If you haven't been following the massive disaster that is the Broadway production of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
, you've been missing a massive train wreck in slow motion. Julie Taymor, who was the original person behind the effort was fired in March and has finally spoken out about the scathing reviews the show has received all along (apparently, the only reason to go see the show is in the hopes of catching someone get injured). Apparently it's not her fault, the fault of any of the other writers, actors, musicians, etc. No, no. You see, it's all Twitter's fault
. Apparently, with people writing bad reviews on Twitter, the producers overreacted:
Breaking her silence about “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” the Broadway musical from which she was fired in March, Julie Taymor tacitly criticized her former producers on Saturday afternoon for relying on audience focus groups and said that the rise of Twitter and blogs for instant theater criticism was damaging to shows...
“It’s very scary if people are going more towards that, to have audiences tell you how to make a show,” she said. “Shakespeare would have been appalled. Forget about it. It would be impossible to have these works come out because there’s always something that people don’t like.”
“Twitter and Facebook and blogging just trump you,” Ms. Taymor said during a moderated discussion at the annual meeting of the Theater Communications Group, an umbrella organization of regional and nonprofit theaters. “It’s very hard to create. It’s incredibly difficult to be under a shot glass and a microscope like that.”
Well, well. It turns out that not only is Taymor not very good at judging the quality of this particular play, but she seems rather ignorant on history as well. Clive Thompson
reminds us that the audience in Shakespeare time didn't quietly type their opinion of the plays they were seeing into the internet, they spoke up about it immediately
Shakespeare's audience was far more boisterous than are patrons of the theatre today. They were loud and hot-tempered and as interested in the happenings off stage as on. One of Shakespeare's contemporaries noted that "you will see such heaving and shoving, such itching and shouldering to sit by the women, such care for their garments that they be not trod on . . . such toying, such smiling, such winking, such manning them home ... that it is a right comedy to mark their behaviour" (Stephen Gosson, The School of Abuse, 1579). The nasty hecklers and gangs of riffraff would come from seedy parts in and around London like Tower-hill and Limehouse and Shakespeare made sure to point them out:
These are the youths that thunder at a playhouse,
and fight for bitten apples; that no audience, but
the Tribulation of Tower-hill, or the Limbs of
Limehouse, their dear brothers, are able to endure.
(Henry VIII, 5.4.65-8)
On top of that, Thompson
also points out that even audiences for plays in New York City haven't always been so nice, pointing to the famed Astor Place riots
that happened as anti-England sentiment in New York City at the time caused audience members to start "loudly voicing their disapproval with booing and hissing" during Shakespeare's plays, leading to the eventual riot:
The most brutal of these eruptions occurred as a result of two rival actors, each of whom was starring in a competing production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Celebrated American actor Edwin Forrest, who patriotically extolled the virtues of the American Dream of self-actualization, employed a performing style that was passionate and visceral. English actor William Charles Macready, on the other hand, had an elitist attitude, a poised stature, and an approach to acting that was more subtle and cerebral. When Macready and Forrest both presented the play on May 7, audience members booed and heckled Macready, then started throwing objects at the stage, and the performance had to stop with almost half of the play unperformed. Macready was ready to go back to England; but as Lawrence W. Levine notes, a letter from individuals including authors Herman Melville and Washington Irving—insisting that Americans would be civilized enough to allow him to perform—convinced him to stay. The result was disastrous: although Macready was able to make it through the full performance at the Astor Place Opera House on May 10, a crowd of working-class men attacked the theatre with the intention of causing severe damage. The rioters backed down only after militia opened fire into the crowd, killing at least 22 and as many as 31 people. As Nigel Cliff notes in The Shakespeare Riots, “Never in the nation’s history had soldiers fired volley after volley at point-blank range into a civilian crowd.” And this infamous event is a disturbing milestone in the lore of the Macbeth curse. Perhaps it is only fitting that the riot resulted from a play that mentions the word "blood" and its variants a whopping 41 times.
It seems like having some fans bitch about a crappy stage production that seemed like a bad idea from the very beginning seems rather tame in comparison, Julie.