"...Did she know she could make such things happen when she wrote them? 'Of course not,' she says. 'What would be the fun of doing it if you already knew how?'" I'm a little behind the times in writing about last week's NYMag article on Julie Taymor and the epic saga of Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark, but it's still stuck in my craw. I'll admit I've been watching the news of the show for the past few years like a car accident. The thing has to be cursed, I keep thinking as each successive injury or setback hits Playbill.com - since I don't read the New York Post apart from over someone's shoulder on the subway, I can't really comment on the whole Michael Riedel feud - and I will also admit that I didn't go see a preview this week so I have no firsthand knowledge of the production. But disclaimers aside, I had something of a change of heart after reading this feature, and find myself suddenly protective of the cast and crew over at the Foxwoods Theatre.
Certainly Spider-Man is by far the most expensive Broadway show ever produced, though not so expensive compared with, say, a blockbuster movie or a stadium rock concert or a Cirque du Soleil spectacular, with each of which it shares DNA. Furthermore, says Taymor, "why should the press care if five or six billionaires want to put out their money and 200 theater people are employed as a result? This is a drama-rock-and-roll-circus, or a circus-rock-and-roll-drama; there's no word for it. And what do they want? Two-character, one-set musicals? How is that helping the theater?"
I suppose it's just human nature, all this schadenfreude, but so what if the show closes before it opens, or doesn't recoup, or fizzles into the over-documented past? I want to take back all my snide comments and retract my finger-pointing thoughts. The only people who lose with such armchair criticism, tucked safely behind our computer monitors (yes I see the irony here) to cattily cackle over useless tweets and status updates, are ourselves. We're the ones missing out on what could be our next breathtaking experience at the theater. What makes us want an artist (or a magician, as Bono calls her) like Julie Taymor to tone down her vision, or create something "within reason"? Who are we to decide what budget is the right budget? Her vision is truly spectacular, in the most theatrical sense of the word; her knowledge of anthropology and the theater's history and the storytelling of our human experience inform her every work and we are the collective beneficiaries. We live in a continually expanding universe, and she is helping it right along.
And yet, despite all her indie and avant-garde bona fides, her embrace of mainstream efforts has been utterly without the irony and condescension that often accompany artists when they move from subsidized to commercial entertainment... The idea of treating such works, or the person who makes them, as if they were subject to cost-benefit analysis is completely bizarre to her. Art is not a product whose manufacture can be rationalized. Art is what you can't even see until you make it.
It gives new meaning to the show's subtitle. Turning off the dark is required of any creative genius with a big vision and a blinding spotlight. Or, as Taymor puts it: "I sometimes say you have to put blinders on. If you have a vision and allow all of this peripheral stuff to get in the way, how will you get to the end of the bridge you're building?"