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July 21, 2011


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The fixed nature of comic books and film makes this question virtually meaningless.


How so, James? Can you elaborate?

There are obvious structural differences in the different media, but how are you defining "fixed nature?" True, there can never really be another Action Comics #1, but can there really be another John Doyle SWEENEY TODD?


I would say that doing something unusual with the property- a reimagining (e.g. John Doyle's Sweeney & Company) would count as a reboot... but a straightforward "let's do it as it's always been done" version of an old play is a revival.

Tony Adams

What about something like Lear being continually re-imagined? The story goes back at least to Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae in the 12th century.

Or the stories from the greeks. How does re-imagining compare to re-booting?

How is the fixed nature of a text any different from a comic or a film?


Comics aren't fixed, IMHO. Every issue expands the character's and the brand's universe, presents new personality traits, nuances, relationships, etc. So a reboot isn't just a retelling, but also a way to clean house, to get rid of every aspect of the character's life and start completely again. (So we can erase the whole Spider-Clone thing.)

So a single play or movie or whatever can't be a reboot without a follow-up or some future or past continuity.

You can remake the first and only "Citizen Kane," but unless you do a series of (new) films it's can't be a reboot. You can do a "fresh, new" version of the Scottish play that ignores everything everyone else has ever done before (good luck with that), making it (yet another) revival, but there's no Action Comics #1 that's being remade or rebooted.

Then again, maybe it's all just a matter of telling the same stories again and again, but some folk think adding extra special effects will make it different. LPs, cassettes, 8-tracks, CDs, digital...they're all still music.


I think there's two issues to consider in a reboot - one is the popularity of the original, and the other is copyright. With comics, DC owns the copyright for all their titles, so that's not a big issue, so the reboot as you say, makes financial sense. With plays, as well as movies and television, the copyright issue can complicate an otherwise straightforward endeavor. Shakespeare is relatively easy to do a new spin on because it's popular and also because it's in the public domain. But so far, I couldn't easily reboot "Death of a Salesman" with a whole new script, without permission from the rights owner - and I doubt they'd give it to me. What if I wanted to do my own interpretation of "Angels In America," with a whole new script, updated for the 21st Century? I don't know if Mr. Kushner would let me.

On the other hand, from an artistic perspective, I consider "reboots" (as opposed to creative staging of the original) to be somewhat unexciting prospects, in film, tv, and the stage. For the most part, I enjoy the original artifact for what it is, and if someone wants to use it to express a viewpoint on our modern times, I'd rather they utilized some more creative literary devices, such as parallel characterization, or common symbolism, but truly make a new, different show that isn't chained to a script or an idea from another era. I think West Side Story is a good example of that - it goes so far beyond a reboot that it's pretty much it's own play. Plus, it's a musical. Vaclav Havel's "Temptation" is another good example of a play that goes beyond reboot to be it's own thing.


'There are obvious structural differences in the different media, but how are you defining "fixed nature?" True, there can never really be another Action Comics #1, but can there really be another John Doyle SWEENEY TODD?'

You're getting a little too poetic here, I think. The reductio of this line of reasoning is that every individual PERFORMANCE is a reboot. Can there really be another opening night production of the John Doyle Sweeney Todd? Or another third student matinee? Theatre is exclusively populated by reboots.

Further, the vast majority of the work produced where I live was originally produced in New York or DC or Chicago or Minneapolis or LA. It's ingrained in the culture. So the question of whether the impulse to "reboot" plays is the same as that in film or comics seems self-evidently ridiculous to me. You might as well ask if performing Haydn's Surprise Symphony again is the same as Marc Webb's Spider-Man reboot.


And I'm defining "fixed nature" as the fact that I can go watch or read The Dark Knight any time in its original form. But there's no way for me to see Sophocles' Oedipus or Craig's Hamlet. To "reboot" a play is in the very nature of theatre, to the point of not really needing a name for it. To "reboot" a film or comic or television franchise is relatively uncommon enough to warrant being discussed.

Pete Miller

Comics are friendly to rebooting because their subject matter is strongly akin to myth. Myth is routinely rebooted to adapt its underlying truth to shifting contemporary realities. Myth also requires reboots as the only legitimate way to incorporate novelty, since it is difficult to create new lasting myth, and the story teller can never quite admit that she is creating something new. The novelty has to be hidden in a framework of repetition.

Contemporary theater welcomes a much greater degree of novelty, so if a playwright wants to tell a new story, she can write a new play. Although I will complain that too great a proportion of those new plays lately ARE superficially reboots: new plays that replicate the structure of a classic with updating, too often in such a way that the classic template restricts the creativity needed to land the new play but the introduced elements clutter up the original, leaving a bit of a mess on the stage. I would prefer that playwrights wishing to reinterpret a classic use the classic script as a sort of a scaffold on which to build the new play then remove the scaffolding letting the new play stand on its own.


I think a better comparison for reboots than revivals would be things like Naomi Iizuka's Skin, where Woyzeck is given a "gritty, urban reboot" (if we were pitching it as a film) or Hobson's Choice (Lear). If we wanted to really compare theatre to the multi-faceted (even multi-dimensional) way comic book properties are handled, how fascinating would it be to see , say, Will Eno to get his hands on the Antrobuses, or for Neil Labute to tell us where Goldberg and McCann came from.

But on the other hand, isn't the self-contained nature of plays one of the most interesting things about them? Do we REALLY want an origin story for Goldberg? It's like drawing Cthulhu. It's a big let-down. Comic books, given their extremely long-term serial story-telling style and the clearinghouse nature of the ownership of those properties, are prone to extremely convoluted realities. The reboot can actually give you some satisfaction, by creating a tabula rasa that lets you start over again, which is not very necessary in plays. I like that I can get the whole run of Marvel Zombies or 1602 or Ultimates without having to backtrack multiple years to pick up the thread of the story. Until you have Hamlet, Hamlet Prime, Hamlet 602, and She-Hamlet, the necessity isn't there for Ultimate Hamlet, Crisis in Infinite Denmarks, and House of C.


One more thought:

I think there's an implied qualifier to your question that those more tied into the Broadway scene (like myself) wouldn't necessarily pick up on. Let me slightly alter your key paragraph:

"Does this compare to [a Broadway theater] remounting, say, La Cage Aux Folles again, a show that won Best Revival twice in ten years? Or Bus Stop, as this reading indicates may be coming down the pike? Is it the same impulse? I'd say yes...and not quite."

The impulse to mount a revival on Broadway is, I think, very different from most of the rest of the country doing, for all intents and purposes, the same thing. When a Cleveland theatre decided to stage Bloody Blood Andrew Jackson this year, or when another Cleveland theater did the Two Gents musical a few years ago... is the genesis of those two productions similar to the impulse behind a Broadway revival? I don't think so.

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