Julie Taymor talks about ‘Spider-Man’ at Theatre Communications Group conference
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Knowing exactly what was on her audience’s mind, Julie Taymor on Saturday in Los Angeles talked about the transformative properties of using masks in live theater, the timeless communicative power of commedia dell'arte, and her big-screen adaptations of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ and ‘Titus Andronicus.’
Oh, she also had a few things to say about a new Broadway musical called ‘Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark’ that you may have heard about.
Taymor chatted for 1 hour and 40 minutes with Oberlin College theater and dance professor Roger Copeland as part of the 50th anniversary national conference of Theatre Communications Group, which is being held in L.A. this week. The discussion took place in the theater at Central Los Angeles High School #9, a.k.a. the School of Visual and Performing Arts. TCG is the nation’s premier service and promotional organization of the nonprofit professional theater community.
Sounding upbeat and relaxed, Taymor didn’t dwell on the controversies engulfing ‘Spider-Man,’ which has music by U2’s Bono and The Edge and a book co-written by Taymor; or the repeated delays, artistic differences and other problems that led to Taymor leaving the show following its critical shellacking earlier this year.
Instead, she elaborated on her original artistic vision for the show, and how it fit into her larger body of stage, film and opera work.
Alluding to the fish-bowl atmosphere that has surrounded the making of ‘Spider-Man,’ Copeland opened the conversation by asking Taymor to discuss what would happen ‘if every attempt to do something new, really ambitious, maybe even unprecedented, in a Broadway theater runs up against the sort of obstacles that have been hurled in your path at every turn.’ Taymor replied that the ‘Spider-Man’ production is one of the first big Broadway shows to open in what she called ‘a new time, where Twitter and Facebook and blogging’ subject working artists to relentless scrutiny.
‘It’s incredibly difficult to be under a shot-glass and a microscope like that,’ Taymor said. She also challenged the practice of making artistic decisions based on test-marketing audiences. ‘There’s always something people don’t like,’ she observed.
As with her previous Broadway musical ‘The Lion King,’ for which she won Tony Awards for directing and costume design, Taymor said that with ‘Spider-Man’ she had wanted to create a show that could appeal to a wide cross-section of theatergoers. ‘Audiences should be able to hook in at many different levels,’ she said.
But if ‘The Lion King’ had been audience-tested and pre-screened in advance, she said, ‘there would be no death of Mustafa [Simba’s father],’ and there would’ve been no Swahili, Zulu or Xhosa in the show.
Asked what had appealed to her about working on ‘Spider-Man,’ Taymor said that Bono and The Edge had called her first with the proposal, and ‘the idea of a rock ‘n’ roll musical appealed to me.’ In researching the story of Peter Parker, she read ‘hundreds of comic books of Spider-Man.’ The subject was perfect for musical theater, she said, because, ‘Peter Parker had everything to sing about -- he had yearning, he had exuberance, he had unrequited love.’
She compared Peter Parker to Harry Potter, another orphan who acquires super-powers that make him a bit of a freak in the everyday world.
‘Pieces that attract me have to do with outsiders,’ Taymor said.
-- Reed Johnson