By Jim McCarthy Mar 10, 2011 0 comments

If We’re Not Getting Better, We’re Getting Ignored

If you follow Broadway at all, you probably heard that Julie Taymor was fired from Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark yesterday.  Last week at TED 2011, she was talking about a time when she was crawling on a narrow precipice between two volcanoes and realized that the only way she’d make it out of there was just to keep going.  A lot of people at TED (and probably beyond) enjoyed the talk and others thought it was quite self-serving and self-referential, but I put that aside.

To me, the most salient thing about the talk was that unlike just about any TED talk you’ll ever see or really just about any talk you’ll see on a big stage ever, this wasn’t a victory lap.  It wasn’t a retrospective on a terrific triumph and “how I got there.”  It was a moment where a person with a good track record in her field was talking about the pickle she was in with no certainty of what would happen.

While we still don’t know what the ultimate fate of the show will be, we now know that her personal involvement as the director has ended without the ‘beautiful phoenix’ rising in triumph.  And of the show?  I’m a fan, not because the show is a great piece of work.  It’s simultaneously a great piece of work and a crazy, mixed up disaster (as the feedback on the Goldstar site shows.  Lots of 5s and 1s and not a lot of 3s.)  It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen performed live (in a good way) and yet some of the flaws and holes in it are so obvious that it feels like parody.  But isn’t.

Here’s why I care.  Lots of people have been rooting against this show from the start, and they’re enjoying the validation that comes from Julie Taymor’s removal now.  Why?  I suspect it’s partly because those without big budgets like to see that those with big budgets aren’t bulletproof.

No kidding.  Have you been following the story of GM for the last 40 years?  I believe the phrase is “mo’ money, mo’ problems.”

I suspect it’s partly because some people like to see those who’ve succeeded (like Julie Taymor and Bono) meet with failure.

What does that say about you if you’re like that?

I suspect it’s partly because the idea of a comic book musical offends some who think comic books are kids stuff.

What do those people think musicals should be about?  String theory or the impact of increasing population on the water table?

I suspect it’s partly because some people savor the fundamentalist idea that the only thing that’s important is a great performance and that everything else follows from that.

I’d suggest they check out Cirque Du Soleil or Wicked and realize that a great performance is just a requirement, not a guarantee of success.

Worst, I suspect that it’s partly because the failure of a show like Spider-Man means they don’t really have to question their own work.  If really trying hard to create something powerful and new and never before seen falls on its face, the world is safe for B+ work again.

Well, I’m sorry to say that when it comes to live entertainment, that’s simply not the case.  Here’s how it really works: if the industry isn’t getting better, it’s getting ignored.

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