T.V. Carpio on the Trials & Tribulations of ‘Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark’

What else can be said about Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark that hasn’t already been said, except that tonight officially signals the end of the most tumultuous and talked-about creative process in the history of Broadway? That’s right, it’s opening night. Officially. For real. To mark the occasion, we sat down with actress T.V. Carpio, who’s been with the troubled production in various roles since the beginning, and who’s own personal roller coaster on the set represents just how crazy things got behind the scenes at Spider-Man.

Carpio auditioned for the role of Mary Jane Watson after original star Evan Rachel Wood left the production. Instead, she was cast as a member of the so-called geek chorus, a group of comic book nerds who narrated the proceedings, and were said to be stand-ins for the show’s creators: Julie Taymor, Bono, and The Edge. But when Natalie Mendoza, who played the controversial villainess Arachne, pulled out after sustaining a concussion in one of the show’s notorious accidents, Carpio was called in to replace her, becoming one of the show’s leads. Everyone knows what happened next. After a wave of negative reviews delayed the show’s opening even further, director Julie Taymor was unceremoniously pushed out by the show’s producers. Even Mayor Bloomberg took a crack at the struggling musical.

In came seasoned Broadway director Philip McKinley, who was charged with revamping Taymor’s idiosyncratic and dense version into something mass audiences could easily digest and enjoy. His first order of business was eliminating the geek chorus entirely and trimming Carpio’s meaty role to just three songs throughout the course of the show. The Spider-Man opening on Broadway will be something much closer to Sam Raimi’s original blockbuster film, and, according to Carpio, highly changed from Taymor’s version.

We had the chance to see the show a few weeks ago, and the good news is that T.V. Carpio makes the most of her stage time. All three of her songs are show-stoppers, with Carpio dangling above the stage while belting out some of the show’s most rousing numbers. We caught up with the actress last week before an afternoon performance to discuss the high-flying, unpredictable craziness that is life on Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.

All your scenes take place in mid-air. Do they take extra measures to secure you guys now? For sure. For instance, Chris Tierney, the one who fell, has three tethers to him, it’s like triangle. He thinks it’s a bit extreme as well. Before it was just one.

Now that you’re about to open, is all this starting to feel normal? I don’t think we know what normal is.

Will you be nervous on opening night? I don’t know if nervous is the right word, because we’ve done it so much now.

But won’t there be added pressure, knowing the audience will be filled with critics? Critics are human. They’re going to say what they want to say, and I can’t control that. I can do my best, and we’ve had both the privilege and burden of having so many previews.

When that first wave of reviews came out, what kind of effect did that have on everyone? It sort of banded everybody together. Of course it’s crushing when somebody doesn’t like your work, but it’s like we felt that they were not judging a finished product. It’s like coming to a new restaurant and eating the food before the whole menu has is done.

Did you feel it was unfair? What is unfair? I would say yes, but we’re also…I don’t know…who am I to say?

Has it been difficult talking about the show after everything that happened? No.

You don’t feel like you have to be careful? It’s a sensitive, delicate issue, for sure, but I haven’t spent my life trying to be appropriate or anything.

When Reeve Carney told the New York Times the show is bulletproof, what do you think he means by that? I don’t know what he means by that, I can’t speak for him. I’d be a little more cautious. Who am I to say what’s bulletproof? But I’m not in that position, that’s why I’m not a producer. I don’t make those sorts of calls. It seems that people really liked it before, and people really like it now. It’s to be expected that some people like the other version more, and some people are going to like this version more, and some people are going to like both.

How different is this version? Completely different. I don’t think any scene has been untouched, but the foundation of what makes it magical is still what Julie came up with.

Do you think the goal of the rewrite was to make it more accessible? That’s what I heard; “family friendly,” not as dark, happier, more clear. These are the things I heard were goals.

