Julie Taymor wants to give you the best seat in the house at TIFF this year.
She captured her acclaimed stage production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream at the Polonsky Center in Brooklyn on film, shooting 70 hours with handheld cameras.
“I think film is so great for Shakespeare,” says Taymor, the first person to ever win a Tony for Best Direction of a Musical for her work on The Lion King. “You enjoy it in live theatre. The kids who came loved it; the pillow fights, theatrical stripping. They got it. But on film you have close-ups. This is where film is better than the theatre.
“With fours days of shooting, with hand held cameras and using pickups, you are now in the best positions in the house. We’re in positions that no audience could be. So now you are getting the support of the close up, which means you can understand it when you see the facial expression and the lips moving. You don’t need to know what the words are. I found that in Titus Andronicus [which she directed on film with Anthony Hopkins in 1999]. I still don’t know what a ‘weeping welkin’ is, but when Anthony Hopkins says it, I get it. You could turn off the dialogue and you would know what’s going on.”
Her beautiful adaptation is brought to film without the use of any special effects—“What you see was all in the production,” she says—except one miraculous performance by Kathryn Hunter as Puck. The cast and the staging are extraordinary, but Hunter stands out in a performance New York Mag called “part yoga, part cartoon.”
“I think Kathryn is the greatest actor on stage right now,” says Taymor. “She has played King Lear. She’s the only female in London [to do that]. She’s not a movie actress, because nobody has figured it out yet… because she is this strange creature. She is so versatile. I had seen her in five or six shows and a year before I did this I said if I could get Kathryn Hunter to play Puck, I’ll do this.”
It’s a show Taymor has deep connections to.
“It was the first play I ever saw,” she says. “I saw it here in Canada at the Stratford Festival and I played Hermia when I was seven.”
It also led, indirectly, to her biggest Broadway success. When Disney was renovating The New Amsterdam Theatre in New York she knew the first show there had been A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “so I went to Disney and said, ‘Could I do A Midsummer Night’s Dream here.’ They said no, but ‘Could you do The Lion King.’”