The Playgoer: "Corrie" in San Diego?

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

"Corrie" in San Diego?

An interesting piece of reporting by Martin Jones Westlin in the San Diego CityBeat about one small company's efforts to bring "Rachel Corrie" to SoCal. The company is the Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company, whose artistic director, a 33-year-old "Muslim of Pakistani and Japanese heritage," wrote and performed her own one-woman show about Gaza, Remains, in 2004. "What the New York Theatre Workshop did is not surprising to those of us who are involved in the issue," she is quoted as saying. "It happens all the time.” She seems optimistic, though, of producing "Corrie" soon.

Westlin also gets in touch with a New York Theatre Workshop spokesperson, who provides the usual "greatest hits":

A Workshop representative who chose anonymity (and who fielded CityBeat's questions on behalf of Nicola, who declined to speak) insists that "the show was never canceled nor postponed indefinitely, as the London press keeps reporting," only delayed until such time as the Workshop could "complete the process of preproduction research" and "put all logistical and business matters in order."
Let me ask the very basic follow-up, though, not asked here: What kind of "preproduction research" is necessary for a play already produced successfully and with plenty of its own research? And what kind of research takes a year to do???

Also, could this spokes please explain the semantic difference betweenpostponedostopned indefinitely" and "delayed until such time"?

As for "logistical and business matters," this seems the newest NYTW talking point. I'm hearing more about "visas" and "lighting." But--once again--the production was already ready to go. Even if there was trouble getting Alan Rickman into the country (and do we believe that?) the only person really necessary for the show to happen is one actress, Megan Dodds, and she's American. Unless she's renounced her citizenship, the show goes on, visas or not.

If the lighting designer (Johanna Town) had visa/work permit problems, how hard would it have been to adapt her pre-existing lighting plot to the NYTW space? I would presume for the sake of the show going on, the necessary permissions could have been worked out.

Again, a little theatre literacy helps here. But NYTW seems to be relying on the "lay" press and the public not seeing through these specious claims, and continue to blow smoke in our eyes with the jargon of shoptalk.

One more new talking point.
The Workshop's representative asserted that the group "has been in ongoing conversations with several Palestinian-American artists; in particular, we are working with a Palestinian-American playwright [whose script will] be produced [here] this summer." And "in the past, [we] produced a theatrical exploration of Jean Genet's novel Prisoner of Love, a pro-Palestinian work...that had been passed over by another New York theater."
Okay that's news. Stay tuned for this new summer play.

The Genet project, of course, is the Joanne Akalaitis piece that was indeed blocked--at The Public, no less, in the early 90s when she was running it! (Joe Papp himself, as has been brought up in this context, cancelled yet another Palestinian play in '89.) But why not ask the obvious question: Now that you guys are patting yourselves on the back for producing "Prisoner of Love," why is the lesson you now draw from it that such plays can only be presented with a year of preparation and an anti-Palestinian companion piece? Shouldn't the experience have made you smarter about the subject?

Can someone with real press credentials--and who is not on NYTW's shitlist--please pose to them these commonsense questions?


freespeechlover said...

Hat tip, yet again, playgoer. I heard you and George Hunka on BU's radio station. I told my husband, who is a NYU grad, that you were the Seymour Hersh of the Rachel Corrie controversy. I said that the reason the mainstream press tries to ignore you and George is that you guys are better than them, and they know it, so they'd rather just pretend you don't exist, unless they're forced to. The signs of their insecurity are fairly transparent and a bit pathetic.

Anonymous said...

Yesterday, I argued that James Nicola should either plead guilty to having allowed artistic concerns to be trumped by the desire to avoid offense--or step down. But this article illustrates why, six weeks in, conceding a mistake will be no small task:

NYTW has invested an enormous amount of energy, these last few weeks, in trying to walk back its own, publicly-stated reasons for pulling the production. So conceding error will involve conceding that all the PR-driven jazz about lighting design and visas was (to put it charitably) obfuscatory.

In other words, admiting the truth will require some courage, and it will open NYTW up to more criticism.

My own feeling, though, is that if Nicola truly reverses himself, people will be more than happy to forgive him and NYTW for the diversionary PR strategy: He got caught with his hand in the cookie jar; his first instinct was to massage the facts to make himself look better; all of us can relate to that.

