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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

New York Times coverage of Spider Man

The New York Times coverage of the recent Spider Man preview brings up some interesting issues. Playgoer calls it this way:

"The truth is, what you see here is a blatant move by the Times to get in on the action. The action of All That Chat, specifically. Notice how they have their gossipy story online already, probably just a few hours after the firstSpidey chatroom post. No doubt the Times also assumed that Riedel would have a story in the Post--and he does."
I don't know. I think there's a lot of smoke here and no fire. Patrick Healy's job is to cover the goings on in theater business, but he's a bit handcuffed by the reputation of the paper. Should he not cover this much anticipated and discussed preview out of sense of decorum? Or should he and risk the derision of artists who feel that it's wrong to expose a work-in-progress to the public eye? He appears to have chosen to cover his story, which is all that can be expected of him. He's written an article about what actually happened and then interviewed the crowd about their responses. Is it entirely without opinion? No, but then again, I think there's something sort of old fashioned and odd about how theater journalists and producers have these tacit agreements about what is and isn't out of bounds, even as the public pays for the privilege of being patient.

This "work in progress" is, in fact, charging people upwards of $100 to attend it. I can get a whole lot of Spider Man comics and the entire Spider Man movie trilogy on DVD for less. If you're going to take a superhero property, outspend every Broadway show in history, use big names to create and (let's face it) sell your show, then you have to live with the downside of fame and glory, too. It's unreasonable to expect the public to wait reverently and quietly without any information, to spend their money, and for the press to treat this incredibly newsworthy show as if it they can't cover it until the producers give them the "go-ahead." I mean, the show is called Turn Off The Dark, after all. Isn't that what Patrick Healy is, in a limited way, trying to do?

Previews are lightly abused by Broadway producers, I think. If the previews are really dress rehearsals that are performed in front the public, why aren't the tickets free?Would a film producer say "Hey, I've got about 80% of this movie done, the special effects aren't complete, and I'm working out the story. I'd love to see what you think. That'll be $10!"

Obviously, that's a massive oversimplification and previews have a purpose. I don't see, though, how the audience (isn't that what it's all about) has an advocate if the press is careful not to piss off the producers and the producers are charging for an unfinished product. I can accept that it's a good idea not to review the show until it's officially ready to be opened (otherwise, you're not reviewing the actual vision and finished product) but... is all press coverage that isn't a fawning interview with the creative team akin to a review? I don't think so.

I do, though, sympathize with the actors. As a friend of mine said, the actors must be in a hell of a miserable working environment right now, and advanced coverage that exposes their foibles and pain can't help. The creative team can't be having any fun at the moment, and no one likes that sort of thing exposed to the public. Still...isn't that just show biz?

So...what do you think?

Do you think the Times coverage crosses an imaginary line? Do you think that Previews should be out of bounds and that Healy is, essentially, breaking a trust by writing about an unfinished work? Do you think too much emphasis is being placed on the business and not enough of the show's artistic ambitions? Or do you find yourself a bit skeptical when you hear Spider Man On Broadway and Artistic Ambitions in the same paragraph?

3 comments:

Danny Bowes said...

Compared to Riedel's thing in the Post, Healy was downright civilized. Even on its own merits, it was like, "there's some problems, but it was the first time they ever ran through the show, so considering that it went well." Riedel's the one people should be pissed at, if that wasn't redundant at this point.

David Johnston said...

Riedel does bitchy and he does feuds, because it's good for circulation. He's actually a theater columnist who gets read, no mean feat, even though I think he's loathsome. But I think the Times may have been right here - if producers are spending 65 million, the first preview is news. And if they're charging a hundred and forty bucks a pop for a dress rehearsal, then they should be called on that. All that being said - yeah, I feel sorry for the actors, too. And I pray they've got good health coverage, and not some shitty HMO.

Esther said...

I agree with what you wrote. I don't think the press coverage crossed a line at all. I think the first Spider-Man preview was a legitimate news story and it was treated like one, not like a critical review of the musical. Clearly there was more than the usual amount of interest. And the producers certainly tried to pump it up, with the 60 Minutes story.

In terms of exposing a work in progress to the public eye, as soon as you invite the paying public you're exposed. In the age of the Internet and smart phones these tacit agreements are meaningless.