The Playgoer: Rickman speaks!

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Rickman speaks!

A little, at least. To the London Independent's gossip column, Pandora:

"Rickman fights back against Broadway ban"

Alan Rickman's prospects on Broadway might not be quite as bleak as first

Last month, Pandora reported that the New York Theatre Workshop had cancelled plans to show My Name is Rachel Corrie, a play co-written and directed by Rickman.

In a wordy statement, the Workshop tried to claim that the production, which tells the story of a young American peace activist killed by Israeli tanks in 2003, was cancelled because of "time pressures", blaming Rickman's "filming commitments."
Rickman immediately hit back, claiming that the organisers had got cold feet after being lobbied by local Jewish leaders, and subsequently took the play to the West End.

But at last night's performance of Judi Dench's new play Hay Fever at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, Rickman told Pandora he wasn't finished yet.

He's due to fly back to the States and begin a new set of talks about putting the play on.

"I'm going to New York next week to talk about the play being put on again," he said. "I'm in negotiations as we speak. It's a very complex issue and I don't want to go into it too much, but I'm hoping we can sort something out and put the play on, whether it be at the New York Theatre Workshop or another theatre.

"The play has to be shown in America and that's why I'm flying out to New York to change things."

Note the Brits, too, think all NY theatre is "Broadway."

I imagine Rickman has kept out of the spotlight on this so as not to risk messing with his Hollywood career. (Any smart agent would certainly so advise him.) But dare I ask whether such silence also constitutes a kind of cowardice? Afraid to stand up for what he believes? (Not necessarily on Israel, even, just free speech.)

It's a pertinent point, I think, just because Rickman's presence in this could have made a huge difference in media attention. I believe major press outlets like the New York Times have let go of this story partially because there was no celebrity "hook." (Not even an measly theatre celeb like Terrence McNally.) Had Rickman been giving regular press conferences and interviews giving his side of the story, countering NYTW's version of events, his play might have gotten on much sooner.

NYTW's supporters might want to argue Rickman must have something to hide. Personally, I say it at least inoculates him from charges of self-promotion.... Will he do a press junket if and when "Corrie" does come to NYC?

ADDENDUM: I actually only just noticed that phrase, "whether it be at the New York Theatre Workshop or another theatre." Surely this is some rhetorical ploy? Or will Jim and Alan surprise us all by burying the hatchet?


Anonymous said...

Asking whether Alan Rickman's silence constitutes cowardice? Not your finest moment, Playgoer--it's a little too reminiscent of the post in which you suggested that if Tony Kushner didn't speak up, one could only assume he didn't support free speech in the theater. Who has spent more time trying to get Rachel Corrie produced and seen than Rickman?

Suggesting that someone is a coward or collaborator because they don't talk as fast as you want them to is, for lack of a better word, cheap--it's like when journos call someone "reclusive" because they can't get him on the phone. What I object to is that I don't think you believe this about Rickman any more than you did about Kushner. It's a kind of taunting that lowers the high standard of discussion you yourself have set on this blog.

Anonymous said...

I think Playgoer is frustrated that this story hasn't been as big as it should have been -- and would have been had marquee names spoken out. Which, if they feel this is such an important issue, why didn't they? This is an age-old debate about those who profit from, then shun when it suits them, the limelight. And more complex that you (Anonymous) make it seem.

Playgoer said...

Well so much for trying to be even-handed!

I was simply saying that if Rickman has stayed quiet in this debate in order to protect his movie career, then we have to hold back a little before naming him Free Speech Hero of the Year.

Is "cowardice" too strong a word? Maybe. But I believe in the blogger's rule of thumb of owning what you put out there, so I won't take it back.

Rickman certainly made a strong statement on day one. And if his sub-radar ends up getting the play produced, then perhaps it will have paid off. So we'll see.

As for the Kushner comment... well we've gone over that already. But, once again, why is it wrong to call upon prominent figures to comment? Especially figures who have been eager to go on the record on the very issue in question, and who have cultivated reputations as public intellectuals commenting everywhere all the time?

I guess your beef is in costruing "no comment" as endorsement of a particular view. I never claimed to know what was inside Tony Kushner's head in the first days of this story. Unlike those who said, "Give the guy a break, he obviously objects but doesn't want to embarass his friend in public." I never pretended to have such insight. And what I wrote was that in a case like this silence will inevitably be construed as meaning you're ok with this, whether you're really (privately) ok or not. Sometimes, making it public matters.

