Helmer, in L.A., discusses hurdles of live theater

Julie Taymor defended the inclusion of the character Arachne and discussed the hurdles of creating live theater under an intense media spotlight in a keynote address at the Theater Communications Group’s National Conference in L.A.

“I clearly think we should have gone out of town,” she said of ”Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” which opted to forgo a tryout in another city in lieu of opening directly on the Main Stem, where its troubled development process became the biggest legit news story in years.

The Saturday event put Taymor, the original helmer and co-scribe of the $70 million tuner, in conversation with Roger Copeland, a professor of theater and dance at Oberlin College (Taymor’s alma mater). Public dialogue was held in front of a packed aud at Central Los Angeles High School, now better known as the School of Visual and Performing Arts.

The director was one of the guiding creative forces of “Spider-Man” until she exited the production earlier this spring following much-publicized tech setbacks. Show finally opened June 14 following a three-week hiatus for significant retooling, led by new writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and creative consultant Philip William McKinley.

When Copeland pointed out much of the criticism of the book revolved around the character Arachne, the Greek goddess who in Taymor’s version of the show became the webslinger’s mystical nemesis, Taymor said the character came straight from page one of the “Spider-Man” comicbook and was not “grafted on.”

“During those pre-emptive previews, we hadn’t worked it into the script yet,” she said. In the five weeks between the early reviews (which hit papers in February) and Taymor’s departure, “many things changed,” she insisted, “even though we only had a certain amount of hours a week to rehearse.”

As a result of the national spotlight directed at the development of the project, she noted, “You get bored of a show before it even opens because there’s been too much talk about it.”

She added, “Twitter, Facebook, blogging just trumps you.”

The most time-consuming elements were not the tech aspects but training the actors to move dramatically using the complicated aerial equipment. “It’s not just about the equipment working, it’s the artistry of the dancers,” she said. “They’re not stuntmen. They had to learn how to do that work.”

Initially the show, with music by Bono and the Edge, was to have been targeted for a nontraditional theater space. She originally envisioned it in a circus tent on top of Madison Square Garden.

“We would create our own space so it wouldn’t be considered a traditional musical at all,” she said of those early intentions. “It’s really a blend of circus drama and rock-n-roll. I thought it would be difficult, and it was, to be compared to traditional (musicals), even if they’re modern.”

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