Director Julie Taymor honored at Brooklyn Museum, by Kimberly Gail Price

Award winning theater, opera and film director, Julie Taymor was honored on June 13 at the 2013 Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist First awards at the Brooklyn Museum. Museum Trustee, Elizabeth A. Sackler hosted the event. The evening included a conversation between Taymor and feminist icon Gloria Steinem and the presentation of the award, followed by a cocktail reception.

Julie Taymor and Gloria Steinem have a conversation at the Sackler Center. (Price photo)

Julie Taymor and Gloria Steinem have a conversation at the Sackler Center. (Price photo)

Sackler first introduced Taymor’s work and achievements accompanied by a compiled video of the Broadway and film director’s varying work. Steinem’s contribution’s were also presented with Sackler saying, “If you’ve never hear of Gloria Steinem, you’re under the age of three or have been living under a rock.”

Steinem and Taymor were announced and brought out on stage. They sat comfortably in chairs onstage in front of a couple hundred guests. The conversation gave a personal glimpse into Taymor’s experience and lessons she has learned along the way.
The two discussed Taymor’s background and early career beginning in her childhood backyard. Taymor spoke about playing theater with her sister, thanking her parents for providing an artistic atmosphere to grow up in.

The conversation moved quickly to Taymor’s time in Bali, where art and theater is a part of the daily culture. She originally planned to spend four months in the Indian country, but stayed for years.

Taymor spoke about how she connected with Disney and created the famous costumes and set that she became world renowned for in The Lion King. Many of the concepts were based on doing more with less. For example, by leaving the actors’ faces exposed and having the animals mounted on top of their heads, she created a real sense of humanity. In creating the rivers, she talked about the concept of simply pulling a thin sheet of silk through a circular opening to give it rippling water effects.

Steinem also prompted her about her involvement in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. Taymor took the question gracefully, calling the show “tragic” because the full potential of the show never came to fruition. Without time to put humanity into it, the full story was never revealed, she said.

Steinem and Taymor also spoke about their experiences of being women in their career fields. Both talked of struggling to get out of gender specifications to be not women, but people. Taymor used the analogy of a female horse jockey to narrow in on her point. Although the producers have always seen her as a female – and sometimes the lesser sex – “The horse doesn’t care if I’m a woman,” she said.

A humble Taymor receives her ‘Feminists First” award. (photo by Price)

A humble Taymor receives her ‘Feminists First” award. (photo by Price)

Following the conversation, Sackler presented a very humble Taymor with the Feminist First Award. The award was first inaugurated in 2012 for women who were the first in their fields. Among the fifteen women to receive the award the first year were Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, Connie Chung and Susan Stroman. Taymor was honored because she was the first woman to win a Tony Award. In 1988, she received two Tonys for Best Direction of a Musical and Best Costumes for the Lion King. The musical has gone on to become Broadway’s highest grossing show of all time and is the fifth longest running show in Broadway history.

Taymor also earned five Tony nominations in 1996 for Juan Darién: A Carnival Mass. Her other theater credits include The Green Bird, Titus Andronicus, The Taming of the Shrew and Liberty’s Taken. She is currently working on a new adaptation of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which will premiere as the opening production in the Theatre for a New Audience at their new home in Downtown Brooklyn this fall.

Her feature films include, Titus; the Beatles inspired Across the Universe, which was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture; and Frida, that won two Academy Awards. Taymor has also directed five operas. Oedipus Rex earned her the International Classical Music Award for best Operatic Production.

The conversation and awards presentation was followed by a cocktail reception with wine, champagne and hors d’oevres. Guests had the opportunity to mingle and talk with Taymor, Steinem and Sackler. The museum also remained open for guests to view the entire gallery.

The Sackler First Awards were conceived by Sackler. She is a public historian, arts activist, American Indian advocate and matron of the arts. She became a member of the Brooklyn Museum’s Board of Trustees in 2000. She is also a writer and lecturer and has received numerous awards for her work. In 2006, ArtTable awarded her their Distinguished Service to the Visual Arts award. In 2012, the Jewish Women’s Archive honored her with their “Making Trouble/Making History” award.


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