Show People with Paul Wontorek: Julie Taymor of THE LION KING & M. BUTTERFLY



Tony-winning director Julie Taymor discusses THE LION KING’s 20th anniversary, M. BUTTERFLY, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE and more.

Here are some must-read highlights:

ON STORYTELLING FOR THE STAGE IN THE LION KING
“[When I started work on The Lion King], I thought, ‘I’m going do what I know is the origin of theater.’ [The iconic sun is] just fabric and bamboo. When it gets pulled up and rises, the audiences sees the mechanics of it. They are going to be moved in a very poetic, spiritual way because of its obviousness. Now, people would think it would be the reverse. They would think that if you show the magic, it would lose its depth, but it isn’t that way because everything about playing and creating theater from the beginning of time is about the suspension of disbelief. I think that’s the soul of the show on a visual level. I think that’s the beauty of the work. I guess I’m remembering the simplicity of why theater works is always important. I don’t ever use techniques unless I feel like it’s absolutely essential to the story telling.”

ON BRINGING M. BUTTERFLY BACK TO THE BOARDS
“Since David Henry Hwang wrote the play, all of this information about the true story came out after the original production. In the original script, it’s a huge secret: that this is what appears to be a Chinese diva, female opera singer, who at the end turns out to be a guy. That’s what the original production was about more than anything. That doesn’t shock today. It doesn’t feel like that is the most important thing in their story. In the original story, it’s much more gender fluid, which felt so much more contemporary. Our shock is really about the love story. I find it equally if not more so shocking to see how these two people have to navigate being truly in love with each other in such an unusual situation, this kind of love that cannot be named.”

ON BEING “HAPPILY UNMARRIED”
“[I’ve been with Elliot Goldenthal] for over 30 years. ‘Happily unmarried,’ as they say. He did the score to M. Butterfly with Puccini, so you’ve got Puccini, from Madame Butterfly, and then Elliot literally had to write Chinese opera. He’s done all my movies, most of my theater. I met him through work. We worked together for five years. It was…’What?! Who’s that?’ Our relationship working together is so vital and exciting and sexy because that’s how we fell in love. We’re creative soulmates.”

ON HER WORLDY CHILDHOOD
“In those days, nobody had fear. I was probably nine, 10, 11, and I would take the T from the suburbs into Boston, and what was fantastic about being a part of Boston Children’s Theatre is that the kids came from all over. In the suburbs, you’re with people who live in the suburbs. In Boston, I met kids of all different races. It was much more diverse. It really started my wanderlust, which is to take myself out of my own comfortable environment and put myself into the place that challenge me and meet people who are different from I am.”

ON GETTING ACROSS THE UNIVERSE TO THE GREAT WHITE WAY
“As of last week, it was happening! If we went straight to Broadway, it could’ve happened 10 years ago, but we want to create it in a different kind of theater. I did have a good meeting last week. I’m not going to say with who because I don’t want to jinx it. That piece, like M. Butterfly, has the love story but is also extremely political. It’s about how young people must take responsibility. Get off their chairs and their couches and out of their iPads and iPhones and take charge. If you don’t like what’s happening to the world, you better change it. It doesn’t matter that it’s set in the Vietnam War. It’s about young people for all time, across the universe and these songs transcend time. I’ve wanted it for so many years. Hopefully in the next two years, we finally get to see Across the Universe onstage.”

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