The story thus far: On November 8, 2011, Julie Taymor, the ousted director of Spiderman (along with her production company, LOH, Inc.) filed suit against the producers of the once-cursed production, saying that they had violated her creative rights and haven’t compensated her for her work on the play.
The lead producers disagreed, and filed their own counter-suit in response to Ms. Taymor.
There was talk of an out of court settlement. But now Ms.Taymor through her lawyers has responded to the producers allegations, denying all their claims that she harmed the show.
What’s at stake here is nothing less than the reputation of director Julie Taymor. She has just filed an answer in court, her latest weapon to defuse the hurt put on her by the producers of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. She is firing back at the producers who fired her, and part of the accumulating court record are the very e-mails that flew back and forth between the parties involved. They are now part of the public record.
And what a bizarre and interesting tale they tell. For those of us who find the drama backstage often more interesting than that on-stqge, this is simply a goldmine, a peek into how things really work in the commercial theatre.
Ms. Taymor — who is seeking more than $1 million in back pay and future royalties, as well as copyright protections — has set the stage for a possible out-of-court settlement.
We tune in to court document Case 1:11-cv-08002-KBF Document 37 Filed 03/02/12 on Page 22.
“…Taymor’s co-author Berger was effusive about the Book of the Musical they had created. In August 2010, shortly before public preview performances began, he sent ane-mail to Taymor stating:
i’ve been meaning to point this out for a while, but today, as people could sense something alchemical was going on in how the story was working—it’s — your directing and designing on this thing aside — your understanding of theatre has enabled you to create a profoundly effective story. yeah, I wrote more of the words in the script, but the beat-to-beat narrative — that was totally your vision (I was your boy wonder) – and by figuring how to send the audience high, then plunging them low immediately after, then sending them high again, and on and on — well, anyway, just a few hundred hurdles to go, so I won’t get into it…it seems to work on the audience on a physiological level—putting them in a state where they’re wholly open —prepared to engage in the story on a deep deep emotional level… but just wanted to say what a gift, what a mind-cracking, heart-swelling gift it’s been having these front-row tickets to you….
Despite Urgings from Taymor, the Producers and Others Failed to Remedy Substantial Technical Problems Before the Musical’s First Public Performance
Contrary to the producers’ allegations, the Book of the Musical co-authored by Taymor had a finished, dramatic ending. That ending entailed a coup de théâtre in which a giant web was supposed to descend from the ceiling of the theatre in a thrilling fight/fly sequence involving the Spider-Man and Arachne characters.
In a technical workshop conducted well before rehearsals began, the technical team successfully demonstrated a model of the web ending, which thrilled the participants and gave the producers and creative team confidence that the show would have its planned-for spectacular ending.
The production’s design team led by set designer George Tsypin, however, failed to design the end of the show properly. The giant web intended for the end of the show, which had been approved and constructed at a cost to the production of approximately $1 million, was first installed in the theater during the “dry tech” portion of the production in the months before previews began. The web malfunctioned and was promptly removed from the theater the same day it had been installed, however, as the web design interfered with the rigging that had been installed in the theater to enable the Musical’s signature fly sequences.
As a result of the design failure of the web, as well as other design failures affecting the entire last scene of the show, the ability to stage the ending of the Book of the Musical, as originally conceived and labored on for years, was placed in jeopardy.
Taymor alerted Cohl to the design problems with the final scene of the Musical months before public performances began, urging him repeatedly to address the issue. In early September 2010, for example, Taymor sent an e-mail to Cohl stating:
I think we need to get into the reality of the problematic giant web/ring as soon as possible. . . . It will truly put us off schedule if we do not solve it immediately as it is an enormous flying scene to choreograph and the climax of the show. There may be a certain amount of denial going on and postponing a radical solution is not good.
Taymor followed up with several more e-mails and conversations with Cohl about the problems with the web and other aspects of the ending scene of the Musical. The producers, however, failed to ensure that the problems plaguing the show’s final scene were remedied. The producers also failed to ensure the development of a back-up technical plan to account for the possibility that the originally-planned deployment of the web would not work in the theater.
The Musical’s technical team and set designer George Tsypin continued to attempt fixes for these problems, but the attempts generally were not successful. The thrust of the story and the planned clarity and thrill of the ending of the Musical were substantially diminished as a result.
