You had me at “FAAAAH-uck You!”
Happy Birthday, Frank, you brilliant and beguiling man!
Down these mean streets a man must go…. (Wearing a black fedora and trench coat, of course.)
NEW YORK CITY
April 4, 2011
My appeal begins and remains directed towards theatre practitioners in America. I write in defense of innovation. I write in defense of our patrons and our audience. I write in defense of our predecessors and their achievements. I write in defense of our theaters’ future, of our theatre.
In lieu of Julie Taymor’s latest work, the public outcry from the theatre community, on behalf of the actors and performers, is justified. Unions need to adapt in the changing industry. As do the production companies who are financing and supporting the collective of artists involved. However, what lessons are we really learning from these events? Mistakes occur, yes, but how do we identify and understand the lessons involved?
More than anyone, the theatre community must adapt. That point, sadly, has become evident. We possess an awareness, the capacity to change and evolve in ways most people, including fellow theatre artists, have yet to realize.
The outcry over problems surrounding SPIDERMAN: Turn Off The Dark made sense, but only to a certain point and concerning elements usually kept out of the public’s view. (By this, I mean, how often do you have your tech week open to the press and for the public to watch?) What began as legitimate issues turned into a backlash deliberately fueled by news propaganda and gossip. The critical response went beyond reason. And now, under the full weight of its consequence, what has been achieved?
The resulting events will only negate the efforts and abilities for the visionaries capable of adapting and evolving theatre in the 21st Century.
Failure lies not with Julie Taymor, nor with her production, but with each of us who remain silent. I witnessed the very people who employ a skepticism for theatre critics buy into the critical responses written — often more than twice daily in the New York Times, I must add. People who actually went to SEE the production, and who wrote about it, gave an entirely misleading impression of the experience. I can say this confidently now that I have finally seen the show for myself, this past Friday, April 1st. (I hope to see it again before it closes mid-April for “renovations,” absent the visionary behind the elements that make the show worth the price of admission.) Furthermore, any one interested in effectively implementing multimedia technology with a theatrical design platform? You owe it to yourself to witness this production. Sadly, there are less than 16 performances left.
Yes, I appeal to the theatre community to share accountability for denying Taymor’s production the chance to be realized when it is so close. No one spoke to the reality of the logistical elements necessary for its creation. I ask this question genuinely: Why?
Can we not have consideration for the logical problems it faced? My Goodness, any person who has staged a show, on Broadway or in a community center, at least has an understanding for the way unexpected problems arise. Knowing how the technical elements demanded the complete renovation of the Foxwoods Theater, I cannot fathom the extent of scrutiny over its development issues. Are we not well aware of how many Broadway houses lack the structural and engineering capacity to support a lot of modern technical designs? Let alone, the unprecedented and awesome concepts apropos of the team of designers working with Taymor for this production? It had to be built IN-HOUSE. Developing it elsewhere and then, once it had worked thru all the kinks, importing its staging to Broadway was an impassable obstacle. It boggles my mind to think that we expected this show to be farmed and harvested for Broadway the same way GUYS AND DOLLS or BOOK OF MORMON has been.
Have we allowed ourselves to become so blinded by convention and by antiquated traditions that everything making this show a valuable contribution to the theatrical arts has been ignored? Or are we forgetting what got us here in the first place? André Antoine and Alfred Jarry, Adolphe Appia and Gordon Craig, F.T. Marinetti and the Futurists, Tristan Tzara and the DaDaists; Erwin Piscator, Antonin Artaud, Vsevolod Meyerhold, Frederico García Lorca; and the women like Velska Gert, Vesta Tilly, Loïe Fuller, Isadora Duncan, Gertrude Stein; and from them, we have the precedents for Bertolt Brecht, Jerzy Grotowski, Peter Brook, Samuel Beckett, Pina Bauche, Judith Malina, Merce Cunningham, Peter Schuman, Richard Foreman, Bob Fosse… These are only a few of the names offering a brief glimpse reminding us of what the Editors and Writers for The New York Times either ignorantly or maliciously forget to acknowledge. They do not have to concern themselves about such chicanery because THEY are The New York Times.
Who dares to question them? Who dares to speak up when the Emperor has no clothes?
Strange how meanwhile, The NYT articles will eagerly invoke the names of Chekhov, Ibsen, Shaw, Miller, Williams, etc… We would have none of their preferred, and often referenced, geniuses had it not been for effort and risk.
No one expects our general audience to be well versed in the rich history and precedents from late 19th and 20th century’s theatrical theory and practice. Many, however, possess a solid understanding and wealth of knowledge. Theatre artists know the danger of underestimating their audiences’ intelligence. The news media and press, on the contrary, risk nothing by presuming otherwise and no one holds them accountable. Denying their readers of the relevant information about SPIDERMAN: Turn Off The Dark, and instead, offering selective bits in order to substantiate their critical opinions, to the New York Times, I shout, “CALUMNY!”
Yes, I hold The New York Times accountable for engaging in a pernicious campaign to achieve a biased editorial objective. This has remained evident in the coverage and criticisms of Op/Ed articles published in the print newspaper and online blogs. Furthermore, the cumulative coverage apropos of Taymor and Spiderman, reveals how they dared to presume an ignorance of the readers and theaters’ audience, and did consciously manipulate those who trusted in this “journalism.”
