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The Vilification of Julie Taymor

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I have worked with Julie Taymor on and off since 1994. The Julie Taymor I know and have worked with on the stage and in film bears no resemblance to the Julie Taymor I read about in article after article damning her as a reckless egomaniac and spendthrift. This organized and sustained vilification of Julie has far worse ramifications for theater artistry as a whole than it does for the ultimate fate of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.

Since working with her in Titus Andronicus at Theater For A New Audience (at St. Christopher Theater in 1994), I have only known Julie as a director who is absolutely committed to making whatever play or film she helms the best that it can be. She has done so under every imaginable circumstance. As a director she's proven time and again to be conscientious of cost, conditions, and capacity. She has made magic with far less than multi-million dollar budgets. Her genius is more reliant upon vision and invention than it is on modern technology or money. This fits right in with who she is as a person: Julie is eminently approachable, not the least bit elitist, and works as diligently on her productions as any artist I know.

As an actor, you sense that Julie is in the trenches with you. At the most fundamental level, the practical sort of grunt work she does frequently manifests in aesthetic elegance. In terms of inspiration and vision Julie excels as much as any director alive today. She is as rigorous and diligent, if not more so, than everyone who works on her productions. At the risk of alienating my other capable director friends, I can think of no other director that I would prefer to work with more than Julie. I am sure I could fill the Foxwoods Theater with actors, artists, producers and technicians who would say the same.

Julie is an extremely collaborative, respectful co-worker. She encourages ideas, personal input, and asks for feedback from her collaborators, cast, and crew. I have never in any way seen her dismiss another colleague's opinions or concepts or way of working. On the contrary, I have found Julie to be extremely generous. She exhibits great flexibility when it comes to creating a project.

While I haven't worked with her on the technical side of theater, I know that great artists like Don Holder have -- time and again. As a renowned lighting director, Don could have his pick of projects, yet he often chooses to work with Julie. The truth is (outside the purview of the so-called legitimate NY theater critics circuit and the gossip-driven mainstream media who have joined the pile-on) the theater community in and around New York, including many people I greatly respect, can't wait to work with Julie again because we know it will be a liberating, unique, thought-provoking, and beautiful experience.

Why, then, is Julie Taymor being attacked so viciously and relentlessly?

In my opinion, the producers of Spider-Man have found a convenient whipping girl to bear the brunt of any woes related to the production. They seem to have absolved themselves from accountability for the show's production while reaping the benefit of the publicity surrounding the absurd decision to jettison the creative visionary behind it. In their minds, the fault couldn't possibly lie with an untested Broadway producer, or the two all but absent rock star composers whose notoriety is derived from a completely different medium. Rather, they are eager to blame the female director whose last Broadway endeavor resulted in nothing short of a transformational experience for audiences around the globe. (Let alone the phenomenal success of The Magic Flute at the Met or her glorious productions of The Green Bird, Juan Darien, and Oedipus Rex... I could go on.)

While Julie is being thrown under the bus, the producers are enjoying the Pyrrhic spoils of their victory: the show remains one of the top three highest grossing productions on Broadway. For theater professionals not to defend her tremendous accomplishment, productivity, and prodigious artistic abilities does a disservice to all theater artists. This is a betrayal to the true spirit of the theater.

In theater, one rises or falls as a company. That's the tradition and the standard. In this case, the producers are allowing a consummate artist to twist in the wind while abetting the perception that Julie Taymor is the person solely at fault for all that may be wrong with Spider-Man. Any logical assessment of the situation here reveals a few stunningly simple facts. First, any financial woes are due to years of repeated starts and stops trying to get this production off the ground. This is in no way the fault of Julie Taymor. Second, as far as I know, Julie has never rigged a harness for an actor, nor ever pulled up the curtain to open a show. Accidents happen on stage. Sometimes they are inevitable. However, the persons directly responsible for mitigating such circumstances are stage managers and stagehands, and the ultimate responsibility rests with the producers. To allow Julie to be portrayed as somehow at fault for these events is simply wrong. Further, the fact that the music and songs may not be complete is, again, the responsibility of the producers. Theater directors aren't hired to travel the world with U2 or beg two rock stars for lead sheets.

Anyone who has followed the theater scene closely knows the poisoned pens have been poised for more than a year in anticipation of attempting to destroy this show. Although it was very clear that what was being attempted with Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark was technically advanced and extremely ambitious, many critics irresponsibly reviewed the show before it was open. Instead of withholding judgment until the official opening, a cabal of closed-minded NY theater critics salivated over its presumed failure or, more precisely, the defeat of Julie Taymor. What vendetta they have against her can only be guessed at, but for anyone who cares about the advancement of the theater and what theater is capable of, this is a tragedy. These actions by reviewers are deliberately destructive, and should be called out at every opportunity.

Would a male director receive the lashing Julie has received? If it were a male director with the reputation and accomplishments of Julie Taymor I cannot believe in good conscience that this would happen in this way. Julie's career is an unqualified success. She is a singular pioneer who deserves to be given as much freedom and support to create as any man with her accomplishments would be given. I marvel at this double standard. We are witnessing a situation where a woman is unceremoniously and illogically dismissed, treated with senseless hostility from her male employers, and nobody speaks in advocacy of her -- not even women's groups. It boggles the mind.

I know firsthand of the potential for theater to change lives. There are millions of people who have seen, for example, The Lion King, and their perception of what theater can do has been radically altered as a result. Those shows, and Julie's other work, have certainly convinced me that theater can be a transcendent experience.

Let me add this: Julie has employed so many black actors from around the world, in The Lion King alone, that she very likely holds the record on Broadway for creating work for the black theater community. As a member of this community, I would be remiss not to mention it, however tangential this may be to some of my colleagues. Still, in a more universal sense, she has made huge strides toward redefining and establishing new parameters of relevancy in the theater. Julie has given us new faces, new ideas, new boundaries -- and a new standard to aspire to. This benefits all of us who hold dear this art form. Love or hate Spider-Man, Julie Taymor should be lauded for her efforts, not burned at the stake.

Even in the throes of this unmerited and unprecedented persecution, I know Julie is a big believer and supporter of art and of theater. For my money, Julie Taymor has the best third act in the business. There is no doubt that this will all ultimately redound to her benefit. I only hope the bullies have sated themselves for a time. It must be annoying having them nip so incessantly at one's ankles.