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.
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?
What are your thoughts? Time for your in-cite.
Contact John DiDonna at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.
Hi, John! Though still in previews, one writer offers his review now, stating that the issues with the show are largely insurmountable and mostly unfixable. It’s kinda lengthy, but it does seem to cover all the bases, from this person’s perspective. For the record, I keep hearing the same things from others, though not nearly as verbose. Bottom line for me is always STORYTELLING. Theatre, at it’s essence – even in it’s remotest forms – strives to illuminate ideas and values through the actions and interactions of specific characters. If we can’t make sense of this, first, the rest becomes incomprehensible movement and noise. Even moreso when you move beyond the spoken word and introduce music, dance and multimedia to your storytelling asenal. You must be clear. THE LINK FOR THE REVIEW: http://parabasis.typepad.com/blog/2011/01/spider-man-turn-off-the-dark.html
Thank you for posting that Don! I had read that review as well, and was most amused by the blow by blow synopsis of parts (including the oftentimes maligned Act II) Without judgement this showed clearly the incoherence (the reviews word) of what that particular audience member saw.
I hope that something can be salvaged, as no one wants to wish a negative experience to any audience or theatre artist (especially ones of this caliber).
Hmm, I look at stuff by Shakespeare versus his contemporary Inigo Jones. Who is Inigo Jonesk? An architect who made elaborate stage dioramas with a flimsy story attached, and the Elizabethan court went gaga, spending tons of state money on Jones. Who do we know today? The guy who did plot, character and theme not spectacle without these three things.
Spectacle has its place, but so does that quiet moment where a live actor connects with a small audience in a completely organic way. And some magical shows have both, but that’s also not the only way to do a show. I hope we can have all things for a variety of audiences, some sucked in by human story, some wowed by show, and every person in between. You can argue that we’re currently emotionally becoming shallower, more spectacle based. I don’t think we have a clear view while we’re in the middle of it. We do what we feel is right. Let’s re-assess in 400 years. 😉
And please take this from a man who is often bowled over by his own spectacular idiocy.
“I hope we can have all things for a variety of audiences, some sucked in by human story, some wowed by show, and every person in between” – That is the answer in a nutshell dear sir!
I have been keeping an eye on this show and many of the articles written about it. From a business stand point the show must open. Most shows are insured if the show fails. Yes insurance companies ensure the failer of broadway shows. In order for the producers to receive payment against the failure of the show it must officially open. Often it must run for a designated amount of time in order for the producers to show that they made a concerted effort to create a successful show. If they wanted spectacle Julie should have done her research…Cirque du Soliel is doing an amazing show that has actors continuously flying. Ka uses state of the art harnesses. If the producers are willing to spend millions than why don’t they use state of the art equipment. I as an actor, past director, and theatre owner understand its not about the spectacle no matter what! If you don’t have a good story to tell, good actors to tell it, and excellent music to in the case of musicals, it will fail. You can make a cake out of dog poop and decorate it with amazing icing and tell people its delicious and they’ll pay lots of money for it, but when they bite into it it will still be dog poop covered in sweet sugary icing with no substance that leaves a bad after taste. Just sayin’
Bravo Richard! Agreed on so many points. Unfortunately we have heard those rumblings of economic reasons as to why they had to start previews and why they have to open, and that completely saddens me.
Taymor: “I know it’s too much, but is that bad?”
To say anything is “too anything” acknowledges problems and flaws. That acknowledgement used as justification shows a blatant disregard for doing the right thing. I find that pretty shocking and disappointing.
The word that came to me in the first part of that quote was “Defensive”. The latter part quoted above is pure inspirational Julie Taymor.
Specatcle has always been a part of Broadway. Think back to the 1980’s. Then, you saw a flying tire in an over-sized junkyard (Cats), a decending helicopter (Miss Saigon), a crashing chandelier (Phantom) and a huge student-made barricade (Les Miz). The one thing they all had in common was a cohesive narrative (yes, even Cats, as thread-bare as it was). A lot has been made of the spectacle of this show, but only recently has the issue of story come to light-and it isn’t good. As an audience member, I’ll forgive the spectacle as long as the show moved me either intellectually or emotionally, or, hopefully, both. I’m not willing to part with over $100 of my money to walk out of a theater going WTF???
So very much in agreement Scott. Spectacle WITH true narrative and story works so wonderfully, a delicate balance to be sure! In the review that Don posted above, the writer addresses that in respect to Taymor’s own Titus and Lion King. The spectacle there succeeded gloriously because the narratives were already strongly fixed.
