In-Cite by John DiDonna: The woes of Spider Man

Editor’s Note: John DiDonna is a professor at Rollins College, Valencia Community College and Seminole State College, a prominent actor, director and playwright, and the co-artistic director of the Empty Spaces Theatre Co. and a board of directors member of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Central Florida. John now joins the team at Freeline Media Orlando for a new column, In-Cite, that encourages readers to join in the discussion.  To debate.  To let their voices be heard.
 
INCITE – From the latin incitare – “to put in motion.”
INSIGHT – The power or act of seeing into a situation.
IN-CITE is a column that is merely a prompt for CONVERSATION and dialogue on up to date social/political/theatrical news.
The author holds a firm belief that it is pleasant but oftentimes insulating to talk to only those who agree – the most growth can be had by discussing with those we do NOT agree with!
With that being said, only civil discourse is encouraged, finger pointing or diversion discouraged, and premade agendas heavily disdained! 
Let the debate begin on  …  Spider Man and the future of Broadway.
The “talk of the town” – and not just of New York – is the Broadway spectacle “Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark” currently in previews and now slated to open at the beginning of February (after countless delays and changing dates).
 

Spider Man goes from comic books to hit movies and now Broadway ... but the latest transformation has been an awfully bumpy one for the producers.

Unfortunately, the talk isn’t all good.  Multiple injuries (two quite serious) and shutdowns, an unfinished script and story, and countless technical problems have haunted this production from the start of previews.

But as a theatrical artist myself, the bigger puzzle come from those who are not questioning just the safety issues, but the human element itself.  Too many perceptions are that the show itself has sacrificed story, connection and acting/singing in lieu of spectacle — for spectacle’s sake.

It’s been pointed out oftentimes that Julie Taymor, the visionary and remarkable director of Tempest, The Lion King and countless others on both stage and screen, excels at spectacle.  (And it must be pointed out that as a director, I certainly revere her).  And this is certainly true.  However, to this date her spectacles have existed to further the story, to illuminate rather than replace the human condition.

In a recent New York Times Op-Ed Piece published on Jan. 1, 2010, Jennifer George, the producer George W. George’s (Via Galactica) daughter, implored Julie Taymor and the production team in a manner I have put forth for the last month:  “But I’d like to urge them, take a moment — now if you can.  Step back and look at what you have.  Put the play’s human moments front and center.  There’s still time.”

A number of Broadway stars including Anthony Rapp and Alice Ripley have called for lawsuits and more.  Ripley’s oft repeated Twitter feed does ask an important question:  “Does someone have to die? Where is the line for the decision makers, I am curious.” (Hollywood Reporter 12/22/10)

In the creator’s defense, Taymor’s spirit of creativity and exploration must be applauded.  In an interview in Vogue magazine published in December of ‘10, that spirit of a pioneer was alive and well:  “I know it’s too much, but is that bad?  Seriously, if you don’t want to do something ambitious that’s never been seen before, why do you bother?”

But there also seems to be warring elements of that quote.  The inspiring last part is partly undone by the first part.  “I know it’s too much, but is that bad?” seems to be the question on the minds of many.  My simple answer is it is too much if that is all there is.

If this show fails, what is its legacy?  In a recent debate with a friend of mine (who, while remaining nameless, has starred in numerous shows on Broadway), I mentioned that even if the show failed, it would hopefully create ideas that can be used to greater effect and potential in future shows.  This person mentioned to me (paraphrased, of course) a far more dangerous outcome – they posed the question, You know what is worse than it failing? What if the show succeeds?  They questioned what would happen if that were the case — if it succeeds, what will become of budgets in the future?  They would skyrocket.  You would have to top $65 million, $100 million, $120 million.  Spectacle will become the norm with one Broadway producer trying to outdo another Broadway producer with more money being thrown down.

We have watched that happen in films over the last two decades;  God forbid it happens to stage, where money and spectacle might replace substance and humanity and immediacy.

So where is that line that Alice Ripley refers to?

Safety?

Economics?

Storytelling?

What are your thoughts? Time for your in-cite.

Contact John DiDonna at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.

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