The Playgoer: NYT goes all "All That Chat" on Spidey

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Monday, November 29, 2010

NYT goes all "All That Chat" on Spidey

Expect to hear more about Patrick Healy's NY Times article covering last night's first preview of Spider-Man. (Posted online now, but not in today's print edition. Will it run? and, in print, on page A21 of the Metro section--probably because it's one of the last sections to go to press.)  Read it, and tell me if you don't think it comes awfully close to breaking the Preview Taboo that the respectable press is supposed to observe.

Still, no denying it's an irresistible read, reminiscent of really oldschool journalism--like The Tatler.

All $65 million of the new Broadway musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” took flight on Sunday night at its first preview performance, but not without bumps. The show stopped five times, mostly to fix technical problems, and Act I ended prematurely, with Spider-Man stuck dangling 10 feet above audience members, while Act II was marred by a nasty catcall during one of the midperformance pauses....The fourth and final pause at the end of Act I was the worst glitch of the night by far. Spider-Man had just flown and landed onstage with the musical’s heroine, Mary Jane Watson (played by Jennifer Damiano), in his arms. He was then supposed to zoom off toward the balcony seating area, a few hundred feet away. Instead, a harness and cables lifted Spider-Man several yards up and over the audience, then stopped. A production stage manager, C. Randall White, called for a halt to the show over the sound system, apparently in hopes of fixing and re-doing the stunt. Crew members, standing on the stage, spent 45 seconds trying to grab Spider-Man by the foot, as the audience laughed and oohed. When they finally caught him, Mr. White announced intermission, and the house lights came on. 
Some Act One curtain!

So as much I enjoy this, I do think the Times should answer to the charge of "reviewing" previews, even if they're technically not.  This is especially important at a time when "The Internet" and "Bloggers" are constantly blamed for ruining the practice of criticism by doing such things.

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.

The Times has certainly done stories about "troubled" productions in previews before.  But that's always been after there were a series of troubled previews to report about, and days/weeks of buzz.  In this case, Healy clearly went to the show himself last night with the express intention of writing about it.  And while he doesn't express an "opinion" or critical judgment about the show being good or, he sure doesn't make last night sound like a good night of theatre.  And he quotes several audience members for their responses--a virtual "chat room" of opinions, as it were.

I don't know if I'm really outraged or not at this point, frankly.  But with moves like this I do think it's time for major print media to finally get off it's high horse about what was once known as critical "ethics," especially when criticizing (so sue me) bloggers or anyone who writes online.

In other words...welcome to the club, Grey Lady!


Jason Zinoman said...

The Times has been tip-toeing around in the club for a while now. Take a look back at the coverage of Boy George's Taboo, which included a day-after previews story with quotes from audience members, which i recall was put in the Metro section so it could make the paper the next day. No, there weren't as many quotes, but then again, this is a much bigger story. As you suggest, backstage drama has a looong history at the Times. That said, the Internet has surely changed coverage and you're right that the Times is more invested online today than in the glory days of Taboo, but i would say that the most out of date thing here is the idea that bloggers are constantly blamed for ruining the practice of criticism by doing such things. I'm not blaming bloggers. I don't hear any print press blaming them. The only people who might be blaming them are producers who are the ones really invested in the preview taboo whose breach you may be outraged about. As i see it, bloggers have been a part of the -- gasp! -- mainstream theater press for years now. I don't need to welcome you to the club. You're already here. Admit it: You thought the music would be better.

Playgoer said...

You're probably right, Jason, that I'm fighting old fights on anti-blogger calumny. Just that I heard Todd London speak recently about his "Outrageous Fortune" book and --in an otherwise wonderful talk--tossed in some throwaway about playwrights today fearing "the bloggers" who violate their work in previews or rehearsals. So I still find a lot of more established theatre folk tossing around the term "bloggers" casually as shorthand for ANYTHING on the internet. (When what they really mean, 9 times out of 10, is All That Chat.)

BTW, just want to point out my correction in the post that the piece DID run in the print edition today after all. But I missed it because it was in the Metro pages--just like what Jason described with Taboo.

Anonymous said...

Yea, i think you are right that there's a lot of conflation between allthatchat and bloggers. But the real question, a thorny but good one, that the chatters have pushed to the fore is whether the preview taboo still makes sense. Or rather, does it make sense to charge normal ticket prices for this period? It's a real tough one for the press, because the interests of the customers and those of the shows are not necessarily the same.