Does opening night feel like the ending of a journey or the beginning of one? That’s a really good question. It feels like an end to the creative bit. We’ve been under so much duress because things have constantly been changing on a daily basis, whether it be a word or a line, or an entire paragraph or scene. I think the end of that will be nice to just be able to settle in, and just do the show as is, and have a normal life again. A lot of us have forgotten what that’s because everyone has been married to Spider-Man.

What are you going to do with your free time? I don’t know, because the little hours we have we cram so much in on that one day. There’s so little precious time in the day to do the little things, like turn to the person that you love and say ‘I love you,’ or call your family up and say ‘how are you.’

Did you ever feel like you lost control in this whole process? I figured out that the only thing I can control is my own happiness. It may sound cheesy, but no one can dictate how happy you are. So I just had to find ways to deal with it, whatever the changes were.

Did the fact that the show became a late night punchline of sorts become hurtful? I don’t think so, we were laughing too. We were just happy that people were talking about us. It’s not like we didn’t have a good sense of humor about it.

Does it make you sad that so many people won’t be able to see Julie’s version of the show? Make me sad?

Do you wish people could see that show? People saw it. That’s a tricky question. I think naturally, anyone who loves Julie is going to wish they could have seen the finished product.

Do you think she will ever see this version of the show? I think she will at some point.

Are you in contact with her? Yeah. I talk to her a lot.

Does she ask about the show? She seems to know more than I do sometimes. She knows a lot of people there. She gets the show report.

When the changeover was happening, were there a lot of rumors amongst the cast? There were, but there’s always so many rumors and actually I tended to base my beliefs on what is true rather than on what the press was printing, because a lot of it seemed like it was leaked before the cast even knew about it. Even about my part being cut down, I had a very clear idea before they even told me. I was ready by that time, it wasn’t a shock.

Were you disappointed that your part got cut? Of course. You grow to love a character, but I was also sad about the chorus too. I created that character down to what she was wearing, they copied it from what I wore to work. Same as not getting Mary Jane the first time around. As an actor, after you’ve worked so hard on something and you don’t get something, it can be disappointing. But my mom was really helpful with helping me see the silver lining always because she’s been in this business for over 40 years. And she was always reminding me of all the things I should be grateful for.

What does it feel like to be suspended in midair, singing? It’s very uncomfortable. I have these harnesses riding up where my groin and legs meet, and it’s very tight, so you’re just hanging with all your body weight there for three or four scenes, and you go down and sing a song. It’s much more body controlled, versus a thrill.

How present have Bono and the Edge been in the process of revamping the show? They’ve been in and out like they have with this whole process. When they are here, they’re in it, they live and breathe it, and have their hands in all the music, and they’re always wanting to make things better.

So what was it like to working with your new director, after working with Julie for most of the process? Nobody had time to even mourn that Julie was leaving, or really accept exactly what was going on, other than having to do what we had to do, because we went straight into rehearsals the next day. It wasn’t like it was a day or two off. I can say that for myself, it was just happening so fast. Nobody really had time to think. I think it was sad, traumatizing, it was all those things.

Did you ever consider, even after you got injured, leaving the show? No, I really love my job.

What do you guys do when the show’s over? Depends. If it’s somebody’s birthday, we’ll go out. Julie came one time and she was hanging out for somebody’s birthday, and we went out and got drinks. With this kind of schedule I kind of have to live like a nun.

Do you mean like you can’t party? I’ve tried it before, and it does not work. It just takes too much work and too much concentration. There’s so many people running around backstage, you could get injured just being bowled over if you’re not aware. And then with my singing voice, I can’t really go out where I have to speak over loud people.

What was the lowest low in all of this? One was taking over the part of Arachne. People had not seen me play that kind of a role — evil, forceful, and raging. Having to prove myself, even to myself, that was both the lowest low and the highest highest, because I fought for myself and the belief that I could do it. Even Julie asked me to understudy it, but didn’t feel I was completely right for it because she thought I was too young. And I can’t make myself be older. But the first night I went out as Arachne, I’ve never felt more support from other people in my life. Another low was obviously when Julie was gone. She was the only staple that was there every single day with us.

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