Spiderman Meets Shakespeare (and the Bard Wins)

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark has been in previews longer than some Broadway shows ever even get to run. Production costs are running at about $65 Million. But even under the direction of Julia Taymor (The Lion King), the show has been plagued by injuries, production problems, and bad press. Let’s say I would hate to be an investor in that show.

In the theater next door, Fiasco Theater has mounted a production of Cymbeline, one of Shakespeare’s hardest plays to stage. Dozens of characters move across space and time in what can be a confusing evening. According to Ben Brantley of the NY Times, “. . a plucky little (and I mean little) troupe is addressing and breezily overcoming many of the problems that appear to be plaguing Ms. Taymor and company.” The six actors sometimes take on as many as four roles. The set consists of a few crates, a chest, and a queen-sized sheet. Apparently they bring elaborate battle scenes to life, evoke shifts in time and place with a tiny cast and on what appears to be an equally tiny budget. (New York Times 1/18/11.)

You won’t be surprised to hear that the story got me thinking about change in organizations. I see so much attention put on getting the right conference facility for big planning meetings. Hiring a fine guest speaker, coming up with logos, t-shirts and mugs, and preparing elaborate videos. And don’t forget catering. That’s a lot of attention and energy put into the wrong places. Often, at the end of the meeting, few are moved.

The great director, Peter Brook got it right when he said that good theater could be performed in a black box. (I have seen some fine productions held in converted warehouses.)  We could do the same with change. We could ask ourselves, what is essential? I think we would find that we could do without many of the trappings. Do we need all that stuff, when maybe all we need is a place for people to gather to engage in spirited and productive conversation. Just a thought.