Case in point was your Hallowe’en offering, “Phantasmagoria”. With a limited cast, limited budget and limited space, you gave an audience a spectacle of the macabre. It was truly spectacle but, at it’s heart, was GREAT, INCLUSIVE STORYTELLING. It wasn’t just the ghastly or the gruesome for their own sakes. Similarly, Taymor’s spectacle should not be so singular in it’s devotion to only thrills and visual stimulation, but it’s ability to develop and focus interesting characters and cohesive story/narrative.
Thank you for the gracious comment sir!
I don’t think anyone needs to worry about this show succeeding.
Hah! Oh John!
But would it not have been a marvel if it did? The thing that pains me is not what is currently in existence, but what might have been in existence considering the possiblities.
For 35 million Taymor and collaborators could have given us the ultimate melding of Cirque style spectacle with true storyline, humanity that we can all connect with, great songs, and a new level of illumination in the Spider Man universe.
That is truly what saddens me. All these years and work.
Still, the optimist in me (which sometimes is adamantly supportive, and othertimes genuinely naive) wishes for some sense to come to all this for Taymor’s sake (not the investors necessarily) and for the audience’s sake.
I agree with you John D! Gracey, have you seen the show?
Hi John! I really enjoyed your column & felt the need to say something. When they first announced that they were going to do a Spiderman musical, I had mixed feelings. There are two groups that this show should appeal to: comic book lovers & theatre people. The way I see it, right now, neither of those groups want to see the show. As a comic book fan myself, I find it appalling that they had to create a villain specifically for the show, when they have numerous villains to choose from. As a theatre person, I am (like so many people) horrified at the amount of injuries & delays that this show is causing. Not all comic book lovers & theatre people feel the way I do; as far as the theatre people I have talked to, it seems to be split down the middle.
I appreciate Julie Taymor’s vision, but I can’t get over the fact that she seems to care more about the spectacle then the safety. I loved Titus, can’t wait to see Tempest, etc, but spectacle in movies is totally different than spectacle in theatre. Yes, The Lion King is still going strong, but there were a lot of injuries during that show too & that isn’t even nearly as spectacular as Spiderman is supposed to be. I want to see a show for the story, not the spectacle. If a show doesn’t have a story, what’s the point? Why am I going to pay a ridiculous amount of money to see spectacle on Broadway when I can just rent a movie? Even Bono said “If the only wows you get from ‘Spider-Man’ are visual, special-effect, spectacular-type wows, and not wows from the soul or the heart, we will all think that we’ve failed”. When there are theatre critics pleading with Bono to save the show, there’s a problem. When one of your lead actresses quits after suffering a concussion, there’s a problem. When one of your actors falls 30 feet, cracks his skull & breaks his back (and still wants to come back for some crazy reason), there’s a problem.
One of the other problems is the budget. Like you pointed out, what’s going to happen to theatre if Spiderman succeeds? I love working in this business and would hate to see spectacle become the norm. I recently worked on a new musical, based on real life, that is headed to Broadway. Some people may say we had some spectacle (we had automation, guns, fake blood, etc), but nothing to the extent as what Spiderman has (or even some other Broadway shows), and it was a great show. It was a good old fashioned book musical, with talented people, good songs and a lot of action. And people liked it. There were people who didn’t like musicals who came to see the show and liked it. They liked it without a $65 million budget. Supposedly the people that did Spiderman said no one wants to see a $30 million Spiderman, but how do they know that? I don’t want this show to ruin Broadway & theatre.
I’m all about new shows & original ideas, but, like Alice Ripley said, where’s the line?
For some reason it did not “reply” but merely posted – look below to see my response!
I believe the quote you are referring to about no one wanting to see a $30 million dollar spider man is actually this. “People want to see Julie Taymor’s SPIDER MAN, not what she was able to do with $30 million.” I think this is very different and as an artist I agree. When given the opportunity to do any show, we want to create and share our vision. We do not want to merely say, “Well we wanted to do this but we didn’t have enough money so this is what we settled with.”
Melissa great points. I did see that Bono quote and it is quite ironic is it not considering the commentary above?
You bring up another necessary point about the Spidey universe. Why recreate when there is such a rich heritage to take from? Nolan has shown with his “Dark Knight” that you can take what is already there, and look at it wish such fresh eyes and new perspectives that it becomes new and vital and illuminating.
