Thursday, November 11, 2010

Can Julie Taymor, A Slingshot and $60M Save Our Beloved Comic Book Hero?

Luck Be a Lady... Or a Spider(Man)

Postponed… again. That’s the report from the producers of one of this season’s most highly anticipated musicals, Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark. Plagued from the start, the production’s latest myriad of troubles surround health and safety concerns following injuries during a stunt that sent actor Kevin Aubin flying through the air and landing in the hospital with two broken wrists. This news was almost immediately followed with reports that another actor broke both his feet attempting the same stunt. This actor, who has requested to remain anonymous due to career concerns, was injured performing the sling-shot effect a month earlier. Producer Michael Cohl said the accident was a result of a “multitude of factors, technical and human”. Health and safety inspectors are involved in an on-going investigation as 24 aerial stunts have not been reviewed and declared safe, attaining the necessary legal permits to perform the stunts.

Julie Taymor
If the show ever makes it to opening night, it won’t be due to luck. Under the guidance and vision of the brilliant Julie Taymor (The Lion King), the creative team boasts the inventive talents of U2’s Bono and The Edge as composer and lyricists with a book by Taymor and Glen Berger; choreography by Daniel Ezralow and Cirque de Soleil artist, Jaque Paquin designing the elaborate aerial rigging for Scott Rogers challenging aerial design. In total, there are 20 artists and companies listed as part of the creative team making it one of Broadway’s largest ever.

The most recent delays caused by technical and safety concerns are not the first for the Spider-Man team to conquer. Currently at six years in the making, the show was at one point scheduled to open in February of 2010. Financing this cobwebbed extravaganza temporarily halted until lead producer, rock promoter Michael Cohl came on board last fall. The 60 million dollar price tag is the largest for any Broadway musical ever with the average musical budget hovering around 15 million dollars. Then last spring, stars Evan Rachel Wood (Mary Jane Watson) and Alan Cumming (Green Goblin) bailed on the production and were replaced by Next to Normal star Jennifer Damiano and Patrick Page (The Lion King). In July, Boneau/Bryan-Brown abandoned the production as press agent and was replaced by the firm, O & M Co. No explanation was given.

Other delays are blamed on the creative team. Taymor has reportedly spent a majority of the production time working out stunts and aerial tricks. In the meantime, sources close to the show, have said that music and dialogue are in pieces and haven’t been connected with Taymor’s focus, the visuals.
The Edge

This could be the biggest show ever to hit Broadway and it could also be the biggest flop. It is estimated that weekly running costs will run close to, if not exceed, 1 million dollars. The only other time a major comic book hero graced the Great White Way was Superman in 1966 in It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman! Which never caught on, closing after 129 performances and a financial loss.

Producers are banking on Taymor’s genius and the success of her last Broadway venture, The Lion King which to date has grossed nearly 750 million dollars. That combined the wildly popular success of Bono and The Edge (their band U2) and the undying popularity of the Spider-Man franchise, sounds like a match made in heaven to some… and a sticky-web of commercialism and greed to others.

MARVEL, Spider-Man and all related Marvel characters and the distinctive likenesses thereof are trademarks of Marvel Entertainment, LLC and its subsidiaries, and are used with permission. Copyright © 2010 Marvel Entertainment, LLC and its subsidiaries. All rights reserved

Resources and Related Story Links:

Taymor to Direct Spider-Man Musical, Scored by Bono & Edge by BWW News Desk(2007)

Spider-Man the musical hangs by a thread
Paul Harris , The Observer, Sunday 9 August 2009
‘Spider-Man’ Musical Announces New Producers, Star By DAVE ITZKOFF November 6, 2009
While ‘Spider-Man’ Musical Offers Refunds By PATRICK HEALY; Compiled by DAVE ITZKOFF 01/12/10

Long-delayed Spider-Man musical finally appears back on track Posted on June 16, 2010 by Kevin Melrose

New PR Team for ‘Spider-Man’ Musical By PATRICK HEALY July 15, 2010

‘Spider-Man’ musical is off and web-slinging By Mark Kennedy - Associated Press Writer October 10, 2010
That Spider-Man musical is probably going to kill somebody By Sean O'neal October 29, 2010
Another Actor Speaks of ‘Spider-Man’ Injuries By PATRICK HEALY October 29,2010

Could Spider-Man the Musical be the 'biggest disaster in Broadway history'? POSTED ON NOVEMBER 4, 2010

U2's 'Spider-Man' Musical Delayed  By Peter Gaston on November 5, 2010 10:07 AM

Caught in a web of health and safety: Spider-Man musical delayed due to daring stunts which have left actors injured By BAZ BAMIGBOYE
 6th November 2010

"It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman"

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Broadway Teamwork and Collaboration: The Great White Way and Beyond

Together Wherever We Go

Researching creative teams for this blog, I was surprised how little there is online about the subject. What makes them click? How do they go about the process? What makes a good creative team? Surprisingly, the best exploration I found comes from the world of science. Imagine, a scientific study that analyzes how artists successfully collaborate to create a Broadway musical! Interesting.

