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Friday, July 17, 2009


Spider-Man: The Musical (And Whiny Theatre Critics)

Some great video interviews today with Julie Taymor, the visionary director of The Lion King, Titus and Across The Universe, talking about her approach to the upcoming Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark. I think you'll notice the same thing I saw last spring when I heard her speak -- she's approaching the material with great respect and a mythological perspective, which is the only possible way it'll work. And as she says, there'll be no singing webcrawlers in tights:

In other news: isn't it friggin' hilarious how upset all the old-media critics are about getting kicked out of the Tony voting? They're trying to couch it as an ethical battle to save art, but really it's just spoiled children who are mad they lost their free-ticket sugar daddies. (I mean, come on...if critics were really doing their job defending challenging art, we'd have great work like The Pillowman and A Catered Affair still running instead of Mary Poppins and Mamma Mia. But I digress.)

The problem with critics -- and the reason I have, for all intents and purposes, stopped being one -- is that social media and the internet have eliminated them as the important arbiters of culture. Basically, no one needs critics anymore when Twitter, Facebook, chat rooms and (especially) great bloggers will tailor a variety of perspectives -- some thoughtful, some not -- to readers, who sort through them and find individual voices they trust. I personally put MUCH more stock in the thoughts of Isaac Butler at Parabasis than I do in any print critic....because he's friggin' brilliant. And even with people I don't agree with 100% of the time (like the genius Chris Caggiano at Everything I Know I Learned From Musicals), I value their intelligence, passion and expertise enough to let it affect my ticket purchasing choices. I haven't had a print critic that I believed in that much since Frank Rich.

Whether that's a good or bad thing, it's the reality -- and theatre (like all of the arts) is going to have to learn how to manage the new cultural landscape of the internet. Sure, it's easy to attack bloggers as uninformed or petulant, but that's reductive and misleading...there are great theatre critics working on the internet, most of whom are BUYING their own tickets, thank you very much. The future of critical thought is in person-to-person interaction, which the internet can provide (and newspaper, radio and TV can't).

If I were running an old-school newspaper, I'd be figuring out how to turn my arts coverage into interactive web conversations, instead of letting Ben Brantley preach his crap from on high. His power lessens every season, and eventually will disappear. (And if you think I'm wrong about the power of social media, look no further than Next To Normal, which reached commercial success and Tony Awards after becoming a buzzed-about internet darling during previews.)

And to theatre producers and tour operators (who, after all, are the thinly-veiled power behind the Tony Awards): drop your review moratorium on previews, and don't be afraid of the internet. Embrace the new media, and its wild, uncontrollable avalanche of opinion. Sure, some people will write bad things, and some will write good things. But if you co-opt this discussion into your process, you know what will happen? In the end, good shows will benefit greatly...and bad shows will get exactly what they deserve. Now THAT's theatre.
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Blogger Jill said...

This is the kind of writing I sorely miss from you now that you don't blog regularly anymore. I've missed you. ;-)

7/17/09, 9:17 PM  
Blogger Joseph Gomez said...

I don't think I agree about your views of a critic. It might be because I view the audience and job of a critic not to be an influential voice to the masses, but as a voice to people who like criticism. Which is a small percentage of audience members. Follow this link for a different way to look at criticism. Even though it deals with film criticism, still says a lot about the theater world too.

7/18/09, 9:31 AM  
Blogger mdactor1980 said...

Those interviews with Taymor have been floating around at marvel for a couple weeks. She's saying all the right things tho!!

7/18/09, 10:59 AM  
Blogger ModFab said...

Joseph, I guess we'll have to see how criticism evolves. But I think the idea of critics of the future writing ONLY for those who like criticism is a very shallow pool to play in.

I'm not sure that the cinema article you link to, while well written (and featuring much I agree with), is necessarily all that applicable to theater. For a mainstream movie to succeed at the box office, it needs millions of people to attend every day. For AVENUE Q to succeed, it needs only a thousand. When BLITHE SPIRIT closes this weekend, fewer people will have seen it during its entire run than saw HARRY POTTER at its first midnight shows last week. There's a different economic model and a need to speak to audiences differently. Social media affects both, but it poses a significantly greater risk (and advantage) to the theater, in my opinion.

7/18/09, 1:07 PM  

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