T is for Theatre, Themes, and Taymor, Julie
I have always loved theatre, and throughout my life I’ve made it a priority to stay involved in the field. Generally I do this as an actress or audience member, but in my liberal arts undergrad program I was also able to experiment with direction, design, playwriting, and textual interpretation and criticism. More recently, I’ve gotten involved as a theatre administrator, and I’d love to see where this may take me as my career evolves.
I intern at The Drama League of New York, and was lucky enough to attend a work-sponsored panel discussion with director Julie Taymor last night. One of the things which really struck me was her discussion of how she, her actors, and her creative teams all work to find a play’s “ideograph,” or central theme which encompasses the story. For an actor, this often takes the form of a physical trait which epitomizes a character’s objectives, personality, and essential nature; she mentioned “Titus Andronicus’s” title character as being very hand-oriented, as a symbol of his desire for power and efficacy. Using the ideograph concept in direction and design, she likens each play to a minimalistic Japanese brush painting: if one were to paint a story’s beginning, middle, and end using only three brushstrokes, how would one do so? Turning these concepts toward “The Lion King,” she used circular imagery throughout, from the shapes of the masks to the rising sun backdrops to represent the familiar “Circle of Life” theme of balance and integration. This theme, in turn, worked its way into the character portrayals–Mufasa, for example, had a circular-shaped mask and walked in an upright, regal manner, while Scar, the embodiment of disharmony, wore an asymmetrical mask and moved crookedly around a cane.
Not only did this discussion really inspire me and make me consider how I might apply idiography to my own work as a performer, it reminded me of what I really love about art in general and theatre in particular. In its best sense, this medium helps us simultaneously tell our individual stories and become greater than ourselves by connecting with something larger. It can heal, enlighten, transform, transcend, captivate, provoke, and forge connections between individuals and opposites. In short, it connects us with our humanity. And it’s this vibrancy which keeps me coming back to it.