The Playgoer: Viner vs Nicola: On TV!

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Viner vs Nicola: On TV!

Amy Goodman's must-see TV for Progressives, "Democracy Now," has gotten the "get"--Nicola on TV! He appears along with Managing Director Lynn Moffat. And, via satellite, Corrie co-author Katherine Viner. A regular theatre "crossfire."

Watch or listen here. Now. (March 22 show. Segment starts at "11:45" into the program. It's about 40 minutes long. Followed by 10 minutes with Rachel's parents.)

I'll try to post responses to it later. Meanwhile comment below on your reaction. From what I've watched so far, though...nothing has changed in NYTW's position. They do try to play nice with Viner (and by extension the Court). A bit weird. One highlight, though, is when Goodman reads the Pinter letter from today's NYT. Then watch Moffat try to spin it in NYTW's favor! Moffat still insists "We still want to do the play." Then Viner responds. That's when it gets interesting...

Highlights:
-Viner asks the NYTW folks point blank: "Who did you 'consult'?"
-Goodman cites The Nation article and asks them directly about the Ruder Finn PR firm.
-Goodman gets Nicola to respond (sort of) to Kushner's objections.
-Goodman asks "Do you have a date set?"

The questions, alas, are more interesting than the answers.

Also newsworthy: Moffat reveals "another theatre artist" had "his" show moved to next season to make room for Rachel Corrie. She says this actually in NYTW's defense, oddly. She also claims "50%" of all NYTW shows don't happen as scheduled.

And Jim Nicola admits to being "naive" in telling the press the reasons were Hamas, etc. Their line now is "theatrical logistics."

Also, Nicola tells us a little more about his "Jewish friend." But not who it is.

Ultimately the most insulting aspect of their defense is how stupid they make their audience sound. That without all the brilliant "contextualization"--which apparently only NYTW can do!--we'd all be totally clueless about the Middle East.

It's hard to believe we're four weeks into this. NYTW's positions have not changed one bit.

Oh, and by the way--they're "not sorry."

I applaud Nicola for going on camera, on this show. Not friendly territory, since Goodman is one of the featured guests at the Rachel's Words event tonight. Too bad he didn't take the opportunity to actually rethink his story. I also applaud Goodman for devoting air time to this! Aside from a brief account on New York 1's "On Stage" last week, and a brief local NPR spot on the Rachel's Words protests, nothing.

With The Nation and Amy Goodman on board, political progressives across the US are now aware and involved. What will it take to finally get New York theatre artists to take a stand?

18 comments:

Philip Munger said...

PG,

You might check and see when Democracy Now airs in NYC today, either on TV or Radio. For instance, here in Alaska it airs on TV at 6:00 a.m., and on AM radio at 6:00 p.m. Does WBAI carry it, for instance?

Anonymous said...

This is very sad. How can Nicola refuse to examine his words and actions this way? Could it have to do with the fact that he does not feel pressure from New York's theatre community to do so? It must!

Philip Munger said...

My observations:

Goodman asked some fair questions to Nicola, Moffat, Viner and the Corries. Viner and the Corries were quite open in their answers. Moffet and Nicola were about as evasive as they could have been. Sort of a limited modified hangout, trying to appear as best they could to be victims of something beyond their control.

The comparison of the open honesty of Cindy Corrie to the deviousness of Nicola, made me more than ever hope NYTW isn't allowed to get within a dozen Manhattan blocks of this play.

Note there was nobody from RCT.

Anonymous said...

Their words speak for themselves:

Lynn Moffat:

"I'm not sorry. We did the responsible thing. We did the responsible thing for the play."

"That is the purpose of the methodology that New York Theatre Workshop employs when it produces a play."

"The purpse of the workshop in producing a work of art is fostering community dialogue."

"We actually were talking about bringing in scholars, various voices from the communities, and having very structured discussions that would not, that would help people understand the complexities of the situation."

"Rachel's voice is very clear, there's no question about that, but it sits in a larger world... that larger world is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict."

Whom did you consult? "It was a lot of different people that were colleagues and colleagues of colleagues."

"We use a lot of consultants... legal, accounting, advertising, marketing, press, PR... there's a lot... in the case of Ruder-Finn, we have been working with them for over ten years... essentially we are working on a long-term strategic plan for the workshop, and that's what we're talking with them about."

"We needed to ask for a postponement... we needed more time for different reasons. I was also very concerned as the managing director about the business deal..."

"I think we weren't cognizant of how Rachel was being viewed on all sides of the spectrum, and that something that we were learning as went through this process..."

"I thought the Mother Jones article was particularly intriguing... it was really fascinating."

"Tony is a brilliant man and he speaks, he hasn't simply condemned the decision, we've had several conversations with Tony..."

Jim Nicola:

On why Nicola never called Katherine Viner: "I would have loved to have been consulting with Katherine."

