The Playgoer: NYTW sticks to its guns--MUST READ

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

NYTW sticks to its guns--MUST READ

I'm going to say something I have not yet said in the ten months of Playgoer: I am speechless.

I can only refer you to this New York Times article on the Rachel Corrie controversy. On a day when Time Out New York, the Village Voice, and one Tony Kushner have come out against the New York Theatre Workshop's bungled de-scheduling (to put it politely) of My Name is Rachel Corrie... for the New York Times to only give voice to power here is shocking. Please go here, for an unabashedly one-sided account, told completely from the one-sided view of the Artistic and Managing (i.e. money) Director.

And I must add this:

Jesse McKinley--I know you read this blog (or at least have, on occasion). How can you possibly put your name to such an article--purportedly about "tension" and a "brouhaha" without quoting someone on the other side?

Let me put it another way: since when did the New York Times become the official mouthpiece of New York Theatre Workshop? It's been obvious to me for some time now that Jim Nicola has called the shots on the coverage there. One of the most conspicuous gaps in the Timeline I have posted is the week between February 17 and 28--i.e. the ten days in between the date(confirmed in your article today) NYTW called the Royal Court to pull out of the project and the day your first article appeared. Isn't it obvious now that Jim Nicola called you to "spin" the story the way he wanted and NYT obliged?

Yes--I give you props--on March 7 you quoted Christopher Shinn and Vanessa Redgrave speaking out against this action. But, it seems that, like clockwork, every week you're there to give Jim Nicola a platform without fully reporting on the vast extent of this controversy within the theatre community. What's the deal?

As evidence I quote the following--the only other voices you quote other than Nicola and Managing Director Moffat are other "sympathetic" Artistic Directors:

Joseph V. Melillo, the executive producer of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, described himself as "a walking target," who is in a "vortex of information, constantly being bombarded" by people's views on the academy's work. Mr. Melillo added that he supported the workshop. "The last time I looked in the dictionary," he said, "postponement did not mean cancellation."

Oskar Eustis, the artistic director of the Public Theater, said Mr. Nicola "has a
tremendous amount of integrity," but that he also felt the idea of artistic freedom needed to be at the forefront. "I think it was a mistake for Jim
to postpone the show and I'm sorry he did it," Mr. Eustis said. "But I think
it's important in this moment that we try to help the workshop and defend
the principle that we don't not do work because it's politically provocative.

Well I'm glad Eustis is now in print (other than on Playgoer) saying this was a "mistake." But otherwise... why is the New York Times so invested, against all odds, in defending New York Theatre Workshop?

The title says it all: "Theater Addresses Tension Over Play." The theatre in question--NYTW--is the subject of that sentence and the only subject of the article.

What happened to "both sides," Jesse?

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's clear where the article is going from the beginning, when McKinley uses the word "delay" without qualification. Right there, in the first paragraph, he cedes the NYTW more wiggle room than they've earned. (After all, what's so bad about a little delay?)

It's a shame. This article would have been a good place to hear from critics of the decision like Tony Kushner, Kathleen Chalfant and Christopher Shinn. And to hear from other members of the arts community who haven't spoken up publicly so far. (Is that Doug Wright over there hiding behind a couch?)

Still, even if McKinley doesn't succeed in serving up a balanced piece, the picture of the organization that emerges isn't exactly flattering: (Any bets on the identity of the "one board member who said that his rabbi had concerns about the play"?)

Bottom line: This story isn't about to go quietly into the night.

Alison Croggon said...

It's a shoddy piece of journalism - even by the amoral standards drummed into me as a cadet, it's missed the story. An awful lot of reporting these days is, I fear, basically straight off the press release, and this is of that kind. But hey, it means that even the NYT - which has a very poor record on presenting objective journalism on the Israel/Palestine question - can't ignore the fuss.

freespeechlover said...

The piece is shoddy journalism, like many things the New York Times publishes even remotely related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This entire incident is pure farce. In a democracy, citizens are assumed to be robust not "sensitive" to every political message that swirls around them in the mass of information in which we live in 2006.

In a democracy, if you don't think you'll like the production, you don't buy the ticket, you don't go. Whatever happened to the concept of tolerance? I don't have to be comfortable with every film, art exhibit, theater production, etc. A theater director isn't daddy. Who appointed these "caretakers" of the consciousness of the rest of us? And even if a handful of right-wing pro-Israeli Americans didn't like the message, in the U.S. the answer is supposed to be "tough. Don't go."

The entire notion that the Rachel "sidesteps" the issue of "suicide bombers" assumes that there is no such thing as a perspective on the conflict that doesn't have to at least nod toward "Israeli security." But that is itself a partisan viewpoint, one I assume is a relatively small point of view among the artistic and theatrical producers and consumers in New York city.

The writer at the NY Times and the NYTW management are suffering from gentile neurosis when it comes to Israel. They think that if they postpone the play, that means they are "sensitive" to "Jews." The conflation of "Jews" and "Israel" is an example of category confusion.

Alison Croggon said...

Btw, nice to see you getting some credit in print at last, Garrett! Feel better now?

Anonymous said...

"At the same time, Mr. Nicola said his company's dramaturge raised some red flags about the symbolism of Ms. Corrie's tale."

Who is this?

Philip Munger said...

The most ludicrous aspect of this progression is that a very small percentage of people involved in the "My Name is Rachel Corrie" debate have seen the play, read the script or been involved in the developments of art inspired by the current global war on ?