The truly dangerous strategy, in the long term, would be for NYTW to hunker down, and let the PR flunkies continue to push false and diversionary stories. If that approach continues, the NYTW leadership will come to be seen in the arts commmunity not only as moral cowards, but as liars as well.

Anonymous said...

First, as I said before, I think the issue died as far as the mainstream press goes when both NYT/NPR, and then the Washington Post, said their piece. But I've been wrong before...

I hope that you all and Playgoer will forgive me for putting all of these comments here, but I've been meaning to comment on a few things related to the Rachel Corrie discussion, but got caught up in reading a lease printed in 6pt type and other tasks even more mundane.

Those of us who work in the soical justice nonprofit sector actually look longingly at the incomes of arts organizations. The corporate world is far more likely to fund the arts than it is to fund organizations that threaten their power as corporations directly.

But almost all nonprofits face some of the same problems. First it's become amazingly expensive to support even small nonprofit groups. The cost of space and basic infrastructure has more than doubled over the last 10 years. And we can't pay employees what we paid even five years ago; they wouldn't be able to afford housing. And I won't describe the wailing every time I open our health insurance bill...Any labor-intensive organization has to raise huge sums every year.

At the same time resources outside the corporate and philantropic sectors have disappeared or become much more difficult to access. My organization does relatively little grassroots fundraising, simply because the return is so small for the labor involved. Foundation fundraising is hard work, but getting a $50,000 grant takes much less time and effort than raising the same sum from our organizing base.

So while it would be wonderful not to be dependent on foundation funders (corporate funders won't even look at us), I don't see many other options given the economic realities. There are no longer any shoestring operations, simply because no group can survive on a shoestring today.

And with the consolidation of funding sources, it's not likely that artists are going to go to the mat over one small play, any more than I'd be likely to tell any foundation funder what I thought of the way they'd gotten the money they were granting. That it's cowardice goes without saying, but it's not surprising, given the political economy.

What is always surprising, of course, is the cowardice of people who could speak up, but don't. I'm amazed that those with the most security are often the most cowardly.

Next, Playgoer noted a while ago that it would have been politically advantageous for Katharine Viner to let her interviewers know that she is Jewish. While I agree that it would be politically advantageous, I can understand why she didn't.

The arguments I would make in the Israel/Palestine debate aren't particularly informed by my Jewishness. I don't think my arguments with respect to the existence of Israel, its relations with its neighbors, and the establishment of a Palestinian state do not depend on my identity. (I would contrast this with the discussion of racism in the United States, where African Americans have an experience of racial discrimination that informs their arguments--and contrasts directly with the obliviousness of white Americans on the issue.) This doesn't mean that anti-Semitism doesn't exist--it pops up in the oddest places--but that my experience of it does not directly inform my arguments on Israel/Palestine.

I ran across the following a couple of days ago and, while it may be apropos of nothing, I thought I'd pass it along.

I also met Alan Rickman in the pub! Had a 5 minute conversation with the guy about a play he's directing about Rachel Corrie. I was a little worse for wear, but I told me a porky that Rachel Corrie never burned the American flag... which is bollocks because here's a picture of her burning... a homemade US flag.

While I've said before that I don't think Alan Rickman's discussion with NYTW is relevant, I do hope he did a better job in New York than he appears to have done here.

For those of you who are weak in British English, a "luvvie" is a derogatory term for a gay man (Rickman is gay) and a "porky" is a trivial lie. Now both he and Vanessa Redgrave and representative of Hollywood.

Anonymous said...

The workshop saying they are in contact with many Palestinian-American artists, as well as prepared to stage a Palestinian play, is reminiscent of their announcement some years ago that their season would include 'a play by a member of a minority community' (or whatever the appalling phrasing was).

Anonymous said...

I blew my comment two above by not including the rest of the comment I ran across. Sorry. Here it is:

"Alan coming into the pub was a class moment. Hes a member of the hollywood elite and luvvie crowd so would always have been the consumate lefty. I mean his mate rocking up with the palestinian scarf said it all. But kudos to you for going up to him and tackling him verbally. He left shortly after that!"

Please do remember though that these folks read "little green tomoatoes."

Playgoer said...

Re: the Rickman story

Having trouble finding the story or the photo on your "DrunkenBlogging" link.

I'm interested in any and all anecdotes that flesh out this story. But honestly nothing about this changes my mind. Rickman naturally wants to downplay the more militant side of Corrie to bloster his heroine as a wide-eyed optimist. Fair to balance that with facts about the real Corrie. But not surprising the artist would do that.

