Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Designing for the Stage

Set design, costume design and lighting design are three opportunities for designers who are interested in working in live theatre. One of the most inspiring designers whose work will be well-recognized by students is Julie Taymor (left), director and designer for The Lion King.

In the early 1990s the Walt Disney Company had successful Broadway versions of its popular animated films, such as Beauty and the Beast, but creating a stage version of The Lion King posed a special problem because the principal characters were all animals.

Because of her known expertise in the theatrical use of masks, Disney Chair Michael Eisner asked Julie Taymor to design the Broadway production of The Lion King. She took the unusual approach of clothing the principal actors in traditional African costumes, with stylized animal masks worn on their heads, leaving their human facial expressions fully visible (right).

Other animals are represented by large puppets, many operated by puppeteers who perform in full view of the audience. Taymor directed the production, designed the costumes, co-designed the masks and puppets and re-wrote many of the film's scenes and songs. Giraffes were played by actors on stilts; a single elephant was portrayed by four actors, one for each leg. In all, the production employed over 100 puppets representing 25 different species.

When The Lion King opened on Broadway on November 13, 1997, the New York Times hailed it as "the most memorable, moving and original theatrical extravaganza in years." Taymor received two Tony Awards for the production. She was the first woman ever to receive the coveted award for directing a musical; she was also honored for her brilliant costume design. The Lion King is still running on Broadway, while touring companies take Julie Taymor's vision to audiences around the world.

Click on the heading above to watch a video showing some of the costumes on stage. No really, watch the video.

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