More on Rachel Corrie ~ theatre notes

Saturday, March 04, 2006

More on Rachel Corrie

The debate continues unabated in the blogosphere, accompanied by a strange silence elsewhere...

Garrett Eisler at the indispensible Playgoer and George Hunka at Superfluities are leading the debate: check out George Hunka's blood-and-thunder editorialising in this podcast in which he characterises the eerie silence as "careerist". And worth reprinting in full are a couple of responses to Playgoer from NY playwright Christopher Shinn:

I was so surprised by the silence after the Times article came out on Monday that I felt I must be missing something, that there must be a rational reason for the lack of response from my community. I remembered protesting with my colleagues outside of Manhattan Theatre Club when they pulled "Corpus Christi," and expected a similar if not identical response here -- as you point out, the circumstances are in some ways different. But the basic principle is the same.

I decided to speak out on Thursday when I played the following imagined scenario out in my head: I am a young playwright, just finishing up with school and getting ready to write plays I hope will get produced. I consider myself a political playwright with aspirations to speak to the mainstream. New York Theatre Workshop, having produced Kushner and Churchill and many others, is a theatre I dream about one day being produced at.

Monday morning I open up the New York Times. I read that "James C. Nicola, the artistic director of the workshop, said he had decided to postpone [My Name is Rachel Corrie] after polling local Jewish religious and community leaders as to their feelings about the work."

In the same section of the paper, I read a review of another play about terrorism [Martin McDonagh's Lieutenant of Inishmore]. The play gets a rave review but also alerts me, "Don't expect deep psychological portraiture or specific political insights."

In the following days, I scour the internet, waiting to see how the theatre community responds to Nicola's decision to postpone "Rachel Corrie" because of its political content. But I find nothing. Instead I read that the play about terrorism sans "deep psychological portraiture or specific political insights" is moving to Broadway, and that "Rachel Corrie" will not be seen either on the Lower East Side or anywhere in New York.

I have not seen or read Martin McDonagh's play, but the point is this: if I were a young playwright, I would get the message loud and clear -- don't write political plays if you want to get them produced. And if you write a play that gets scheduled, and then pulled for political reasons, don't expect the theatre community to come out and support your freedom of expression. This is a ghastly message to send.

The kinds of plays our future playwrights produce will in part be a result of what values we are willing to support and defend in public forums. Plays do not happen in a vacuum; we have to speak out.

And earlier:

This is very sad. I was hoping this was all due to a miscommunication but clearly that is not the case. I've been produced by the Royal Court, and I'm a usual supect at NYTW, and I've been desperately hoping for some kind of reconciliation or clarification. It's clear now that it's not coming.

I respect Jim Nicola and his theatre but his statement is incoherent. It's paternalistic and preposterous. Make no mistake: a play has been censored in America because of its political content.

By attempting to avoid offending a few people, New York Theatre Workshop has offended everyone. Its decision sends a terrible message to playwrights in America and citizens worldwide. This decision must be denounced as powerfully and vocally as possible.

Finally, thank you, Playgoer, for being one of the few places in the country to recognize the gravity of this decision. Your blog has been indispensable over the last few days.

As a sidenote, the Electronic Intifada is calling for, among other things, a "staged theatrical reading" of the play in New York on the anniversary of Corrie's death to protest the NYTW decision. Details here.

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