It was because of these failures that the Musical played its first preview performance on November 28, 2010, without the dramatic, climactic ending called for by the Book.
Taymor and Others Continued to Make Changes in an Effort to Improve the Story and Other Aspects of the Musical
Despite the production’s technical problems, Cohl and Harris continued to praise the Musical after preview performances began and led Taymor to believe that they remained supportive of the version of the show Taymor was tirelessly working to improve. Cohl was quoted publicly at the time stating that he was “ecstatic” about the first preview performance and “thought it was a 10 out of 10.”
Over the month of December, Taymor, Berger, and others worked to clarify the Musical and to develop alternative solutions to stage the final scene of the show called for in the Book as originally conceived by the entire creative team. Meanwhile, Taymor and Berger also worked on, among other things, developing a new ending to the show in which the lead actor playing Peter Parker performed a dramatic fly sequence above the audience.
Cohl and Harris remained seemingly supportive of Taymor’s efforts to improve the show, sending e-mails complimenting Taymor on the “big improvement[s]” she was making and stating “it’s mind boggling what’s being accomplished.”
Taymor made clear to the producers from early on that she was willing to make changes to the production, including to the Book of the Musical. As she explained, however, thescope of possible changes was limited by the Musical’s performance schedule once previews had begun, which called for eight performances most weeks, and the sheer technical complexity of the show.
As an experienced Broadway director and collaborator, and having been present for the development, rehearsals, and performances of the Musical, Taymor understood the practical implications involved in making significant changes to the Musical. For example, because of the complex computer programming involved in the production, as well as the need to ensure the safety of all concerned, it could take up to four hours to make a forty-second change to the Musical. Adding to the scheduling pressures was the fact that much of the rehearsal time, which had to be spent in the theater because of the flying sequences and complicated scenery changes, was devoted to rehearsing understudies.
Taymor suggested to the producers that, in order to allow for significant improvements to be made to the production, they consider canceling a certain number of preview performances to allow for re-writes, rehearsals and re-staging to be implemented. On December 4, 2010, for example, Taymor sent an e-mail to Cohl and his associate producers stating:
As I ponder this schedule on the airplane I wonder when we will have time to put in the changes that Glen, Bono and Edge and I are making on the script. All of these changes are in act two. They are extensive in that they require rehearsal in the rehearsal room but then tech time on stage. . . . These script changes will have to [be] added carefully and slowly as to not confuse the actors, so we should discuss with Glen B when we will have the various pieces.. . . Needless to say, we do not have the time unless we cancel a preview or two.
While the show played a slightly reduced schedule during the early weeks of previews, allowing for rehearsal of changes, the producers made clear to Taymor that they would not permit additional performances to be canceled, which would have allowed larger-scale changes to be made. Canceling performances would have meant forgoing revenue.
During this time, Berger remained effusive about the Book of the Musical to Taymor, Bono, and Edge. In December 2010, after public preview performances had begun, Berger wrote e-mails to them stating that he was “so f*cking excit[ed] about where Act Two is going to go,” that “there’s a LOT of cool and novel stuff,” and that he “truly believe[d] Julie and [he] ha[d] cracked the play storywise.” Berger also defended the Book against critics who argued that it strayed from the Spider-Man comic books, writing to Taymor on December 19,2010:
I was just at the Forbidden Planet comic book store, paging through the Amazing Spider-Man compendiums (Issues #36-50 from about 7 years ago) — they have Spider-Man traveling through the Astral Plane, they have him fighting villains from the Astral Plane, they speak of the totemic power of the spider, of being “between” two worlds, of being pursued by a female villain who lives in the Astral Plane, of questioning whether the spider that bit Peter intentionally bit him for hidden reasons, and of conversing with a character (Dr. Strange) inside of Peter’s dream, because that’s the only way they can easily speak (Strange being a denizen of the Astral Plane). A certain amount of exposition in the comic book explains the “rules”/“physics” of it all, as comics have been doing for decades.