Here perhaps the creators did not trust their material? Then why source that to begin with? I have never been a Spider man fan (forgive me purists) but I say respect and do honor to the original.
This show reminds me of Carrie: the Musical. I have a feeling it won’t run long, but the shows will be sold out for a while with people saying “you have to see this show”. But they will be going to see it for all the wrong reasons that you want people to come to an evening of theater – The “See it so that you can see what a mess it is first hand” principal.
To me, one of their mistakes in making it so technical is in not making it tour-able. I guess they could move it to Vegas, but these days that’s not a guarentee of huge crowds either.
Of course, my biggest problem with Broadway theater in general is with the lack of originality coming out of Broadway these days. If it doesn’t have a recognizable name, or recognicable stars, its swept under the rug or never makes it to Broadway with the funding you need. it basically means no original thoughts anymore, or at least fewer of them than there used to be.
Oh Kelly I hope that is not what will drive people to the theatre, but alas for many you are probably right. The old driving by the accident syndrome. Perhaps they will find worth in it?
Of course that will only last so long. A production, particularly one this expensive, couldn’t last long on this form of attendance. But I do feel like down the road, we might consider this the Carrie of the next generation. Only time will tell.
I had the pleasure (and yes I would call it “the pleasure”) of seeing the show a few weeks ago. Actually, 3 days before the last accident. As well as touring backstage and being present during the 2 hour pre-set.
First, in response to a previous comment asking why they did not use the same harnesses as KA in Las Vegas. “Spider Man: Turn off the Dark” is in fact using the same company that flies performers for Cirque. None of the accidents have been a reflection of the equipment or the design of the flying system. The last accident where the performer fell has already been determined as a joint effort between performer error as well as stage hand error.
Now, as for the show. The real issues with the book, in my opinion, were the instances where they made an effort to add weight to the story and took it away from its “Comic Book” roots. The addition of a brand new villain that requires a brief explanation of Greek Mythology makes it harder to settle in as an audience member. However, I do think the book (and some lyrics) are worth saving. I am told by a source working on the show that they have been working on re-writes and have been waiting until January to start working through them. First get the show running smoothly, and THEN you can step back and see what you’ve got and how to get it to where you want it. My support is with the production team.
As for the out cry against the safety of working on the show. There has only been one serious accident to date, and it is also the only one that was not totally due to performer error. These claims for law suits and the arrest of Taymor our ridiculous. Thank goodness the internet was not as easily accessible when “Phantom of the Opera” was teching (along with countless other “spectacle musicals”) or it’s producers may have had law suits as well. ACCIDENTS HAPPEN. It is true, the bigger the risk you create the more likely you are to have accidents. But, as Taymor said “Seriously, if you don’t want to do something ambitious that’s never been seen before, why do you bother?”
I don’t want to rant on and on. I’ll leave it with this for now. Everyone involved with the show from the stage hands to the performers knew what they were signing up for. They are all excited about it and the gentlemen who were hurt while flying all wish to come back to the production. As long as the show is creating jobs for our peers, I say “Rock on, Spider Man!”
EXCELLENT point of view from a very knowledgeable perspective! Ben, I would love you to read the online review posted above in the first comment, and offer us insight into that. You are the very first person I have come into contact with that says the script/story is workable (out of many who have seen it) so I very much value your insight! Read that, and post more if you can here!
I checked out that review. I agree with some of the observations made by the writer (ex: “The Shoe” song needs to go). However, it is hard for me to give a lot of credit to any reviewer who offers their opinion of a show BEFORE it opens. Not to mention the fact that when he first published his review he had the name of the paper Peter Parker works for wrong as well as changing “The Sinister Six” into “The Furious Five”. Whether you are a Spider Man fan or not, if you went into the show with an open mind and even had your eyes open to see the set, you could not miss these two titles. Besides, as a reviewer shouldn’t you double check things like that before you publish it.
As far as his claims that the book can not be fixed. He obviously does not know much about the process shows like this go through. By the time it opens next month they may very well cut entire characters (fingers crossed) as well as entire songs and write new ones.
When the show officially opens (which if people would get off their back and let the artist work, I have no doubt it will do successfully), I look forward to hearing the feedback.
Thank you Ben for that wonderful comment! Good to hear that there may indeed be something worth salvaging there. I for one would like nothing better than Taymor to prove all naysayers wrong!
Sent by a friend: http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.theonion.com%2Farticles%2Fnuclear-bomb-detonates-during-rehearsal-for-spider%2C18743%2F&h=1cb9e
Saw it and found it quite humorous!
