Julie Taymor Revisits her Shakespearean Roots

Costume Design by Constance Hoffman/Courtesy Theatre for a New Audience

Disentangled from Spider-Man's web, the imaginative director delves into “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

All the to-do surrounding Julie Taymor’s gargantuan Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark (lawsuits, recriminations, injuries…) made it easy to forget the director’s illustrious, three-plus-decade career before it—much of it devoted to the Bard. She returns to New York’s Theatre for a New Audience (the site of the first Shakespeare play she ever directed, The Tempest) for her first major post-Spidey project: a new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which starts November 2.

Q: The world of this play seems so perfect for you. How have you not taken it on before?

A: It isn’t a play I naturally gravitated toward. Not that it never appealed to me, but in a certain way it seemed people would expect it. I didn’t actually go into the depth of it until I started working on it, and then I discovered more of its riches.

Q: What’s your own history with it?

A: It was the first Shakespeare I ever saw, when I was about eight, and the first one I acted in—at a summer camp I played Hermia. When the New Amsterdam Theatre was being taken over by Disney, I actually asked them about doing it as its first production. They said, “Well, no, but would you do The Lion King?” [laughs] I would’ve done it!

Q: How did you approach the play?

A: It’s beautiful, complex and can be done in so many different ways. And like most plays, it can also be awful. If I couldn’t crack the fairy world in my mind, I didn’t want to do it. That’s why I had the idea of having at least 20 children, and we’re calling them the Rude Elementals. The kids are extensions of Puck in a way, both benevolent and malevolent. They’re anarchy; they’re nature; they’re free spirits; they’re nightmare; they’re the woods. So they’re not just fairies.

Q: Returning to the smaller theater world after Broadway—do you feel more of a kinship here?

A: I’ve always done this—when I did Lion King, I moved to [Carlo Gozzi and Elliot Goldenthal’s] The Green Bird. I just did a Shakespeare movie four years ago…this is nothing new. If I did a big show, I went back and did a smaller show. There’s something I love in stories of transformation, whether it be Spider-Man or The Magic Flute or Grendel or Midsummer—these are themes and stories that attract me, which you can see running through the pieces I choose to do. But not always.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs till January 12; 262 Ashland Pl., Brooklyn; tfana.org.