Glen Berger is an Emmy Award-winning television and theatre writer who just released his new book Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of The Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History, chronicling his side of what happened behind-the-scenes of creating Broadway's Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark. Click here to purchase the book!
1. You just released your new book, Song of Spider-Man, your side of what happened behind-the-scenes in creating Broadway's Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark. What made you decide to write this book? Man, I so didn’t feel like writing this book. At first. After the show opened in June, 2011, the last thing I wanted to do was dive back into the six years I was involved on the project and comb through every memory and scrap of paper related to it. But I’m a writer, and the story was just too fascinating for a writer to pass up, and all the reporting to date had been too lacking-in-nuance (or just plain inaccurate). And I thought maybe I’d attain a bit of wisdom, or at least closure, if I went back and took a hard look at how the whole thing unfolded. And then I realized that the book was really about all the things I write about in my fiction anyway—humans striving toward grand ideals that fall short; invention; regret; love; etc. etc. So I decided to write the book, and the next day I come across a quote from Jack Kerouac: "Public confession in the literary form is a frazzler of the heart." And he wasn’t half-wrong.
2. Why is now the right time to release it? Memories are still fresh in the public of those days when news of the show’s tribulations seemed to monopolize pop culture media coverage. And Turn Off the Dark is still running—though its weekly grosses lately have been wobbly. That is, it’s been grossing $800,000 or so a week, which is good enough to keep many a show afloat, but probably not a sustainable number for a large show like Spider-Man, so who knows how much longer it will last on Broadway. So it was either release the book now, or wait until after I’m dead.
3. What do you hope readers come away with after reading Song of Spider-Man? In a positive review of the book, the fellow reviewing Song of Spider-Man for the Times nevertheless said the book was part-"snicker," and later employed the word "smirking" to characterize the tone. A snicker and a smirk are my least favorite kinds of laugh and smile, so I hope there was just some misreading going on. He wrote that Turn Off the Dark was "conceived in cynicism.” But I truly hope the reader comes away seeing that the show was actually conceived in an endearing idealism. In other words, rather than snickers and smirks, I hope the laughs in the book come from a more existential place, and the smiles from a more compassionate one. Because every person involved in the show—from beginning to end—was a good person and a talented person earnestly doing what they felt needed to be done, given their expertise and their convictions. And yet—even with all that—you can still end up with the wild rumpus that we ended up with. So the book isn’t about Spider-Man so much as it’s about "collaborating," and collaboration—human beings working with other human beings—will always promise the potential for both transcendental connection and epic exasperation.
4. When considering whether to write this story or not, did you ever worry that publishing this book might make others leery of possibly working with you in the future for fear of releasing another memoir like this? I think—I hope—that there’s an unspoken assumption between me and the industry that I’m a One Book Johnny. And seriously, if my future projects are destined to contain similar amounts of memoir-worthy tsuris…just shoot me now.
5. Do you feel this book will enhance your career? If so, how? Based on my years of experience, I will never ever ever again predict what will and won’t enhance my career. That said…at least with a book (unlike a play—with all its other collaborators contributing to the finished product), readers get a straight shot at assessing my skills (or lack thereof) as a writer.
6. While writing Song of Spider-Man, did you learn anything new about that time in your life? I learned anew that my wife Karin had her own challenges raising three young children alone upstate while I was living in the city for what was supposed to be 3 months and turned into nearly a year. She was so stoic about it at the time, it was only in reliving the days day-by-day that it struck me just how long my absence was. I still owe her a spa weekend.
7. Looking back, what did you enjoy about the journey that was Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark? I was involved with the project for six years, and for more than five of the six years, it was nothing but a blast. We all got to live in dreams—not just dreams of success, but dreams of creation. All the possibilities—visually, musically, narratively—that we had access to, that we could explore together—it was heady, and it was fun. And even in those last trying eight months, it may not have been so enjoyable, but—speaking as a writer—it sure was edifying.
8. Who or what inspired you to become a writer? I guess everyone has a knack for something that wins us a measure of esteem, and since 2nd grade, it seemed like I had a knack for writing. But what started as something enjoyable, became something I really wanted to do, and eventually became something I needed to do. The size of the universe and the almost-constant awareness that I’m going to die inspired me to devote my life to writing.
9. What is your favorite part of the writing creative process? Writing for me is like doing a psychedelic, multi-dimensional crossword puzzle. When a plot-point or a character trait gets figured out, I get the same hit, the same buzz, that one gets from filling out the spaces correctly in a crossword. However, instead of taking a day, this puzzle takes at least a year and sometimes years and years. Working on it every day. On one crossword puzzle. So really, writing for me is almost entirely misery.
10. What is the best advice you've ever received? Maybe it came from Rumi, or maybe I gleaned it from Rumi: "Practice bewilderment." Which is to say—Life, the universe—it’s too large, ancient, and inexplicable not to leave you perpetually bewildered. So if you’re generally not bewildered, then you’re not thinking straight.
11. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? The power to go back in one’s life and try out different approaches to the same period of time. Like in Groundhog Day, only you’re in control of it. The aim is an impeccable life. I’m sure I could replay a moment in my life three-hundred times and still not get it quite right. As it is, we’re stuck with the old Chinese proverb: "Wisdom is the comb life gives you after you’ve gone bald."
Glen Berger’s plays include Underneath the Lintel (more than 450 performances Off-Broadway, 150 productions worldwide), O Lovely Glowworm (Portland Drammy Best Script Award) and Great Men of Science, Nos. 21 & 22 (L.A. Weekly Best Play Award). Glen has also collaborated on two new musicals: On Words and Onwards and Loewe Award winner A Night in the Old Marketplace, with commissions from theatres including Berkley Rep and the Children’s Theatre Company of Minneapolis. In television, Glen has won two Emmys (12 nominations) and has written more than 200 episodes for children’s television seen on PBS, NBC and the BBC including Arthur, Curious George and Peep. He was the head writer for all five seasons of Fetch with Ruff Ruffman. He is a New Dramatists alumnus.