It’s hard for those of us who are older to believe, but the musical production of The Lion King is marking twenty-five years on Broadway. First an animated movie and then, famously, a production that melded puppetry and human performance, the show is a legendary staple of theater-going in our city (and in many others—productions of the show have toured all over our nation and all over the world).
This important anniversary has meant that articles and tributes have been popping up everywhere. And in a transcript of a conversation between people involved in bringing the original production to life, director Julie Taymor said this: “One of the ways that I always work is to find the ideograph. The ideograph, in Japanese brush painting, is finding ‘How do you do a whole bamboo forest in three strokes?’ So very early on, it was very obvious in ‘The Lion King’ that the circle is the ideograph: The Circle of Life.”
She went on to describe the recurring visual circles she incorporated in the show; masks on some of the actors, the representation of drought as a blue circle that then gets pulled through the floor, a stampede indicated by rolling cylinders. I have only seen The Lion King once but reading the director’s description of this recurring image was like a password, allowing for deeper engagement with the work.
Advent is a specific season of preparation and anticipation. It is also, as we all know and experience, a time of year when we are pulled in many directions. Expectations and responsibilities demand our attention, and focus can be difficult to maintain. If this is true for you, maybe, in the midst of the mayhem, an “Advent ideograph” could be helpful. An image, or a symbol that centers us in the spiritual power of the season.
What could that be? There are lots of options. A flame. A (circular!) wreath. Desert sand. An open eye, or wings. Any image that is broad enough to apply in a variety of circumstances and specific enough to bring us back into Advent will do. And if the idea of an ideograph intrigues, may yours integrate your experience of Advent and bring you deeper into this holy season.