Julie Taymor's Midsummer Night's Dream

Interview

Friday, December 20, 2013

In 2002, Julie Taymor was the new Queen of Broadway: a MacArthur genius and the creator of The Lion King, which became the most lucrative Broadway musical of all time. But soon after, she was hired to create what became the most notorious Broadway debacle in recent years: Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. The production’s budget ballooned, actors were injured (some seriously), the show languished in previews, and critics hated it. Ultimately, disagreements among the creators and producers ended with Taymor getting fired just before opening night.

While the show finally opened, Taymor remains adamant that the early pans (many critics broke etiquette to publish during previews) and the social media assault were unfair to the creative process. “You will not be able to create as groundbreaking or inventive [work]…if you have people criticizing you before you’re ready," she tells Kurt Andersen. "The idea of this opening date should be up to the people creating it."

Hear more of their conversation about the beleaguered production below.

So what do you do when you’ve suffered such a public flop? Taymor has returned to Shakespeare for a stunning new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the small Theater for a New Audience in Brooklyn. The show is brimming with classic Taymor spectacle, puppetry, and she hasn’t given up on actors flying. A giant bedsheet becomes a wedding tent, the screen for shadow puppets, and more. “It’s emblematic of the entire piece that Shakespeare wrote,” Taymor says. “What is real? Where are we in our interior landscapes? How do we move from the physical world to the dream world? It is the symbol of the whole piece.”

After the failure of Spider-Man, Taymor was offered a production of Macbeth, “which would have been too perfect,” she says. “A great play about treachery!” She pulled out in favor of the lighter Midsummer. But she’s still drawn to Shakespeare’s darkest plays, including Titus Andronicus, which she made into a film starring Anthony Hopkins. It reminds her of the television show Breaking Bad. “It’s Titus in a contemporary setting: how does a good man turn into this monster?”

 

Bonus Track: Spider-Man — behind-the-scenes
Julie Taymor details what went wrong with Spider-Man, how social media threatens innovation in theater, and why Broadway needs more multimillion dollar productions.

 

Slideshow: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Puck (Kathryn Hunter) descends from a sheet hung above the stage in Julie Taymor’s new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Theatre for a New Audience.
Es Devlin

Puck (Kathryn Hunter) descends from a sheet hung above the stage in Julie Taymor’s new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Theatre for a New Audience.

Left to right: Oberon (David Harewood), Titania (Tina Benko), Bottom (Max Casella), and Puck (Kathryn Hunter).
Gerry Goodstein

Left to right: Oberon (David Harewood), Titania (Tina Benko), Bottom (Max Casella), and Puck (Kathryn Hunter).

The Rude Mechanicals (left to right: Jacob Ming Trent, Zachary Infante, Brendan Averett, William Youmans, Max Cascella).
Gerry Goodstein

The Rude Mechanicals (left to right: Jacob Ming Trent, Zachary Infante, Brendan Averett, William Youmans, Max Cascella).

Titania (Benko) and Oberon (Harewood).
Es Devlin

Titania (Benko) and Oberon (Harewood).

Julie Taymor's 3 for 360

1. Breaking Bad
2. Fame: A Novel in Nine Episodes
3. The Ocean

    Music Playlist
  1. Circle of Life
    Artist: Elton John & Tim Rice
    Album: The Lion King (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
    Label: Walt Disney Records
    Purchase: Amazon
  2. NY Debut (Instrumental)
    Artist: Original Cast
    Album: Music From Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark
    Label: Interscope
    Purchase: Amazon
  3. Prologue
    Artist: Composed by Elliot Goldenthal
    Album: Music from A Midsummer Night's Dream
  4. Dream a Little Dream of Me
    Artist: Ella Fitzgerald
    Album: All That Jazz
    Label: Pablo
    Purchase: Amazon

Guests:

Julie Taymor

Produced by:

Jenny Lawton

Comments [1]

Barbara Corley from Charlottesville, VA

I was transported back to the 1989/90 season of Arena Stage in Washington, DC as I listened to Julie Taymor discuss her current production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." My experience of Liviu Ciulei's production was transformative, and I can't help but wonder if she were influenced by this production? I will try my best to bring my daughter to see Ms. Taymor's current production in the hopes of sharing the experience of the magic that theater done well creates.

Dec. 22 2013 12:37 PM

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