Watching T.V. Carpio
At various times during the last year, it’s seemed that there were few bright spots for the infamous Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, a musical that seems quickly to have become the Scottish Play of the 21st century. Sky-high operating costs ($1.2 million a week), a series of mid-performance accidents related to the high-flying stunts, and reviews that complained of a convoluted plot and a generally underwhelming performance that refused to square with the big names (Julie Taymor, Bono and The Edge) and even bigger budget attached to the show. Now, as Spider-Man finally opened this past Tuesday, the jury remains out whether their initial concerns have been resolved, but there’s one aspect of the musical that stands well above (no pun intended) criticism: Arachne, the ancient weaver turned spider-woman. Hovering above the stage as Peter Parker’s fairy godmother, belting out some of the most beautiful and haunting numbers of the musical, T.V. Carpio steals the show. With credentials that include Rent and Taymor’s Across the Universe, T.V. took over the role of Arachne at the beginning of 2011 and has earned rave reviews for her performance, a beacon of light in the oft-“dark” musical. Here, Carpio discusses Arachne, Julie Taymor, and the struggles of being a girl in a harness.
KATIE MENDELSON: It must be such a relief to finally have the show opening. How do you go to your job every day and ignore what everyone’s been saying about the show? Has your performance been affected by all the press?
T.V. CARPIO: I mean, honestly, it wasn’t until a couple of months ago that I really began reading anything. I don’t have Internet at home, and I don’t have cable television, so it wasn’t until a couple of months ago when the changeover happened that I started to read anything. But even then, there’s just no room in your brain when you’re onstage for that stuff. You’re just totally focused. I know the other actors feel the same way. If you talk to Reeve or Patrick or Jennifer, we have tunnel vision. Spider-Man tunnel vision.
MENDELSON: You’ve played a few different roles in the show.
CARPIO: I was playing Miss Arrow, who was part of the Geek Chorus that got cut. Before that, I was up for Mary Jane when Evan Rachel Wood dropped out. At one point [or another] since 2007, I have played all three lead female roles in the show.
MENDELSON: Your voice is really amazing.
CARPIO: Thank you!
MENDELSON: How do you sing and get all that out when you’re dangling in the harness?
CARPIO: I am dangling a lot of the time! Probably the most challenging song would be “Turn off the Dark,” which I sing over Peter Parker when he’s in bed, because at one point we’re parallel to each other and that’s when I have to sing the highest note in that song! [laughs] It’s also challenging because before I come in to sing that song, I’m actually hanging about 40 or 50 feet in the air above the set for probably 3 or 4 scenes. The actual uncomfortability of hanging with all your weight in this tight harness in between where my groin and my leg meets is pretty miserable, but you get used to it. Having to straighten my legs, ouch.
MENDELSON: What was the training process for getting introduced into the harness?
CARPIO: Well, I missed out on the full-on training. Reeve and the previous Arachne and all the other Spider-Men had had training provided in July of last year. When I took over, there wasn’t really any time for training other than a couple of flying rehearsals. I actually have an ice-skating background. I skated until I was 15, for about eight years. It was hardcore skating for about eight hours a day. I have a lot of muscle memory and I still can move well enough where it’s not completely alien to me.
MENDELSON: Are you ever scared when you’re up there?
CARPIO: It’s funny, because in the last show I did a lot more actual flying, versus just dangling. I did a huge number over the audience, spinning around with these huge spider puppet legs. That was actually less scary than dangling, because you’re just dangling there so high and not doing anything, so your mind can start to wander. [laughs] You start playing out different possibilities of what could happen. I’ve learned not to do that. You breathe and wait.
MENDELSON: But you got injured a few months ago?
CARPIO: Yeah, I did.
MENDELSON: What happened?
CARPIO: In the last show, the end of Act II was actually a fight between Arachne and Peter Parker. One of the Spider-Men flew over my head, and the timing of the jump was off, so I was looking up when he jumped over my head. As I was looking up, I realized that he was flying pretty low to me, and then before I knew it, he toppled on top of me and landed on my head on the way down. It really just caused whiplash, my neck sort of snapped back. It wasn’t as bad as everyone thought it was. I was mostly just going stir-crazy, because I didn’t want to be sitting at home doing nothing. [laughs]
MENDELSON: Wait, there was a fight between Peter Parker and Arachne at one point?
CARPIO: Before, she was actually the villainess of Act II. Now it’s the Green Goblin, so it’s very different.
MENDELSON: Did you prefer that?
CARPIO: In the old version, I had more to do, so that’s always more fun. I got to play an evil villainess, which is always fun. I don’t get that opportunity very often because after Across the Universe people don’t really see me as this sexy villainess, they see me as an awkward teenage girl that can sing well, I guess. So it was cool because it was completely different. This version, they still retain some of the most beautiful songs in the show. Ultimately, it’s not one way or the other, but what works best for the show. As an actor, I’m always up for exploring and trying new things.
MENDELSON: Has a lot changed since the new team came in? Beyond just the actual show, but the mood of the cast and the crew?
CARPIO: It’s a completely different show. I don’t think any scene went untouched or undoctored. When people ask me to compare, it’s really hard, because it’s really like apples and oranges. Both Bono and Julie are rock stars in their own right, so when they enter a room, the room changes, the energy of the room just changes. Julie was there every single day, because she was every single day with us, and now she’s not, so it goes without saying that when Mom’s suddenly not there, things are different. Just like doing the show is completely different. I’m not saying one is better or worse than the other, it’s just different.
MENDELSON: So how did you originally get involved with the show?
CARPIO: I actually worked with Julie on Across the Universe, and Bono was a part of that as well. I didn’t have any scenes with him, but Julie showed him a thirty-minute documentary of us to get him to do the film, and when he came to me, he apparently liked the way I sang. After I met him, he said, “I don’t know much about other things, but I know about music, and I like the way you sing, and I want to help you.” So he introduced me to his record label about six months later, but I decided that at the time that wasn’t really the route that I wanted to go. Both Bono and Julie have been avid supporters of me, and very, very encouraging, and so since they had their first musical workshop in 2007 with any actors at all, I’ve been involved.
MENDELSON: How much involvement does Bono have at this point?
CARPIO: They pop in every few weeks. When they’re there, they’re constantly shaping and editing and working with the musical part of it. For me, it’s just great experience, because the exchange is very mutual. It’s not one-sided; they’ll come up with their own ideas and then they’ll bounce that in your court, letting you do what you do. They’re very encouraging. It’s a very symbiotic relationship, working with them.
MENDELSON: You’ve definitely all spent a lot of time together at this point—you must know each other pretty well.
CARPIO: We have a huge family, and it’s not just the cast and the creatives, but the set designers, the hair and makeup, the crew. I have a team called Team Arachne that hooks me up every day and does all my entrances and exits together with me. We see each other more than we do our own families, and we have for almost a year, 10 or 11 months. We’ve gotten really close. I was just writing out thank-you cards yesterday and realizing man, I’m so happy it was this person, so happy it was that person, because it would have really sucked if I didn’t get along with them, because I had to spend so much time with them! [laughs] So I really lucked out.
SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK IS NOW PLAYING AT THE FOXWOODS THEATER ON BROADWAY. FOR TICKETS AND INFORMATION, CLICK HERE.