Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Spark



It is truly awe-inspiring to observe the events that are happening in North Africa right now. On December 17th last year, in Sidi Bouzid, a rural town in Tunisia, a street vendor named Tarek al-Tayyib Muhammad ibn Bouazizi was stripped of his means of making a living, beaten, and publicly humiliated by local municipal government officials for supposedly not having a license for his street cart. He went to the governor's office to file a complaint, but the governor refused to see him or hear his case. He then chose to set himself on fire in protest.

That one desperate act by an ordinary citizen in a rural community set in motion an ever-spiraling series of protests that would bring down the government of Tunisia that had been in power for 23 years, lead to protests in Khartoum and other cities in Sudan, and bring the 30 year old reign of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to the edge of the abyss.

That one spark of a match changed the course of history.

Indeed, one of the social networking sites that has been created by protesters in Sudan is called “The Spark.”

These are how great stories are told. As a writer, I find it incredibly inspiring to see how one small, seemingly insignificant event (in the world at large, at least) can snowball into something epic.

Fascinating.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

‘Spider-Man: Turn Off the Life Support?’



I’d promised myself several weeks ago that I’d refrain from commenting on the ongoing, seemingly never-ending ‘Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark’ saga. Like many other people, I’ve been rubbernecking the accident-prone, perpetually delayed fiasco that this show has become. It’s hard not to. After all, the story of this $65 million behemoth has become a theatrical event in itself. But ultimately, the show falls out of my sphere of existence, since it’s nothing I’d ever consider seeing, or even something I’d consider to be theatre come to that. But it’s now reached the point of lunacy, and has made me and lots of others quite disgusted.

After all of the accidents, all the departures, all of the delays and delays and delays, the producers have now decided to extend the preview performances to somewhere around mid-March…though take that with a pinch of salt. Frankly, I wouldn’t care that this show has broken all records for the longest number of preview performances for a Broadway show ever, but the fact that preview audience members are being asked to pay full-price admission ($140 to $275) for something that is still having its basic elements (script, lights, music, script, again) reworked and rehashed, not to mention the much publicized lack of a “big closing number” is just a rip-off. And now this situation will continue for another two months!

Preview performances, of course, are where the wrinkles are ironed out after rehearsals are done with. Preview performances are also lower priced than regular performances, since the attendee is not seeing the fully finished, polished final product. In fact, they’re helping to create it. As anyone involved in theatre knows, the transition from rehearsal to live audience can raise many unforeseen issues that need to be adjusted and tweaked before opening night. In the case of ‘Spider-Man’ though, the producers seem quite happy to charge exorbitant prices for what is essentially an on-going rehearsal process.

Look, lots of people enjoy (and many expect) a bit of spectacle when they go and see a Broadway show, and that’s fine, especially at those prices. But if this production has so much difficulty in pulling off all of its “ground-breaking” special effects and flying sequences, then why not just film the damn thing? The producers are calling it “action theatre.” To me it sounds more like Cirque du Soleil without the skill and training.

Naturally, I wish all of the hard-working actors and stage crew well in this venture. I certainly hope no more of them end up injured and hospitalized. But as for the people behind this high-tech lemon, I can’t help but think that that $65 million could have been put to far better use. Disaster relief, for instance. Or nestled snug and secure in my own personal bank account.

On a completely different and far more delightful note, there is a very interesting interview with Dame Harriet Walter in today’s Guardian, which I highly recommend reading. What an insightful and articulate person she is.

Among other things, she discusses how difficult it is to find well-rounded parts in the theatre for women of a certain age. This is something I’ve talked about here before, and vowed to do some thing about – and I will. But, there is a problematic element to this situation that anyone who isn’t a playwright may not understand. But that, as they used to say on 'Tales of the Riverbank', is another story. (Or blog post.)