When we think of great theater auteurs, we often think of Belgium’s Ivo Van Hove, Germany’s Thomas Ostermeier, or the legendary Peter Brook, who transplanted years ago from London to Paris.
Where, then, are the women? Very much present, it turns out. The word auteur, of course, is French for “author,” and the six women profiled below possess a creative vision so unique it often takes primacy over that of the playwrights of their productions. True, some may see this as a transgression—especially in the UK and in America, where the dramatist usually dominates. But while some audiences may fear radical interpretations of the Shakespeare or Chekhov plays they know and love, or fear a “director’s theater” over-manipulating classics into self-indulgent, over-intellectualized work, the truly innovative auteurs are, in fact, extraordinary artists. The six women leave an imprint because they take creative risks that provide fresh takes on classics that illuminates, not distorts, the vision of the playwright.
This article is originally from Cennarium Backstage Summer Edition digital magazine, with full visuals and links. If you prefer to read it there, click here.
Julie Taymor became the first woman to win Broadway’s Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical—for The Lion King—in 1998. She is known for her adventurous approach to directing for both stage and screen; her films Titus (1999), Frida (2002), Across the Universe (2007) and The Tempest (2010) were nominated for, and won, Oscars. At 13, Taymor studied in Sri Lanka and India with the Experiment in International Living; at 16 she studied mime in Paris at L’École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq. Later, she spent five years in Indonesia, founding Teatr Loh. Taymor, 65, is widely acclaimed for her imaginative use of puppetry and masks, hallmarks of her work. She is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, two Obie awards, the Dorothy B. Chandler Award and the Brandeis Creative Arts Award.
Ariane Mnouchkine is widely considered one of the world’s most influential auteurs. Born in the suburbs of Paris, she co-founded Théâtre du Soleil in 1964 at the age of 25. Mnouchkine’s oeuvre is staggering, with work that consistently engages history and politics, is often devised through collective improvisation, and regularly draws on performance traditions from all over the globe, including Noh, Kathakali, Kabuki, mime, and circus. Her awards and honors include the International Ibsen Award, in 2009, and the Goethe Medal, in 2011.
Elizabeth LeCompte is an American director of experimental theater, dance and film, and a co-founder of The Wooster Group. LeCompte, 73, has directed more than 40 productions for the legendary ensemble, and is well-known for imaginative deconstructions of classic texts, use of multimedia, and a collage-like visual aesthetic. She is the recipient of the NEA Distinguished Artists Fellowship for Lifetime Achievement in American Theater, a MacArthur Fellowship, the Skowhegan Medal for Performance, the Chevalier des Artes et Lettres from the French Cultural Ministry and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Phyllida Lloyd is an English director of stage and screen; she may be best known for her films Mamma Mia! (2008) and The Iron Lady (2011). Lloyd, 60, recently directed a groundbreaking, all-female trilogy of Shakespeare plays, including Julius Caesar, Henry IV and The Tempest. All three productions ran at the Donmar Warehouse in London and at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, New York. Lloyd’s creative collaborators also tend to be women, perhaps explaining why she is sometimes considered a “political artist” centered on the female experience. In 2010, Lloyd was awarded the CBE by Queen Elizabeth II for her service to drama.
Deborah Warner is an English director of theater and opera, and famous for radical and highly controversial interpretations of Shakespeare, Ibsen, Brecht, and Beckett. After training at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama. she founded The KICK Theatre Company, which brought a Shakespeare production to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival every year. Her big break came in 1987, when she was invited to direct Titus Andronicus for the Royal Shakespeare Company. The success of that production paved the way for an RSC invitation to direct Electra, through which she met her longtime collaborator (and onetime partner), actress Fiona Shaw. In the UK, Warner, 58, has won two Olivier Awards for Best Director; in New York, she has been nominated for a Tony Award and three Drama Desk Awards.
Katie Mitchell is a widely admired, deeply controversial English director of theatre and opera. Her visual style, penchant for irreverence with classic texts and radical-feminist worldview have sparked debates among audiences and critics alike. Early in her career, Mitchell, 53, traveled through Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, where a major influence was Constantin Stanislavski’s acting technique. In 1990, in London, Mitchell founded Classics on a Shoestring, offering inventive mashups of such classics as Women of Troy and The House of Bernarda Alba. She has worked at the National Theatre, Royal Court, Royal Opera House and English National Opera. In recent years, Mitchell has worked primarily in Europe, prompting Charlotte Higgins of The Guardian to dub her “British theatre’s queen in exile.” Queen Elizabeth II awarded the OBE to Mitchell in 2009 for services to drama.