Julie Taymor Says: Don’t Tweet On Me

“We are her family,” Theatre Communications Group’s Philip Himberg cautioned the audience of several hundred members. “Please respect that she’s with her family.” Saturday afternoon, director Julie Taymor headlined the national conference’s Closing Keynote in a highly-anticipated conversation with scholar Roger Copeland. There were no photos or video allowed, but Taymor used the event to tell her side of the biggest theater story of the year, maybe the decade. She finished to a standing ovation.

Taymor is clearly battle-weary from her long slog with Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, which was almost uniformly skewered by the press before she was kicked off the production. But today she took direct aim at blogs, Twitter, and other social media that’s so enjoyed broadcasting her woes.

“It puts us under a lot of pressure,” she told the nodding crowd. “When you’re trying to create new work and break down [old forms] and experiment, an immediate answer from the audience is never good …The audience doesn’t know how to talk about it immediately.”

The flood of insta-critics presents a real challenge for artists: a barrage of unedited, unmediated opinions that can appear at any moment.  But it’s misguided and futile to suggest they shouldn’t be allowed to share their opinions (as considered or shortsighted as they may be) using the communication tools of our time.

As journalists, we’re learning we have to make our work stand apart from the unaffiliated competition. It’s noisy.  But the noise also gives us a pretty strong incentive to make our work better. In the case of Twitter vs. Artist, it remains the artist’s decision how to react.   She can either ignore those tweets, or find a way to benefit from them.

At one point in the Keynote conversation, Copeland slammed New York Times critic Ben Brantley, who wrote that Spider-Man was “so grievously broken in every respect that it is beyond repair.” But Taymor suggested it was time to move on. And they did.

And I tweeted it.



  1. Agree with Traynor here. The self-referent Twitterverse is often more devoted to putting itself in the thick of a self-serving catfight than to putting people in the seats.

    But also–“unaffiliated competition” is a really awful way for print to view people not interested to write for print media anymore. In many cases, the “unaffiliated competition” is way better informed and have far longer relationships to theater. Some of them have worked both sides of the street and continue to do so. And they can really make problems for print whereas print can’t so much for those online.

    We’ve watched so many print pubs shoot themselves in the foot by engaging online people with suspicion rather than esteeming them as media cohabitants. Online people don’t get hurt in these catfights, though, because they don’t have much to lose anyway, and they also have infinite space for their opinions available to them. But print does get hurt, and when it does, space becomes tighter and even jobs dry up (the LA Times, for instance, no longer has a dance critic–it can’t support one–precisely at a time when the local dance scene is burgeoning).

    In any dispute, it’s print who largely suffers, losing readers, losing influence, and eventually losing ads, and online people know that. You can measure declining newspaper circ over the past decade in general as a measure of print people showing lack of the kind of respect for online people that they routinely extend to other media like teevee and radio historically.

    • Thanks for writing, Joseph.

      I agree, “engaging online people with suspicion rather than esteeming them as media cohabitants” is the wrong way to be. More talk leads to better ideas, right? I think it’s important to recognize that there are important differences between someone who has a long history with the community as a participant vs. as a journalist — there are different “rules” in those relationships. Feedback should be read with its provenance in mind, but both voices are valuable.

      (As for “unaffiliated competition” — I was trying to describe people who report on work, but who may not practice/observe certain journalistic rules and standards (i.e. working with an editor, sourcing quotes, abiding by journalistic ethics, etc.) — I probably should have just said that! It wasn’t meant to belittle, only to distinguish.)

  2. “but who may not practice/observe certain journalistic rules and standards”…well, I actually lost interest in some print publications in town when they became guilty of these very same things. In fact, it’s editors now who are most likely to not abide by “journalistic ethics” especially when trying to preserve both jobs and cash.

    Whatever “journalistic ethics” are. I find they’re vastly overemphasized, usually by aging former scribes looking for university gigs. More often than not their only purpose is to subordinate hungry young writers to creaking rotting writers, to enable to the upper tier to pull rank and hold on a little longer. At the university, you find collections of the most sanctimonious, hectoring finger-waggers of all. They kinda remind me of Tea Party types, in fact.