The real problem with the skit seems to be in the book. If you don’t care about the story, doesn’t matter if its on a stage with three chairs and a coffee table, does it? As far as spectacle, is that just to be left to opera?
I think there is a place for spectacle in theater, if it was just all about the text we wouldn’t need anything else than a semi-circle of chairs on a raised platform with a flat wash of light. For some, I’m sure they would be happy with only that. And I realize in a town with so few producing theaters having a fly system, even a scene change could be counted as a spectacle. But I see nothing wrong with stunts and other production elements that are designed to elicit visceral responses in the audience while telling the story. Did Peter Pan, or Elphaba need to fly? Not really. Is Phantom a story about a chandelier? No. Do you need a river or a truck to tell the Joad’s story? Eh.
Now spectacle just for spectacle may be something best left to dinner theater and theme parks. What is Indy’s character arc at the Stunt Spectacular anyway? But if there is a compelling story, doing one’s best to build the environment the characters inhabit with the same attention one gives to their costumes is no vice. If the story has Spiderman in it, I think one would reasonably expect to see someone in a red suit doing what ever a spider can. Yes, putting a couple people on stage pointing off stage describing things to establish Spiderman is the real deal for purposes of the story would do, but I like the idea of giving the audience a little more thrill in the exposition.
I have not seen the show, nor know anyone well in it. But from the reviews I’ve read and posts about it in other forums I get the feeling that story isn’t being sacrificed for spectacle, just that there is no story.
Another great posting about the BALANCE needed.
Boomer I so agree – spectacle can be a wonderful tool used to further the story. We are not talking “Three Tall Women” here, we are indeed talking Spiderman. The danger of the production lies in your very final comment, which appears to be the perception of many. Ben Rush above gave us some great insight into an opposing view of that however.
Upon further reflection I have another thought. The primary source material here is a graphic novel. By definition it is visual elements that carry the story more than the words in the bubbles, so that to be true to the source one has to rely more on visual than on textual elements.
And indeed Ben Rush points out that many of the bad reviews were of previews. Reminds me of working on the Atlanta tryout of Elton John & Tim Rice’s Aida, known then as Elaborate Lives. Much the same criticisms: book bad, spectacle bits bad. When the show moved to Chicago it was a very different show: new director, scenic designer, Radames and some major book rewrites. That the show eventually grabbed Tony’s for Score and Heather was not a surprise, even in Atlanta those were obviously the strong bits of the show along with Sherie.
I would say about the zero room for error, we’ve been there for awhile. Even when not Foy, automation or pyro gags, missed timing of a punch, a fall, or even of a dance move is dangerous. Ecclesiastes says there is nothing new under the sun, but we keep trying it seems.
Might I take a moment to point out that Aristotle would so love this conversation. 🙂
I think pushing the envelope is always good, except when pushing the envelope of safety. Accidents will happen, but when you’ve got people riding 50mph wires around a theater, there can be zero room for error – and that’s impossible in live theater. What that might mean is that PERHAPS this is a fundamentally horrible idea for a show, because to do it safely is to compromise on the spectacle and therefore the rest of the show becomes less interesting. Or maybe they didn’t spend enough time on each individual stunt. I don’t pretend to know.
What you’re talking about, however, about spectacle becoming more important than telling a real human story – that’s the real problem. There’s a reason that “Breaking Bad” is a better-written piece of work than “Iron Man 2.” In the lust to suck money out of a recession, content creators on the big stages (movies, broadway, even network television) are doubling down on the eye candy and simultaneously realizing that when something is well-written it runs the risk of alienating people (good writing takes a point of view, and not everyone may agree with that). So you get this overblown bastard stepchild of a play, a theme park ride, cirque de soliel, and a movie but with none of the charm of the comic book where the idea came from in the first place. I mean, human stories are cheap, show me something I haven’t seen before – right? Well, wrong.
The trip Julie Taymor is going down has been seen in numerous filmmakers like Peter Jackson who began as low-budget storytellers and have become slaves to the high tech, story be damned. It’s a sad trend that when we can do whatever we can imagine, the first thing we let go is the one thing that made us interesting in the first place.
“It’s a sad trend that when we can do whatever we can imagine, the first thing we let go is the one thing that made us interesting in the first place.” – Words from a very wise man. Thank you Ben!
John, I’m so happy you were so willing to take on such a complicated and somewhat controversial subject matter. The entire situation is incredibly sticky, but one element of it, in particular: Where they are going wrong, and *CAN* they fix it?
