Julie Taymor
Director, The Lion King
November 15, 2000, 1:00 p.m. ET

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Julie Taymor, the director, costume designer, and co-designer of masks and puppets for The Lion King on Broadway, is a storyteller in the best sense of the word. During her 25-year career in theater, film, opera and television, Taymor has become famous for her ability to spark the imagination of audiences through the innovative use of masks, puppetry, live actors and spectacular scenic imagery.

In 1998, she won a Tony Award for best direction of a musical for The Lion King, making her the first woman ever to take home that prize, and received a second Tony for best costumes. She is also the recipient of MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships, two Obie awards, and the first annual Dorothy B. Chandler Award in theater, among other prizes.

Taymor’s work draws on literature, folklore and cultural traditions from around the world, especially Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Europe, and Africa. Her characteristic style began to develop early. Born in 1952, she began working with masks at age 16 when studying at L’Ecole de Mime in Paris. Back in the United States, Taymor attended Oberlin College, where she focused on the ritual origins of theater through a study of folklore and mythology. Later, she refined her acting style at the Herbert Berghof School and studied anthropology at Columbia University.

After receiving a Watson Fellowship to research theater and puppetry in Eastern Europe and Asia in the mid-1970s, she traveled to Indonesia, where she lived for four years. There she studied Javanese shadow puppetry and was inspired by theatrical traditions that she integrated into her own work – among them the view that the process is as important as the final product in a creative work, that puppetry is one of the highest art forms, and that performing is a vital part of everyday society.

While in Indonesia, she founded Teatr Loh, a theater company that created original pieces. After returning to New York, she first designed for productions, then began directing in 1984.

The first major retrospective of key productions from her career, Julie Taymor, Playing With Fire, opens on November 16 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. The traveling exhibition includes scene recreations, puppets, masks, costumes, video clips, set designs, special effects, theatrical lighting, preparatory drawings and music. Among the works featured are some of her early pieces staged in Indonesia; the 1999 feature film Titus with Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange; The Green Bird, Taymor's latest Broadway production; Disney’s The Lion King; and The Tempest, Taymor’s first production of Shakespeare.