Which is all to say—any “comic book devotee” who says we’re diverging from “Spider-Man” is an idiot, and doesn’t know the first thing about what the comics have been up to for at least the last 10 years. Our job is simply to make sure that our Act Two story feels like it could have been a comic-book tale. This shouldn’t be too difficult — and smoothing out those last moments with Arachne, and the moments coming out of Turn Off the Dark, etc. will help.
Bono and Edge Failed to Attend Preview Performances and Were Distracted by Other Commitments
As work on the Book of the Musical progressed, it became obvious that one of the most significant impediments to the show’s potential success was the music and lyrics — in particular, the disconnect between the music and the rest of the show. Early reviews from theater-goers and critics alike frequently emphasized the inability of the music to clarify or aid the story or to help the characters emotionally connect with the audience.
During this critical period for any new musical preceding the official opening of the show — one in which even veteran Broadway composers are almost always present and actively involved — Taymor continuously reached out to Bono and Edge in an effort to get them to deliver improved music and lyrics.
On December 14, 2010, for example, Taymor wrote an e-mail to Bono and Edge stating:
A lot is happening. It is getting clearer. The show is running more smoothly. But clarity in the last third is still the issue. We are working hard on it. A major rewrite of LOVE ME KILL ME is happening. But we all believe that the BOY FALLS needs a major rethinking or rejiggering of the lyrics. . . . [I]t is too baffling for the audience. It does not clearly state where Peter is or is going.
On December 19, Taymor again wrote to Bono and Edge:
It is nine pm in NYC. I am just about to sit down to a home cooked meal. I have been at it on [Spider-Man] nonstop. Glen has as well. We are writing lyrics, lines of dialogue, changes in music – all in service to the ending, to clarity. We know what the story is, we understand the stakes – but we do not have the lyrics to support it. I would like to talk to you before midnight my time – after I eat – to go over the situation and beg for lyrics.
We have sold out houses. Though there are issues of cueing etc, the first act works very well. The second act is better but the ending is still vague. We need you. It is not easy to change anything but now I think it is a matter of lyrical and musical changes – – and perhaps cutting a scene or two from the second act. Call me to discuss. (Emphasis added)
Taymor continued to send e-mails to Bono and Edge throughout December 2010 and January 2011 as she tirelessly worked on improving the Musical:
December 29: “our second act has many different issues. . . .”
January 19: “I need to talk to you about the new song.”
January 22: “What is the situation on the new material?”
January 23: “I need to talk to you.”
Taymor’s efforts to get Bono and Edge to focus on improving the music and lyrics for the Musical met with limited success. Instead, while Taymor and other members of thecreative team had been present daily for months of intensive rehearsals and previews, Bono and Edge had been on a concert tour with their band U2. Upon information and belief, the U2 tour became one of the highest-grossing concert tours of all time. As the producers knew, Bono’s and Edge’s absences caused them to miss all of the Musical’s rehearsals, most of the technical rehearsals, and the entire first month of preview performances — all at great cost to the timely improvements to the Musical that all agreed needed to be made.
Upon information and belief, it was not until early January 2011 that Bono first came to New York and saw a live performance of the show. Even once in New York, Bono and Edge participated in the creative process of improving the show on a limited basis and were frequently distracted.
Moreover, while in January 2011 Taymor continued working feverishly to fix the show, Bono stayed in New York for less than two weeks before quickly turning his focus to other endeavors, including working on a new U2 album.
Bono and Edge have since publicly expressed regret about their absence from the production during this time.
The producers’ effort to hold Taymor responsible for damages for failing to make improvements to the show as an author ignores the reality that the conduct of Bono and Edge— the Musical’s other primary creative team members—severely hampered timely improvements to the Musical.
A Series of Accidents Beset the Production
Through no fault of Taymor’s, the production suffered a series of setbacks, including accidents that injured performers. Upon information and belief, the first two accidents occurred because the company responsible for the technical aspects of stage set movements did not install an “encoder” to interlock its systems with those of a competitor company responsible for the Musical’s flying technology, despite being advised of the issue. Upon information and belief,the producers knew or should have known that the technology systems being used in the show had not been properly interlocked with an encoder and the producers failed to take appropriate steps to ensure the safety of these systems. As a result, on two occasions, the flying and set-moving systems apparently did not synchronize with each other, and performers were injured as a result. After the second accident, an encoder apparently finally was installed to prevent further accidents.
