The Playgoer: Pay to Play?

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Saturday, April 15, 2006

Pay to Play?

By the end of the day yesterday, NYTW announced it would exempt "artists" from the $10 charge to next week's panel discussions. But they must still "pay what you can."

I'm glad it finally got to them what a wrong message the admission charge ("cash only") sent. Is the money necessary to fund the panels? I say, hit up whatever funding source called off the play in the first place to foot the bill! Just kidding.

Or is this a "gate." To keep out those cranks they worry might just show up to cause trouble. $10 involves some commitment and connotes "order."

Frankly, though, I don't think I've ever paid $10 for a panel. Let alone four. I mean, who's going to shell out $40. As ambitious as the programming is, isn't it kind of overkill? All we wanted was one town meeting. I feel the strategy here is to diffuse things. Hoping their opponents will end up spreading out over the four nights, rather than creating critical mass.

Don't be surprised if they toss out the admission price altogether after the first session, if they find themselves playing to a half-empty house.


Anonymous said...

Playgoer, I think the NYTW people read this blog carefully, both to find out what you are thinking and, unfortunately, to find issues they might raise in their own defense. (I think I inadvertently gave them one.)

I guess that it's because one of my organization's long-term volunteers always greets me with "here's the money lady", that I cannot help noting that there's no mention of the disruption of the funding stream if a group wants to produce a play that's improperly controversial.

While the project-based funding model that was developed in the 1970s was frought with problems (how do we pay the phone bill between projects?), the long-term stream system enables funders to exercise long-term control. So a funder who doesn't like a particular project can wreak havoc with the budget for next year and the year after, as well.

freespeechlover said...

I think anonymous is right but maybe sometimes even more subtle. I still think a lot of what was going on at the NYTW was a version of gentile neurosis about Jewish America and Israel. Gentiles who are "progressive" or "liberal" and who don't have expertise about the conflict fall back on their own political socialization which runs very deep. A lot of gentiles' first encounter with Israel was via Hollywood in films like Exodus. That's a very heavy piece of propaganda designed to elicit identification by gentiles with "Israel." So, gentiles don't want to upset their Jewish colleagues on boards of directors and among philanthropists, etc. They don't want to go to dinners and parties and have awkward moments, etc. The artists and middle class are not in their imaginative community. It's money and friendship combined.

freespeechlover said...

Something else I don't understand about these "panels." Why don't they put the Brits on? Why not have Katherine Viner talk about how they see the issue of . Notice the panel on "context" sets up a polarity--do you believe in "contextualizing" or in a work "standing alone." The Royal Court Theater did neither, so why set two extremes off against each other except to make "contextualizing" seem not politically motivated, reasonable,
good civics, not tsk-tsking of the Brits, etc.

Given the panels that the NYTW has pulled together, I don't think I would trust them to "contextualize" My Name is Rachel Corrie. It seems like they would hand over "programming" to people who would undermine Corrie's voice. Then they would turn around and claim, "oh no. we did no such thing. We just wanted to let the 'other side' be heard."

These folks are afraid of owning up to their initial political bias. It's the same one of most Americans, but they fear saying it outloud, because they know it will only comfort the wacko end of Zionism in New York. That's kind of sad, but maybe the NYTW has learned that they have a political bias--that's one way of reading their efforts to work with Palestinian American playwrights, etc. Let's hope they don't blow those efforts by then insisting on having a production to "balance" that one, and another production to "balance" that one, etc. etc. etc.

June said...

I just saw My Name Is Rachel Corrie today at the Playhouse in London. It exceeded my expectations. Corrie was a wonderful writer (and Viner and Rickman are apparently great editors). Megan Dodds was also remarkable--it's a demanding role emotionally, and she really gave her all (and did an excellent American accent).

The thing that struck me was what an American play this is. Corrie wrote a great deal about the effect of growing up in an ultraliberal college town like Olympia, Washington. I'd submit there's no British equivalent of a place like Olympia--but Americans (at least those that are familiar with schools like Antioch, Evergreen, etc.) would immediately get it and understand how much Rachel Corrie was a product of that place (and of committed progressive parents).

This is a play that Americans need to see (and, incidentally, one that is doing a great job of challenging the annoying stereotype of Americans that many Britons seem to have these days.