On voices critical of Rachel Corrie: "We had to have very strong plans to neutralize that, or make it go away... we were discussing the idea of after every performance having, giving the audience an opportunity to discuss what they had just experienced."

Was the Mayor's office heard from? "Not that I'm aware of."

"It was.. I regret that I was naive in talking to the press at that point... it was a part of something, it was a much bigger picture, and that was sort of pulled out... I have to take some responsibility for being imprecise... I was concerned about how do we keep focused on what we all agree was the center, this idealistic, inspiring example."

"My friend... had real problems with it... it hurt me that there would be a question of it. He said to me, 'Did you know she was a member of Hamas?'... I said, 'No.'... And in that moment I realized there's a lot -- because in my position -- I have to try and prevent that from taking hold, I have to be able to answer that question... and then when we went onto the internet, there was much more..."

"It was the beginning of the dawning of the scale of this task... I had a lot of learning to do, we had a lot of plotting and planning and strategizing to do to make this happen."

"Frankly... the people that were sitting around the table in this coversation were of a similar mind."

"I'm glad that Tony Kushner has taken that stand because I think it starts to provoke an important dialogue in our community about how we talk about... difficult ideas. I hope that is leading to that conversation."

"At some point everyone has to make a personal decision about when they're gonna fight a battle."

"The problem with this is that we have artists of high high quality with huge busy lives and finding times when the theatre is free and when they're free..."

Anonymous said...

Nicola is now on the record about wanting a dialogue about this. He has been invited by Christopher Shinn to hold a forum at New York Theatre Workshop. There are also other invitations out there. It needs to be asked why he has not accepted any invitations to be at a public forum where these issues could be debated.

Anonymous said...

As a half-Jew who is sometimes irritated with the Jewish half, but more often appalled by her Irish half, I will probably be unceremoniously deleted from the Playgoer blog when I admit that I had heard of Rachel Corrie before I knew who Alan Rickman was. (I only found out who he was after I saw the third Harry Potter movie.) Yes, my brain is little more than a trash heap.

As an aside, it was thoroughly unnerving to read that one of the sources for the NYTW "investigation" was the Web, where searching for "Rachel Corrie" will bring up mounds of commentary written by people who think that NewsMax is a reputable source of information. (NewsMax became an entertainment for me when they issued playing cards akin to those issued by the US forces in Iraq. One of them was given over to George Clooney. Right up there with Osama bin Laden and Kim Jong Il...)

I think that the intent of the NYT piece last week was to close the issue. I've found that Democracy Now can sometimes bring an issue to the attention of the majors if it hasn't been covered elsewhere, but it can't revive an issue that the NYT has abandoned.

Dr. Cashmere said...

Stunning, sad and truly depressing.

There's a lot of backpedaling and calculated distortion in the footage. But I'm afraid that's the least of it.

Moffat sounds, through the entire interview, like a public high school vice principal who has reluctantly pulled a bunch of nude sketches from the upcoming school art show because several parents have objected. She feels sort of bad about it but, y'know, what can you do?

It's easy to forget, watching the video, that the institution being discussed isn't a public high school--it's an independent downtown non-profit theatre whose core mission is to produce provocative art!

Disturbingly, Nicola and Moffat seem really to believe in the importance of "contextualization": At a minimum, in service of their campaign of denial and obfuscation (and it's now been going on long enough to call it a "campaign") they've convinced themselves that contextualization is an essential part of their mission.

It seems to me that's where the argument needs to go: To what extent can audiences be trusted to assimilate and interpret art for themselves and to what extent do theatres need to spoon-feed "safe" interpretations to them?

Personally, I find Nicola and Moffat's answer to that question bizarre and infantilizing. It might even be the most disturbing part of the entire controversy: I find it difficult to believe that anyone who truly *lives* for art--and who truly believes in art's power--would come down where they come down. As far as I'm concerned, the vision of theatre they are putting forward needs to be resisted, and resisted strenuously.

In any event, they've clearly dug in their heels here--they seem to be betting the future of the theatre (or at least their jobs) on their current PR strategy.

Anonymous said...

Unscientific, to be sure, but less than 2 in 10 playbill.com readers agree with NYTW's decision: http://www.playbill.com/interactive/polls/

Interesting because people who go to playbill.com are hardly leftist radicals.

Anonymous said...

Is art really such a feeble, fragile thing that it needs the Nicolas and Moffats of the world to protect it from the nasty, nasty public square? Is that the central mission of nonprofit theater? To prevent art from getting bloodied up in the marketplace of ideas?