In late December 2010, a third accident occurred after a stage-hand neglected to attach a safety tether to one of the dancers playing Spider-Man in a performance of the Musical. Although undoubtedly unintentional, the third accident caused further disruption of the production, and Taymor became a lightening rod for all of the accidents in the press.
Despite their knowledge that Taymor had no fault in these accidents, that Taymor had no knowledge of the “encoder” issue that apparently contributed to the first two accidents,and that Taymor had no control over the stage-hand’s neglect in failing to attach the safety tether which contributed to the third accident, the producers did not publicly defend Taymor against uninformed speculation in the press that she was somehow responsible. Following these events,the press surrounding the show began to turn negative.
Defendants and Others Conspired to Make Changes to theBook of the Musical Without Taymor’s Knowledge or Approval
As the series of unforseen events unfolded, Berger and Tsypin apparently began privately to discuss a plan to re-write the Book of the Musical such that, among other things, the culmination of the current Act I — a dramatic fight scene between Spider-Man and the villain Green Goblin—would move to the end of Act II. Berger called this plan “Plan X.”
Among other things, and unbeknownst to Taymor, Plan X appears to have been conceived as a way to avoid the technical challenges Tsypin and his team were having with staging the finale called for by the Book of the Musical co-authored by Taymor.
Berger and Tsypin knew that Taymor had approval rights over any changes to the Book of the Musical, as Taymor’s rights, among other things, had been negotiated and specifically agreed to by Berger over five years earlier in his own contract.
Aware of Taymor’s approval rights, Berger and Tsypin agreed to hide from Taymor their plan to change the Book of the Musical. On December 29, 2010, for example, Berger sent an e-mail to Tsypin stating that it was “best not to mention anything to J.”
Tsypin responded: “I won’t say a word.”
Upon information and belief, Berger and Tsypin, without Taymor’s knowledge, then reached out secretly to Cohl, Harris, Bono, and Edge in an effort to further their clandestine plan. To this end, Berger and Tsypin apparently sent e-mails to Cohl and Harris describing their plan and imploring the producers to “please don’t let JT know I’m sending this.”
On or around January 3, 2011, after having missed more than a month of preview performances as a result of their Australian tour, Bono and Edge traveled to New York to see the Musical live for the first time. Upon information and belief, shortly after Bono and Edge arrived in New York, they met privately with Berger to discuss his proposed modifications to the Book of the Musical. As Edge recounted in an e-mail to Cohl after the meeting:
“I met with Bono and Glen tonight. We are all in agreement that there are dramaturgical problems with the show that must be addressed. . . . We will meet [Taymor] tomorrow and have a general discussion about the situation. That meeting will tell us how open she is to compromise.”
On January 4, 2011, after the evening preview performance, Taymor met with Cohl, Harris, Bono, Edge, Berger and others for over two hours to discuss the existing issues with the Musical and how to address them. An audio recording of the entire meeting was made and preserved by a participant in the meeting other than Taymor.
During the January 4, 2011 meeting, all agreed that changes needed to be made to improve the second act of the Musical. As an experienced Broadway veteran, however, Taymor explained to the group that any large, structural changes to the show would require a temporary shutdown of public preview performances in light of the show’s complexity and the need to ensure the actors’ safety.
No one present disagreed with Taymor’s assessment. Cohl, however, made clear that he was not willing to approve a temporary shutdown. Instead, it was agreed that Taymor and Berger would continue to make improvements to the Book of the Musical that could be achieved within the current weekly performance schedule, while Bono and Edge agreed towork on improving the show’s music and lyrics:
Bono: The second act. . . . Are we gonna continue on an incremental level?
Taymor: What do you expect? That we are gonna re-write the Second Act and start over?
Taymor: That’s like two months, that’s two months down the road. It’s re-costumes, re-lights, re-rehearse, and –
Cohl: -— and you can’t do that while the show is going.
Taymor: You can’t. You have to shut down.[. . .]
Bono: I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about whether if we should cut some stuff out.
Taymor:Every single time you cut something, other things have to be completely re-rehearsed and re-written because it’s very tightly, was very tightly scripted.. . . The second act is so interwoven that if you cut one thing you actually can’t go into the next one.