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
NEW YORK CITY — My background is in theater, cable and radio network news, and most recently, comic books and film. I have been, like most folks in the theater community, following news about the broadway production of Spiderman. I chose to refrain from commenting until now. All my reasons aside, I do feel a need to play Devil’s Advocate and offer a few thoughts for those who are speaking out against SPIDERMAN: TURN OFF THE DARK. Not because I want to advocate for bloated productions with mind-boggling financing, A-List Producers/Designers/Performers, extreme spectacle, unprecedented technical demands, and the ensuing consequences, like injuries to actors and crew or a production that fails to deliver. I offer these thoughts only to suggest points that are NOT being made and because innovation invites failure, criticism and things that are unfamiliar.
My strong opinions on the difference between theatre, spectacle and popular entertainment have made me skeptical of this production since first hearing about it years ago. Too many times, I believe, we have all experienced broadway and film productions that seem to forgo storytelling and rely on visual spectacle alone. Often, this characteristic seems to go hand in hand with high production costs and millions of dollars in financing. (Primarily because pulling off the technical demands and costs behind spectacle require A LOT of money.) All of these less-endearing elements come together and are highlighted by the news surrounding this much talked about Spiderman musical.
And what a plethora of news coverage there has been. The New York Times has certainly been enthusiastic about covering all the flaws and problems, to the tune of what I have come to see as a biased editorial directive. People in the theater community feel strongly about certain aspects with good reason, but witnessing a concerted effort to negate a production before it’s had the chance to stand and speak for itself, leaves a bad taste in my mouth. We cannot realize innovation anywhere, especially in the theater, without risk, without unfamiliar or non-traditional production elements or process. For news coverage to discount the fact of how unprecedented this production is and then, selectively choose to leave out information regarding the problems an “average,” big broadway musical faces, fails not only this production, but any future for innovation in the theater. Before Spiderman gets off the ground, to label it a pariah and a flop just doesn’t give anyone a fair shake. The final production in performance ought to stand and be judged on its own merits, not while it is still in development, pre-preproduction, rehearsals, tech and finally, previews.
Most of all, there is an essential point about this whole production people are overlooking and it’s right there in the title: Spiderman. When was the last time anyone saw a comic book translated into a theatrical platform? Aside from the Vampire Cowboys and other companies who actively are producing material from comics for theater, I am unaware of anything since a failed attempt at Superman sometime in the 1970’s or 1980’s. Not a single bit of the news and blog coverage seems to bring to account how translating a comic book to a theatrical platform for performance on broadway demands an extreme approach. We ARE talking about a MUSICAL based on SPIDERMAN, for heavens sake. The concept alone is extreme. Realizing it calls for exponential demands beginning with incorporating the source material with the music and with the production design framework of theater.
Until I see the production of SPIDERMAN: TURN OFF THE DARK for myself, I cannot advocate for the show beyond throwing caution to the wind. Whether or not Julie Taymor has achieved a new precedent remains mostly left to conjecture and Op/Ed debate. Either way, all that matters to me is seeing us (the theater community) realize a new theatre in the 21st Century, especially considering the legacy of innovations made by theatre practitioners and theorists in the 20th Century. That requires a fearless approach and commitment to a vision because, as we have seen with this production and many before it, innovation and change will not be welcomed with open arms.
Copyright 2011 by Kimberly Cox
So I’m fascinated with all this new technology. We all wonder how it’s changing our society. I’m here to talk about how it’s not, as opposed to talking about how it does. It’s too soon for us to know. And in the meantime, it’s important to not forget about what has kept us, US, for hundreds of years.
I’m talking about art and story telling: theatre, comics, music, pictures, design. While society changes, these things change in tandem. We learn from history that each of these artistic practices reflect the time in which they are created and the zeitgeist of an era.
Let’s not walk in circles. Today, we have comic books, theatrical productions, movies, books, the internet, radio (an ever changing medium and solid despite what some may think.)
But do they reflect who we are as a society? This is the question I want to get you thinking about and talking about. In many ways, the art that I see being created does, but a lot of the Mass Media or Mainstream Media (MSM) doesn’t resemble the art I am talking about. I’m talking about the difference between Ashton Kutcher and Paul Pope. The difference between Chris Nolan and Frank Miller. The difference between American Idol and 24 or Fringe. Dan Brown or Victor Davis Hanson?
I’m not good when it comes to analyzing visual art so I will leave that to someone who is more of an expert than I, BUT I do have a solid sense of theatrical theory and practice. What does that mean? I’ve studied the history of performing arts. Of storytelling. So it gives me a solid standing in that arena.
We don’t seem to be thinking about history in the MSM. That does not mean that we have forgotten about it. I think the MSM just thinks they don’t owe history anything. Like Zeus when he first became a god, the MSM is boistrously arrogant and enjoying it’s current reign over the older gods of theatre and pictures. Here I am, playing Aeschylus’s Prometheus when he tells the Ocean that Zeus would one day be sorry for it.
The art I see be created and the storytelling I see happening again, is very different from what I see in the MSM. So I ask you to think about history. In the theatre, the 20th century saw innovation beyond Aristotle’s wildest dreams. We also saw this happen in radio and cinema. Is the quality today better than it was then? In the MSM, it is not, but if you know where to look, you see that respect for history in places from time to time.
In the early twentieth century, theatre began to break from the traditional Aristotelean approach to story telling. You had the Da-Da movement in the 1920s that pushed the Theater of the Absurd into being. Then you had Bertholt Brecht in the 1940s and 1950s breaking the fourth wall and pushing for a narrative being told differently to an audience. This does not mean that the Aristotelean Tradition was forgotten in any way. The schism in approach reflects the period of history and social change we were going through.