It seems the majority of Spiderman’s issues lie in their rigging– specifically, the aerial rigging. Having worked on productions that require such rigs, I am unsure as to whether their problems lie in the planning of these complex technical elements, or in the execution thereof. The first line of Jaque Paquin’s (the aerial rig designer) biography certainly doesn’t inspire confidence: “There’s no formal training for a profession like Jaque Paquin’s. “To do it, you have to do it,” he says. Jaque studied art history (specializing in film) and electronics in school, and began his career in the arts working as a lighting technician at the age of 14. The following year, he opened a disco.” (Biography here: http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/en/press/kits/shows/varekai/resources/creators/jaque-paquin.aspx)
Another thought to consider: if they are rehearsing these aerial sequences prior to previews and things are going according to plan, is this merely a matter of poor execution on the part of the crew? Exactly how feasible is it to fix these issues? I believe this question needs to be answered before this production can continue as-is.
Have Taymore, et al. bitten off more than they can chew? Absolutely. Is it a problem that can be solved? Sure– all they have to do is reach a rational compromise… which is always the case in any theatrical environment. Does rationality come into play on a show like this? Unfortunately, the answer is almost always a resounding, “No.”
My official stance is that art is only worth dying for if it is more than spectacle. I am unaware of any significant contributions this show has made to society, apart from drawing people who want bread and circus.
So far that contribution is waiting to be seen. I will reserve judgement, however I will tell you what my anticipation was (and hopefully still will be).
I was hoping beyond hope that whether the show succeeded or failed, that theatre would be exposed to both new technology AND a new way to tell a story. At this point, I am as I said reserving judgement for both seem to be falling short. Another month and we will know.
Taymor is capable of fully digesting that mouthful….let us only hope that the machine that has begun churning does not eat her instead.
I’m really surprised how much money has been thrown into this show and continues to be thrown into it with all of the injuries and technical problems they’ve had. It sounds like a great concept but, I think they need to put the safety of the actors and crew first and concentrate on the storyline. There’s so many great things with technology that I’ve seen with other theatre productions but, without the great acting, there would be no substance. I hope they can get this figured out before anyone else gets hurt or, drop all of the hoopla and concentrate on the substance of the show by itself..
I think that wish to concentrate on the story is the hope of many Lisa! You are so correct on that balance you express above.
This show has obviously caused massive amounts of talk about the pros and cons of mounting such a huge spectacle. Ranging from the safety of the actors to the safety of Broadway in general. I think that a lot of people unfortunately fail to look inwards as to why a spectacle like this was felt needed in the first place. I think a lot of fault (for lack of a better word) can be placed with us as the audience. We are constantly (like you mentioned with films) looking for something new that hasn’t been seen before. With Broadway failing to draw in the crowds that it used to, it’s being forced to become more commercial and take more risks. With Spider-Man, Julie Taymor and company heard the call and decided to launch a spectacle musical the likes of which haven’t been seen before. I think it interesting that the same people who called for new theatre are the same people who are (like vultures) waiting for the show to fail.
On aside note, I saw Spider-Man a couple weeks ago and while I would say that the show is about 80% there, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done with it. However I will say that the wirework is the most exhilarating part of the show. My girlfriend commented that during the first act she believed that, “I had forgotten who she was or the fact that we were dating,” I was so excited. There are a lot of problems with storytelling and pacing but as a spectacle it does deliver.
So all in all, while I think that a closer look needs to be paid to the safety of the actors, I don’t believe that Julie Taymor and co. are solely to blame for the problems the production is having.
Thanks for listening to me pontificate :-). Hope all is well with you. -Ralph Hapschatt
Miss you guys up there Daryl! A very balanced look at the show, and yes – you are correct – the audience with its demands (and oftentimes lust for spectacle) is to blame as well! Substance – then spectacle should be a mantra, but oftentimes is not.
No matter what happens with Spider-Man or spectacle on Broadway, a lot of human-scale theatre with well told stories is going to get done at venues all across the country.
Thank you Franklin! Clear and concise. I think some are worried about precedents however being set, but you are correct – truth and the human condition will ALWAYS prevail somewhere.
Little has been seen. Much has been said; most has been assumed. Rather like a Theatrical Tea Party, what?
Bravo sir. Speculation does no one any good in any way. The other thing that does not help are those wishing failure rather than being distraught by it and wishing a turnaround to occur.