American Idiot creative team: Green Day, Michael Mayer and Tom Kitt.
Photo credit: Carole Litwin All images © Berkeley Repertory Theatre. All rights reserved. 
In order to flourish a team continually needs new blood.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? When you work with the same people over and over, you develop patterns and your work can easily get tired and stale. You need that fresh inspiration, that new collaborator to keep the creative juices flowing and challenge you to explore the process, and look in new directions. The whole team doesn’t have to be new, the addition or substitution of just one team member can be the catalyst to propel the group into a creative frenzy. Now that we have the magic key, we can all create brilliant, award-winning Broadway shows, right? If only it were that easy.

There are many challenges to new collaborations and most will not be a good match. Schedule, motivation, personality, temperament, communication and styles of conflict resolution are just some of the elements that affect a team’s ability to create and develop positive work patterns.

Look at who is making the biggest splash on Broadway. Frequently, it is that new voice, or the new collaboration of established artists that have the biggest impact. Everyone’s heard of the one hit wonder, the individual or creative team that makes a big impression on the market, then seem to disappear or fail to impress in further efforts. This could be a good explanation why this happens. We frequently hear, “It all sounds the same”, or “Its been done before”. Collaboration must stay fresh and innovative to remain on top of the market.

The creative team for the musical “Next to Normal”: seated at the piano, Tom Kitt, and standing, from left, Brian Yorkey, Michael Greif and David Stone.  Photo Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times.

Tom Kitt is an artist that has positioned himself well among successful creative teams. In the past few years he composed the score for the musical High Fidelity with one team, he won the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for his score for the critically acclaimed musical, Next to Normal, orchestrated and arranged the music for Everyday Rapture with an third team, and arranged and orchestrated the music of Green Day for the current Broadway musical, American Idiot. In each venture, one or more of the members of the creative team were different, in effect, creating a fresh and original collaborative effort.
Creative team and cast of N2N. Photo by Walter McBride/Retna Ltd.

In musical theatre, no man is an island. The composer and lyricist need one another to create songs along with the book writer to tell the story. In order for that story to be told on stage, it requires a director with vision to work with the authors. His job is to help focus the story in a way that can be told on stage in an imaginative and entertaining manner and then translate that through the assistance of designers and choreographers and finally with a carefully selected cast of performers. Any single change in the creative process can greatly affect the ultimate outcome.

From my experience, the best creative teams are able to visualize each other’s words and thoughts and take them to the next level by adding their own interpretation to the process. When I meet people in the industry where I feel a connection and an inspiration beyond their creative resume, I make notes to myself as to how I could see us collaborating on future projects. Beyond all else, I want a team of people I can depend on and trust. I also want people that truly inspire me and take me outside the proverbial box; to open up a universe of possibilities. The best creative teams are not just made up of the best in their specialty; they have to be the best together to form a completely successful collaboration.

The creative team I have been working with for the past 12 years at my high school has definitely had its share of ups and downs. In the school setting, your goals and priorities aren’t always the same as in the professional world. Despite our challenges we have successfully produced a continuous series of high quality work. Last year, there was a lot of conflict that overshadowed the team and it definitely affected the end result. Time has gone by and it’s a new year. As we start pre-production for this year’s show, Hairspray, there is already a positive electric undercurrent channeling our energies. Part of that is due to the addition of a new member to the team. Even though they are primarily working on the organization end of the spectrum, the fresh ideas and enthusiasm is just what we’ve needed to unlock that spark of creativity and thrust us forward. Its exciting going in to a project knowing it has the potential to be your team’s best work. You can be sure I’ll keep you posted.

The cast of American Idiot. Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images


 Team Assembly Mechanisms Determine Collaboration Network Structure and Team Performance Roger GuimerĂ , et al.Science 308, 697 (2005); DOI: 10.1126/science.1106340

Lascala, Maria."Tom Kitt’s Big Year"Westchester Magazine, July 2010