Corrie was so aware of the limitations of her point-of-view--of her racial and class privileges, of her status as a non-Jew involved in the struggle for Palestinian rights, etc., and that comes across very well in the play. This is a nuanced work, the opposite of propaganda.

parabasis said...

Hey Playgoer,

I think it's easy to ascribe sinister motives to people we don't like or disagree with (I once accused Charles Isherwood of purposely trying to ruin someone's career, for example)... and I think you might be doing that here.

The panelists for the NYTW series are all being paid honorariums for their attendance. Several of them are also being paid transportation and housing fees in order to appear here in New York City. NYTW will, if these are well attended, break even. I think they're just trying not to bankrupt themselves.

And I wouldn't be surprised if to them this is a really sincere effort to tackle the "root issues" behind the controversy... which looks for all intents and purposes like a dodge, but I think they're trying to make something good come out of this, they're just trapped because they never really addressed the initial problem publicly.

Playgoer said...

To be fair, though, did I really say their motives were "sinister" here? I'm more shocked at the tone-deafness of charging admission to these "healing" events. I don't doubt there are costs to cover. But, Isaac, do you have it on authority, those are the costs? News to me.

Besides, the decision to add a "pay what you can" option for artists was essentially an acknowledgment of the problem here. I mean, who else is going to come but artsists?

$10 may seem small compared to an actualy theatre ticket (although not unheard of downtown, even at NYTW rush). But for an artist on a $20-30 budget, it can be a dealbreaker. To me it seems to appeal more to the subscriber/patron crowd, who are used to paying for such cultural events. And it distressed me frankly, that by announcing that ticket price, these panels seemed just part of the same old problem (theatre for the rich) rather than any kind of solution.

And the intention did not have to be "sinister" in order to give the impression nevertheless.

Anonymous said...

Well, they could have gone a long way towards making these evenings seem more fair by inviting actual critics of NYTW's decision.

And oh poor NYTW and all the costs they are enduring. I guess they will have to host another $2000 Rent benefit or $1500 Repeat Defenders event to pay for Anna Deveare Smith's hairstylist.

freespeechlover said...

The panelists are being paid honorariums, etc., because they are the ones who will do the best for the NYTW without really confronting them. This is neither "sinister," nor "good faith," since public relations never sits at either of those extremes. If they have any "strategy," and frankly I don't think they're that smart, it's to kill the public with boredom. The NYTW isn't evil, just dull, dull, dull.

Anonymous said...

Are panelists typically paid honorariums? And Isaac: Do you know for a fact that these people are being paid?

I know that people who give speeches to companies and conventions get paid--often quite handsomely.

But is it standard protocol for talking heads at these kinds of panels to get paid by the hosts (over-and-above housing and transportation costs)?

Anonymous said...

Panelists are, indeed, typically paid honoraria for these kinds of things -- at Theater for a New Audience, the Public, BAM Dialogues, you-name-it. NOT handsomely (by corporate standards, anyway): typically $100 or $150 or somethng like that, maybe as much as $200 in some cases.

Also, why are so many posters convinced that every panelist is a toadie? While NYTW's own people and PR flaks are certainly present and for an obvious, odious reason, there are also some panelists who have already spoken out against the NYTW cancellation/postponement and some others whose position is not known, perhaps only because they have not had a venue for speaking out. I mean, let's not insult those participants who have no intention of defending or apologizing for NYTW. Or do people think that no matter what anyone says -- either on the panel or previously or subsequently -- they are tainted as "collaborators"? That seems unfair to me -- especially to those who have already taken a public stand.

Playgoer said...

As a reader posted today under another post, there was indeed some apparent wavering going on over at over the "pay what you can" tag. This morning it was still on, by afternoon it was off, and now, early evening, it's on again. Who knows, maybe the webmaster was on crack. I promise not to spin any sinister conspiracy stories...

I also agree with the last anonymous post above that it's not fair to consider any panelist "tainted" somehow by simply appearing. (As if they were some "scab", let alone collaborator.) And I won't be surprised if the discussions are so heavily moderated that even if they are prepared to bluntly criticize NYTW, they may not get it out. I feel bad for those like the Columbinus people, though, who are kinda trapped if you ask me.

As much as I diasgree with what seems to be the concept behind the panels, I remain optimistic for free discussion to break out nevertheless. As they say in Jurassic Park, life finds a way...