December 21, 2010
A peek into our world
Variety ran this fascinating article a couple days ago, on the stage management team of the new musical Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark. (“Spiderman spins epic technical challenge: Seven stage managers try to corral Broadway spectacular.”)
It’s been fascinating and a little unsettling to me, as a stage manager, the extent to which the stage management of this now infamously troubled production has been in the public eye, because, of course, when things are going as they should, we and our work are mostly invisible. To the public, to the audience, and to an extent even to the cast and rest of the production team.
We’re like fairies that way.
I have not seen Spiderman in previews, and don’t plan to, can’t afford to, will probably be too busy to…it’s a low priority for me given that I probably won’t even be able to make it to In the Heights or Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, which I desperately want to see, before they close. Though I do sometimes go to shows I probably wouldn’t otherwise (Shrek) to appreciate the technical wizardry of how a production that large and intricate is done, given that most of what I do is of a much more intimate scope. But mostly, I don’t want to support in any way the vision that Spiderman‘s dependence on outsized spectacle is the future of Broadway theater or what’s required to keep audiences’ attention because they can’t be trusted to think or imagine anything for themselves. I’d rather just be told a good story–tight, elegant and well-acted.
The first preview was apparently a nightmare which had to be halted five times. There have been four major injuries in the course of the rehearsals and previews so far, the latest just last night when a stunt double fell 30 feet into the pit when a safety rope broke. I appreciate that the producers, director and designers are attempting to push the boundaries of what’s possible on stage, and that there’s risk in everything we do in theater, but it’s time to stop the magical thinking when it becomes clear that a conception of a show cannot be accomplished with a reasonable expectation of safety.
And yet I stand in total amazement of C. Randall White and Kathy Purvis. Because I can’t begin to imagine what they must be going through right now, and the kind of single-minded professional determination they must possess to be dedicated to trying to keep this production together. Because their capability and bravery in taking this on is so far beyond what I ever hope to be. As much as I think Spiderman was probably a bad idea from the very start, I could never wish this kind of trouble on any production knowing that there’s a stage manager, or seven, doing their goddamn best to carry out impossible demands and keep everyone safe.
And I’m even a little bit glad for the public having a glimpse into the job of the stage manager, because there is so much blame flying around for the show’s problems, so much misunderstanding or total lack of knowledge of the job and what its responsibilities are. And because usually, mostly in productions in which we manage to remain secret fairies, it is a wonderful job.