THESPIANS: Turn On The Dark

In 21st Century Culture, FOR YOUR CONSIDERSTION, NEW!, NEWS AND COMMENTARY on April 4, 2011 at 7:48 PM


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.”

Sadly, it worked. Taymor is out. Her production is about to be lost for all time. And two comic book icons with whom I  witnessed one of the last shows, grieve for those who will never experience a performance. Brave people challenging the traditional and stale conventions of their era have been rendered a uselessness when it comes to theater arts.

Or has it? Perhaps our friends at the Times influenced the “Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark,” producers and other ‘journalists,’ who echoed their coverage. But there are people who are starting to take notice. Especially those who care about the theatre, whether they support Taymor or not.

If we stand by and allow propaganda to destroy anyone or anything challenging today’s conventions, then we have learned little from the events surrounding Julie Taymor’s departure from SPIDERMAN. To innovate and create a theatrical experience for their audience, the men and women whose seminal theories and productions in the late 19th and 20th centuries, were rarely met with approval. However, unlike cinema, where films like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and BLADE RUNNER bomb at the Box Office and are then rediscovered, the theatre is ephemeral. We cannot bring back a production as we can with film and television. Once it is gone, it is gone forever.

My appeal continues for theatre patrons and audiences in America for whom our theaters owe a debt of gratitude and without whom, struggle to survive. Undeniably, theatre artists and their audiences have a mutual love for the experience, the magic, of live performance. Helping to keep the arts in theater alive and fresh, allowing for evolution, means the audience plays a critical role in challenging us, just as we challenge them. The symbiotic relationship comes as naturally and as simply as the honey bees who share a relationship with wild flowers.

All the new home/personal entertainment systems with digital distribution platforms continue making content readily accessible at minimal cost. Technological advances challenge all aspects of our culture, changing the way we listen to music, see films or read books. The theater needs you, their patrons and audience, especially today. We know you want good stories, well told and we want to share them with you.

In conclusion, beloved readers and most of all, dearest  Thespians, do not turn on the dark. Do not allow critics to decide whether or not our houses go dark. The theaters are our playground and they always will be, no matter how hard we have to fight. Our art began at the same time as paintings on cave walls. Just like comic books will always survive, so will the theatre. Those who say it has no future, forget: The story’s the thing; wherein we will catch the conscience of the thing.

This is the first part in a series of articles responding to the production and events surrounding SPIDERMAN: TURN OFF THE DARK. Look for Part II, “On Comics and Theatre,” coming soon and featuring thoughts from comic book visionaries and film/theatre pioneers. Special thanks to Rona and Dick for helping make this possible.
Copyright 2011 by Kimberly Cox, All Rights Reserved

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