As for burning the flag... The irony of course is that would the least controversial thing about her! In fact I bet a play about burning the flag on stage would have much more support in the NY Theatre than "Rachel Corrie"

freespeechlover said...

Well, everyone, Corrie is a character in a production; it's a piece of theater, so those editing her words are producing a character, no? Maybe I'm wrong, but outside of the U.S., the Palestinians are considered a universal symbol of a struggle for justice and freedom. Maybe Corrie was just ahead of the curve on this, pulling the U.S., particularly its youth, toward a fairer and more balanced view of what goes on in places like Rafah.

I lived in Ramallah for a year doing research and I agree that my ethnicity has nothing to do with what I've witnessed. I do think I had to "unlearn" a lot of my political socialization as a white American. I agree that the idea that someone has to "be" Jewish or Palestinian to witness the conflict on the ground conflates "being" something with "knowing" something. Margaret Thatcher and Cindy Sheehan are both "women," but have opposed viewpoints. This is true for Jews, African Americans, etc.

I find the drunken blog comments a case of political racism and sexism rolled into one peculiar image--a Palestinian "scarf"? why didn't the drunken blog guy just call her a "militant," why "scarf"? What is it with Western women who refuse to stay put politically? Is this like calling Corrie a political whore?

Anonymous said...

I don't agree with a word from that "drunken blog", but is "Palestinian scarf" a metaphor for a woman?

I thought that it referred to a person wearing a Palestinian scarf. They were rather popular here in Germany among both men and women some 15, 20 ago, although I have to admit that I don't know anything about the history and message behind such a scarf.


Anonymous said...

From The Village Voice, January 14, 2003:

However icky, overdetermined liberalism still beats Jim Crow. But it also creates a conundrum for black artists who may wonder if by amplifying their militant tones they may be paradoxically selling out after all. This is especially true in the theater, where resources and opportunities for production are scarce. Here, the synergy between black attitude and Caucasian shame takes strange forms. Earlier this year, the subscription brochure for the distinguished venue New York Theatre Workshop sheepishly declared on its final page, "Our season will also include a new work featuring the urgent and contemporary voice of an artist of color." You can't help thinking that if they'd had their diversity crisis at the beginning of the programming process, they might have eliminated their perceived need for an embarrassing disclaimer. And why print that announcement anyway, except as a confession? You fear that "urgent" means an angry, slapdash production is on the way, a result of the producers' need to punish themselves for the lapse in race consciousness.

Anonymous said...

A "Palestinian scarf" is no doubt a keffiyah -- one of those long pieces of checkered fabric (like the one Arafat wore all the time.) In Europe and the US (and elsewhere, I suppose), some peope wear them as a sign of solidarity with Palestinians (or to demonstrate how PC they are, or maybe they just like the colors .. . ) Speaking of colors, whether the keffiyah is red, black, or green (Palestinian national colors) indicates (or used to, anyway) which faction of the Palestinian movement the person wearing it is associated with Fatah, PFLP, DFLP and so on (but I forgot which color was associated with which faction).

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Playgoer. This is what I get for trying to finish something when my husband is calling me to dinner. The link is

Drunkenblogger is either a member of or close to the BNP, best described as anti-immigrant and fascist. (Billy Bragg is involved in a campaign to oppose the BNP in the May elections.) And if you read any more of his posts, you'll be appalled. (I admit that I'm a bit odd; I read NewsMax for entertainment.) The American-flag burning is apparently what he thought was important, as it was what he chose to report. For all we know, the rest of the conversation might have been "please don't throw up on my foot" or "you've just spilled your beer down the front of my shirt".

The point I was making is that we can only hope Rickman made a better presentation to NYTW. But as I've said more than once before, NYTW had an obligation to do their own research--and not wait two months to get 'round to it.

freespeechlover said...

Yes, of course, a Palestinian "scarf" is literally a kuffiyeh, but the drunken blog guy isn't using the term literally but metaphorically. I'll go back and reread how he uses the term, but I thought he was using it as a stand in for Corrie. Calling Corrie a Palestinian "scarf" does not mean he was saying Corrie was literally a kuffiyeh. I've over stated my point, but I can't help but wonder would you call Tom Hurndall or James Miller a Palestinian "scarf"?