Coming early to the subject of Corrie and what she was doing when she was killed, I've consistently been struck, sometimes almost dumfounded, by how little your run-of-the-mill arts journalist knows about the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Journalists who have asked in the past "Do you think she was naive?" have not gotten an answer from me until they passed my naivity test themselves. Leaving very, very few.

I trust Nicola was at least as naive as Corrie when he committed (YES - he did) his organization in front of a juggernaut. Rachel Corrie played chess with a D-9 in three dimensions and failed. Nicola is no more adept than was Corrie.

Anonymous said...

but this is the new york times all over, the cool, 'even-handed' approach that tells us x says this but y says this and everyone is equally sane and rational and well-intentioned and it's all just a matter of debate, whether we're talking about torture, spying, imprisonment without charge, israel and palestine, or cancelling plays. the paper has abdicated any pretence of making a stand about morality or truth, on any matter, and its utter lack of backbone (and careful avoidance of any expression of outrage) makes it complicit in the abuses of power that it helps the perpetrators to normalise and rationalise. as it is doing here.

Anonymous said...

Yes, this article is terrible, I agree. But isn't it amazing that Nicola still can't come up with a coherent story?

He is now using a "dramaturge" to blame Rachel Corrie's "symbolism" and not-so-subtly implying that he no longer really trusted Rachel's account after learning more about Israel-Palestine, non?

WELL. From the beginning Nicola h as been saying that he always believed in this play, he wanted to honor Rachel Corrie's "powerful voice," he wanted it to rise above the "din" of politics on "all sides." This article directly contradicts that MEME. How many lies can Jim Nicola tell and get away with it?

He is a coward and a fraud and the more he lies, the less this will go away.

Scott Walters said...

Anonymous says: "but this is the new york times all over, the cool, 'even-handed' approach that tells us x says this but y says this and everyone is equally sane and rational and well-intentioned and it's all just a matter of debate, whether we're talking about torture, spying, imprisonment without charge, israel and palestine, or cancelling plays. the paper has abdicated any pretence of making a stand about morality or truth, on any matter."

This used to be the definition of journalism. How can we condemn Fox News for its biased approach, and simultaneously take the Times to task for NOT taking a biased approach. They quote the major players, including Katharine Viner. This is not an opinion piece, it is a piece of reportage. I just don't understand what all you people want -- a journalistic lynching?

Anonymous said...

I disagree with anonymous: A detachedly even-handed piece would have been a vast improvement over what McKinley delivered.

This article is a lot closer to the Fox News approach: A single soundbite from the opposition; a quote from a "sympathetic" critic (Oskar Eustis as Joe Lieberman?); a quote from an ally; and the rest of the article devoted to getting out NYTW's point of view.

What would a balanced piece have looked like?

1) It would have avoided using the word "delay" in the second sentence of the article. It's just not an accurate word to use, unqualified, given everythng we've learned.

2) It would have given Viner, Rickman and the Royal Court a genuine opportunity to rebut NYTW's talking points--not a pair of vague sentences halfway through the article.

3) To describe the contours of the controversy, it would have included some words from people like Christopher Shinn, Tony Kushner, Kathleen Chalfant, Stephen Adly Guirgis or Eve Ensler--people who have stuck their necks out to actively oppose NYTW's decision. (Quotes from two of them would have been sufficient.) And it would have included a paragraph or two describing their objections at some level of detail.

Anonymous said...

What kind of theater are you running when you refuse to respond to the specific statements of respected artists such as Harold Pinter ("self-censorship"), Tony Kushner ("disappointed" and "bewildered"), Vanessa Redgrave ("blacklisting of a dead girl") and many others?

What kind of artistic leader are you when you respond to any and all serious criticims as a "misunderstanding," while your President writes a letter to the Times complaining about the "shrill" criticism that is "destructive to an institution"?

What kind of leader are you when your story changes every time you talk to the press?

What kind of theatre are you running when no one at your theatre, on your staff, or on your board confronts you with your contradictory statements?

What kind of theatre are you when you persist in blaming the Royal Court after cancelling a ready-to-go-production for not returning your calls?

What kind of leader are you when you "indefinitely postpone" a play because of the "political situation," offer no dates for possible future production other than a vague "next season," and expect the artists of that play to accept these conditions?

What kind of person are you when you whine and complain that you took "months" to make a "hip-hop glossary" to contextualize your production of The Seven? What kind of person are you when you most exaggerate to the point of perversion and claim you read "thousands" of blogs while making your decision about My Name Is Rachel Corrie?

What kind of person are you to lie about your one-time collaborator to the New York Observer, and hide behind his name to defend your cowardice?

What kind of artistic leader tells the New York Times he doesn't "poll" and then tells Time Out New York that a PR firm polls audiences about potential plays?

What kind of person cannot hear all this, see all this, and think -- "I may be wrong." And then realize: "There is only one way out of this. I must admit that I was wrong."

freespeechlover said...

You are a theater director with gentile neurosis over Israel that a few of your "friends" are willing to manipulate which you then by design or not encourage by going to your board of directors and announcing your "concern." Then they get on the horn. This is how it works in America when it comes to Israel. Now, it's definitely not a "Jewish" thing. It's a gentile + right wing Jewish thing mediated by some "liberal" Jews who have a knee jerk reaction when it comes to anything having to do with Israel.

Scott Walters said...

Great insight, freespeechlover -- very...um...deep. (I'd say about knee-deep.)