The Power and Precarity of Creators + Collaborations


Until this point in my life, I don’t think I have ever read the first and last chapters of a book before back to back, but that was our T505 Media Organizations reading assignment for this week…  While reading there were a few points that stood out to me and related in particular to a performing arts story that has been circulating since rehearsals began in the summer of 2010 (Citation): Spiderman the Musical, entitled Spiderman Turn Off the Dark.  Not only is this the most expensive Broadway musical of all time, it has had a myriad of problems throughout its production.  For example, originally, it was set to begin preview performances on Sunday, November 14, 2010 and open on December 21st (Citation).  In reality, the show opened on June 14, 2011 after a record-breaking 185 preview performances (Citation).

The show’s anniversary is actually today, as it began its previews on November 28, 2010 (Citation).  It also was just announced by the producers that “that SPIDER-MAN Turn Off The Dark has set an all-time box office record for the Foxwoods Theatre – grossing a whopping $2,070,195.60 for the week ending yesterday” (Citation).  This is not that great since the show “runs $1 million a week in operating costs” (60 Minutes).  In June of 2011 the show had spent $75 million on the show’s production (NY Times).

This show is a perfect example of the disconnect between management and the creative side (2), the “general shift in power away from professional content creators” (3), “those who professionally create content are left more or less powerless” (3), the “overall precarity in media work” (3), how the “delivery of content” is more important than the “raw content itself” (7), and more.  The stories behind Spiderman also illustrate how collaboration can be a major struggle, filled with tension (287).  “Collaboration is always accompanied by conflict and struggle” (289).

Originally, Spiderman Turn Off the Dark was a collaboration between Bono and The Edge (of U2) and Julie Taymor as director (the mastermind of the puppets of The Lion King musical, Across the Universe, and more.)  Taymor also wrote the book (aka script) of the musical.  The first signs of tension came in Feb. of 2011, when a new book writer was hired (Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa) (Citation).  This change came after the show was dragged through the mud by reviewers from The NY Times, Washington Post, Bloomberg News, USA Today, Variety, NY Daily News, the UK’s Telegraph, the LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Toronto Star, and many more…

Read review excerpts here:   Richard Ouzounian of the Toronto Star wrote, “Let’s cut to the chase. The only truly amazing thing about Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, is how unequivocally awful it is.”

And those were just the beginnings…  On March 9, 2011 Taymor was ousted (Citation), and “director Philip William McKinley, writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, and choreographer Chase Brock were brought onto the creative team by lead producers Michael Cohl and Jeremiah J. Harris to help implement new staging, book rewrites, and additional choreography, respectively” (Citation).  March of 2011 brought on an entirely new script and new concept with new songs, new script, new choreography, and new contracts with the cast and crew (Citation).

A peek (video montage) of the current ‘Spiderman’ concept, which is very comic-book-ish and kid/ family friendly:

And 2 more videos:

A peek at Julie Taymor’s original concept, which is more mature and considered more ‘artistic’:

And here [This one is better…]:

As you can see, the two concepts are VERY different!  Taymor was pretty quiet about the changes in the show, but later was quoted in a June NY Times article saying, [“When you’re trying to create new work and you’re trying to break new ground and experiment, which seems an incredibly crazy thing to do in a Broadway environment, the immediate answers that audiences give are never going to be good,” Ms. Taymor said.  “It’s just in the nature of things that when you’re doing something very new, audiences don’t know how necessarily to talk about it immediately,” she continued. “Which in my world, and in your world, is a good thing. You want people to absorb, they should be entertained, they should have a great time, but they should also be stimulated enough that when they go home or talk to their kids, they are actually digesting, thinking, talking about it.”  As for the current version of “Spider-Man,” which she saw for the first time at the opening on Tuesday, her only comment was, “The production today has become much simpler.”] (Citation)

And things are far from over as Taymor is suing to get $500,000 in royalties (Citation) and the show is still adding and cutting scenes!  (Citation).  Though Taymor was the producer’s and Bono and The Edge’s first choice, she still lost power and creative control.  In the end, the producers thought a simpler, family-friendly concept would be better, and the collaboration fell through…

Questions to consider: When if ever is a creator secure in their power and in their position/ authority?  Taymor had an amazing reputation going into this project, and it did not make much of a difference…  She would have not been able to mount such a production alone- is giving up some control worth being able to produce a finished product?  -Even if the finished product is not your original vision?  Are collaborations doomed as the book seems to think?  What can leaders/ managers do to help encourage effective and successful collaboration??

-Emmalyn Helge

Deuze, Mark & Brian Steward. “Managing Media Work.” Managing Media Work. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, 2011: 1-10.

Lovink, Geert & Ned Rossiter. “Urgent Aphorisms.” Managing Media Work. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, 2011: 279-289.


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