It all really comes back to the quote that Rachel resurrected in comments a couple days ago:

"People think that their voices are heard free and unfettered, of course, we like to create that atmosphere but that’s a perception. Do they think that happens without someone working at it carefully?”--James Nicola, Time Out NY

For that statement to be made by the artistic director of a nonprofit theater, in the context of a decision to cancel a play, is breathtaking. It betrays a sickening mixture of arrogance and cowardice that has to be more than just condemned. It needs to be held up as an example of bad behavior.

Theater (even serious CHILDRENS theater) exists to challenge, to provoke, to stimulate questions. That's the whole point. Anyone not comfortable with that basic function should get out of the business. Or go into dinner theater.

Of course, let's be honest: At bottom, Nicola's entire argument is borderline facetious, which is why it has shifted so frequently. All his various justifications are in the end attempts to distract from the important truth that NYTW saw a political firestorm brewing and didn't have the guts to ride it out.

That's the bottom line.

A theater that won't stand up for its convictions doesn't deserve the support of artists. And a theater that would rather change its convictions than admit error doesn't deserve the support of patrons or subscribers.

Philip Munger said...

PG pointed out "Jim Nicola admits to being "naive" in telling the press the reasons were Hamas, etc...........

"Also, Nicola tells us a little more about his "Jewish friend." But not who it is."

First, I don't think we need to know who this friend is. He could be one of my Jewish relatives, some of whom think just like the guy Nicola described. Others would fly to NYC to see the play.

Nicola also mentioned how much he began to realize how little he knew about the Palestine-Israel conflict. I've found this to be the case with people I've dealt with over the past three years in the realm of performance art about Rachel Corrie. Typically, arts reporters know next to nothing about this conflict, and political reporters know very little about the conflict that hasn't been filtered through 39 years of heavy bias - since the '67 war.

Viner and Rickman admit to having learned an immense amount since they began the project. Both have written and spoken about that experience, describing it as a fairly vertical learning curve. Nicola and Moffat seem out of their depth and, in terms of growing from this experience, not willing to put forth much effort.

I didn't see in Moffat and Nicola's non-responses to Goodman and Viner's queries the "sense of fear" alluded to in Weiss's "Nation" article. What I saw was something more like deer hypnotised by headlights.

Anonymous said...

Hi,
Ive been following this story, thanks for reporting on it.
Its clear that Nicola is deliberately protecting shady figuers who are the real censors, and that he is destroying his reputation by not being more forthcoming as to why he was so 'terrified'(Democracynow interview) or by whom. But why is he doing this?
Is this sort of behavior typical with american theatre directors?

Brian
Australia

Philip Munger said...

culturebot has thrown this out there:

"I also heard –and this is like fifth or sixth hand – that during the NYTW research period they talked to NYPD and Homeland Security who said that in order to move forward they had to have a crisis plan in place and that civil authorities couldn’t gear up that quickly. At first hearing that sounds a little kooky. But at the same time it is credible that NYC authorities would be overly cautious about potentially inflammatory incidents."

Love that 5th & 6th hand stuff. I have no idea how credible culturebot is, but they've framed this argument in a way which intrigues me. It is posted at:

http://www.culturebot.org/archives/2006/03/21/JumpIntoTheFire.php

Dr. Cashmere said...

Philip, I really wish you would think twice next time before inserting totally unfounded accusations and rumors into this discussion. If you have evidence, by all means bring it forward. But if not, these kinds of allegations are simply a distraction from the issues at stake.

Anonymous said...

It appears that the Royal Court has saved NYTW from having to reject MNiRC again, since Viner has said that the trust between the theaters has been irreparably broken.

Were that not enough in itself, Lynn Moffat's comment, "...and I came to my conclusion that we needed to ask for a postponement. We needed more time for different reasons...I was also very concerned, as the managing director, about the business deal. It hadn't been completed..."

Alan Rickman was, according to Vanessa Regrave, underwriting the whole thing. What did NYTW think he was going to do, stiff them? Were I Rickman/Viner, that would be the final straw!

Anne said...

If the trust between the two theatres has irreparably broken, what does this mean for the NYTW's relationship with other playwrights? Like, say, Caryl Churchill? After all the last Churchill they put on (A Number, in 2004) was developed by the Royal Court in 2002...

Philip Munger said...

dr. cashmere,

You should be writing to culturebot, not me. As I point out, I'm skeptical of their statement. I don't live anywhere near NYC, so have no idea as to how one might investigate those claims, and as I said, I'm unfamiliar with culturebot.

The Playgoer said...

I don't mind you posting the Culturebot stuff, Philip.... But I when I looked at the full post myself, I thought it was a really sloppy post. Given all the rigorous research and reporting going into this story on the web, would it have killed Culturebot to read some of it instead of relying on the limited Times coverage and passing on these 5th hand sources? He also could have linked to something other than NYT, ahem...

Philip Munger said...

pg,

The culturebot bot was talking like an insider, and I figured people who regularly read this _excellent_ site might know something about the veracity of culturebot.