“I conceive and I write and I design and I direct. I’m really a theatre maker, but there’s no word for that,” she says. As a child, she performed with the Boston Children’s Theatre and, by the age of 10, developed what she calls “a real seriousness about theatre”. Her passion for Asian theatre was sparked when she travelled as a teenager to India and Sri Lanka on a cultural exchange programme. She studied in Paris with Jacques Lecoq before going on to Oberlin College in Ohio (1970-1974), where she majored in the ritual origins of theatre as expressed through folklore and mythology, and joined Herbert Blau’s experimental theatre company.
Her interest in masks and puppetry as a high art form was developed between 1974 and 1978 in Indonesia, where she founded Teatr Loh, an international theatre troupe. In 1979, in the U.S., she began masterminding productions incorporating set, costume, puppet and mask designs. Among her early works were The Haggadah (1980) and the musical, Liberty’s Taken (1985), created with composer Elliot Goldenthal. Juan Darién: A Carnival Mass, 1988, was her first Broadway project. In 1992, she made her opera-directing debut in Tokyo with Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex, starring Jessye Norman and Bryn Terfel. In 1997, her stage production of The Lion King received international acclaim. Her feature film directorial debut, Titus (1999), was followed in 2002 by Frida, her Academy Award-winning biopic of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. As well as receiving a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant”, her honours include two Tony awards for The Lion King. Her opera Grendel, created with Goldenthal, premiered at the Los Angeles Opera in 2006. Her latest film is Across the Universe, featuring Beatles songs. A musical based on Spider-Man is in development, with Bono from U2, and Taymor’s new film of Shakespeare’s Tempest is due for release soon, with the central character Prospero becoming Prospera, played by Dame Helen Mirren.