric in the Lion King started white- every piece. It’s all hand-printed and hand painted. There’s nothing that was bought by the yard. Everything, even every bead. There’s no plastic. Now I don’t know what they’re doing now, 25 years later. In the original staging, we had shibori techniques – tie dying. We had all kinds of phenomenal crafts people on the Lion King. It was very exciting. The corsets -all hand beaded everything- and my masks- I’d sculpt every mask- painted each one. Then I’d work with a team of craftsman to do the mechanics to make them lighter. I sculpted clay but we would use a mould and then use carbon fibre to make them [cast] very light so the actors are not wearing heavy masks.
TheCapeRobyn: Have you been working on any projects during Covid?
Julie Taymor: Our film, The Glorias, is on Amazon Prime in the United States and Canada. It was supposed to go into movie theatres, but because of Covid it had to change to streaming. But getting that film out was a big part of my time. We premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January and then I had to finish the end credits; the music. Then we did an enormous amount of press in August and September, and in the meantime I worked with a young screen writer on a new film; an adaptation which we can’t talk about unfortunately yet. And we finished that script. She wrote it, but I guided her. And I just completed this week, an original screenplay that I’ve been working on for five years that I’m very excited about, but I don’t really want to talk about it just yet. I hope I get to make it as theatre and film.
I’ve been asked: ‘What do I feel about the future of live performance.’ I’ve actually been trying to do something in a new kind of theatre that I think is a potential very exciting way to work which is this new project of mine. I would like to work on live theatre and film simultaneously… And often when you have something like, okay the Lion King was a movie. Then it becomes theatre. Many shows like Hamilton begin as live theatre and then they become movies. I have created this new project- again I can’t go into detail- but it started out as theatre- in Asia.
When I was in my early 20s, I spent four years living in Indonesia and travelling through Asia so there’s a lot of Asian inspiration and influence in my work. This particular story starts from an ancient myth in Korea but then it goes into the future. I was going to do it in a new kind of theatre that we were building, working surrounded the audience. They’re on a turntable and it combines 3D and all new technologies in film and theatre. What I believe is; I think you can really create a new kind of theatre that would be safe but would be different…If I created a theatre piece in Johannesburg or Cape Town, people in New York City or California or Tokyo are not going to be able to come and see it…not everyone can get there. It’s very difficult… I think you can have a very different experience in live theatre- in a way more poetic and what the design means, what poetry design means. But I like the idea of using film and theatre. I don’t believe that film should be used just as projections and backgrounds. I believe it can be subject matter moving into dimensionality and into live performance. That is something I would definitely be interested in developing in the future.
TheCapeRobyn: Hybrid- streaming something at the same time –simultaneous – as it’s on live on stage?
Julie Taymor: Well, I don’t know about streaming… We had 1000 people at the premiere of The Glorias at Sundance, screaming, chanting, clapping, standing ovation and now I see it streaming for one person or two. They can get up and go to bathroom; go to the kitchen, break it up into two parts. I don’t think streaming is the equivalent of going to the movies or to the theatre. I think it is a very good thing when you will be able to go to the movies or to the theatre. The one movie I’m doing will be fine in a streaming format. The other movie is an experience. And for that I would still like to potentially be in movie theatres- whatever they may be -in the future.
[Nothing beats live but some of Taymor’s projects will be designed to be staged live on stage and/or screened in a cinema as part of an experience, very much with the audience in mind. Some of these works will also be designed to pivot, to be presented as play-back form/streaming as video-on demand for audiences, watching at home or in other cities].
TheCapeRobyn: It won’t be simultaneous – streaming and live?
Julie Taymor: No, it can be simultaneous- but [simultaneous] in movie theatres as opposed to streaming. Streaming means everybody who has access at any time. I still think movies can be event oriented. And yes, I think what you’re saying is ‘playing’, not ‘streaming’- but playing in movie theatres around the world as it’s playing in a theatre. Lion King has been going for 25 years. It didn’t stop the new Lion King animation from making a lot of money and going around. It’s a separate medium. It is different. They are not exactly the same. It is not like I’m going to put a camera on a live theatre performance and just put it into movie theatres. It is two different mediums. I would make them very different. Same story, done differently. Elements might be the same though; elements.
TheCapeRobyn: Reflections about Cape Town and being a part of this design festival?
Julie Taymor I’m thrilled to be a part of a festival like this. I think it’s a wonderful idea and of course I think there are so many exciting things happening in Africa all over that I don’t know enough about. I was in Botswana, but I don’t know enough about the rest of Africa. I’m very interested to be a part of this and hear what other people have cooking. My favourite choreographer in the whole world is Gregory Maqoma. I saw his work in Johannesburg and we met again in New York. I love his work.
I also have a fellowship. I give fellowship awards to young directors, Americans. One of my young directors, an African American, had never been out of the United States and part of his travel studies was to Africa. That was so important to him. I am proud that I was able to give him the trip that I had- when I was his age. This fellowship is called the Taymor World Theatre Fellowship https://www.tjtwtf.com/ It brings American directors, because I think American are too narrow minded. For me- travel- going to Asia, Africa Latin America- is what set me as an artist. I feel as Americans, we get very insular. This is why I started this foundation. They can’t go to Europe; they have to go to non-European based cultures.
*Image credit: Julie Taymor. Photo by Annie Leibovitz, copy supplied by Jonathan Zautner.