Taymor: If we make a cut and we don’t have weeks of rehearsal without performances, I’m not really . . .confident about the cuts. It’s not so easy to just pull out and then have the next scene work.
Bono: I mean, look. The easier thing to fix is the music.. . . That’s what I think we should do this week. . . .If the fixing of the story that is there, if you fix it, then that might work. Then you might be off.
Taymor: Well, there’s a big question on the—
Cohl: —Well here are the two choices . . . fix the songs, make what changes we can make to fix the story, on the right side. On the left side, we have, not acomplete scrapping of, but let’s say a fairly deep scrapping of if it. If it got to the point where people would say “my God, we have to stop the show, do a rewrite
Bono:. No we don’t want to do that
Cohl: And we can’t. So, we only have the one over here,which is: fix the songs as best we can, come up with a new ending, fix the story to whatever degree we can. And go forward and, like you say, I think we’ll get there.
Cohl: Let’s start with the songs
The Producers Directed Berger to Take a “Twin-Track” Approach to Work Behind Taymor’s Back
Upon information and belief, beginning in early January 2011, the producers, Berger, Bono, and Edge began to work in secret on what they called a “twin track” approach, despite their representations to Taymor during the January 4 meeting that all were in agreement about how to move forward with changes to the show. Berger was directed to continue working with Taymor on changes that concentrated on clarifying the storyline and confronting the technical limitations that had arisen with respect to the ending scene. At the same time, however, the producers apparently directed Berger to continue secretly developing his “Plan X”changes to the Book of the Musical, in complete derogation of Taymor’s approval rights over changes to the Book.
Upon information and belief, Berger communicated privately with Bono and Edge about proposed changes to the show and Plan X. On January 9, 2011, for example, Berger apparently sent Bono and Edge a detailed outline of the plan and met privately with them to discuss it. According to a later e-mail Berger apparently sent to the Musical’s associate set designer recounting the meeting, Berger “pitched [Bono] and [E]dge the new idea,” and Bono and Edge told Berger they were “100% in.” Upon information and belief, Berger warned the associate set designer, however, to keep Plan X “under the hat” and not to disclose it to Taymor.
Upon information and belief, over the next two days, Berger, Bono, and Edge exchanged secret e-mails about Plan X and Berger’s “double life” of working both with Taymor and against her:
Berger: “I understand Michael C. and Jere H. have some massive considerations to figure out, but I’m bewildered not knowing where their minds truly areand how anyone thinks we should be proceeding . . . . I’ll continue on with this double life til I’m told otherwise.”
Bono: “I think we have to take a twin track approach.”
Berger: “I’m twin tracking it, but a bit draining when it’s 4 hours working with [Taymor] on scenes I know in my heart-of-hearts are wrong.”
Edge: “Bono spoke to Michael [Cohl] yesterday and he was in the middle of putting together a time-line for executing plan X. . . . I want to kick the tires on plan x, but assuming it works I’m certain we will go for it.”
Berger: “Well, that’s—tentatively—encouraging.”
Nobody told Taymor about these communications or the secret plan, despite Berger’s prior agreement in his contract to “collaborate with Julie Taymor on book writer related and other creative decisions for the Musical” and that “Julie Taymor, in her sole and absolute discretion, shall have final approval on all such decisions.”
Upon information and belief, on or around January 12, 2011, without Taymor’s knowledge, Cohl and Harris instructed Berger to send them “an assessment of Act Two – to see whether it was possible to retain the basic narrative and still get the show to where it needs to be.” Berger apparently responded to Cohl and Harris that “[r]etaining the basic Act Two narrative would . . . require a probably-insurmountable amount of thought, rewriting, rearranging, and re-teching.” Without consulting Taymor, Berger apparently urged Cohl and Harris to adopt his Plan X instead..” (emphasis added).
Upon information and belief, on January 13, 2011, Cohl, Berger, and Bono met with Taymor in the VIP room of the Foxwoods Theater. Unbeknownst to Taymor, Berger apparently understood that the purpose of the meeting was to finally disclose Plan X to Taymor.As Berger recounted in a later e-mail, however, “that meeting never happened”:
End of Part One