This came to mind watching Stuff Happens last night. (Review forthcoming.) We liberals usually give Colin Powell a pass. We want him to be "one of us" so bad, we always say "Well of course he can't SAY Bush is wrong in public. But OBVIOUSLY he privately thinks so." Well how much credit does the guy deserve if he can't step up? Only good intentions count now?

The clincher is that David Hare has now revised Stuff Happens to show Powell as more complicit in the war. In the London version he was a more straightforward hero. Then, Hare says, several people "in the know" told him Powell wasn't nearly as much of a "dove" as people think in all this. Hare then, wisely, made Powell's dilemma over speaking out the very crux of the character's dramatic crisis.

Playgoer said...

One more thing, re: Kushner

I will just add, once again, that I am sure glad Kushner DID speak out and make public those private feelings. It meant a lot for the story and gave credibility to those arguing for the right of this play to go on.

I have never apologized for posting that at that time about Kushner simply because I saw it as a question: where does he stand? (Hence: "Where's Tony?") He soon answered that question and so I certainly do not consider him a "coward."

freespeechlover said...

I think these questions of where Rickman, Kushner stand are fair ones. This is a blog, which is inherently speedier as a form of communication than print media.

Anonymous said...

On the question of frustration over this not being a bigger story in the mainstream press: I think we all agree that the two stories the NY Times did were not done well, but as the story didn't really develop, what else was there to cover? From a journalistic point of view, there wasn't any more news, hence no more stories. This is not to say that the NYT did an acceptable job in the stories they did do -- way too many unanswered questions and too narrow a range of sources (ie, Nicola's pov emphasized almost exclusively), but the NYT, on any subject, isn't going to re-do a story they did inadequately, much as they ought to. But honestly, what new development would there be for the msm to cover? (Please don't answer with the list of questions they didn't address in the two stories they did -- I agree, they should have; they blew it. But that is different from there being new delopments to cover in a third (or fourth or fifth) story.

Regarding Kushner: why the fetishization of big-shots? I think we peons should not abdicate the role of making a public stink to the famous. Yeah, they get attention. But they're not the only way. You suggested elsewhere, Playgoer, that Kushner and McNalley and other famous playwrights demand a commission of a Betty Shamieh play. I'm not sure that's a solution, but if you think it is, building real public pressure from audiences would probably be more effective. Don't kid yourself: These playwrights often have a hard time getting their own plays accepted. I do think they should be active, as I think anybody should, and they should take advantage of the platform their fame gives them (something Kushner does admirably very often), but I don't like doing politics by depending on the kindness of the famous.

Anyway, as far as we know, as soon as Kushner was called by a journalist about MNIRC, he answered and was critical. Should he have called a press conference? That's a bit grandiose. Given his very long and brave history speaking out on Israel-Palestine, taking a lot of serious heat over the years of the very kind that frightened Nicoloa away, it was insulting to him to suggest that people would think that he supported Nicola's action if he didn't go to some lengths to make an immediate public statement. (ie take time to write and submit an op-ed that the NYT likely wouldn't have run anyway. He might be famous and a great writer, but that doesn't give him free access to the NYT op-ed page. Get real.)

PeonInChief said...

I made a similar point about a month ago:

...both Rickman and the Royal Court have positions to protect--the Royal Court because it might want (don't laugh) to work with NYTW in future, and Rickman [because] he's an actor and probably thinks, rightly, that playing a central role in the debate is not a good career move.(Comments, March 27)

I don't know that Rickman's presence would have made that much difference in the face of the US media's lack of interest in the issue. After all, he's best known in the United States by the pre-teen set.

Anonymous said...

What do people really mean by US media's lack of interest in the issue? Two stories in the NYT (albeit terribly done); a discussion by the theater critic of the LA Times and Katherine Viner's op-ed there; a piece in the Washington Post; a long cover story in The Nation. (Plus coverage in Variety, and short summary of the already-known in the Voice, and of course the long, telling segment on Democracy Now.)
Granted, this is not getting the sort of coverage the trapped kitty cat got, but by most standards this is a lot of coverage! (And be careful what you wish for. Do you really want the tabloids or Fox News on this?)

The trouble was not lack of coverage, but INADEQUATE coverage -- which one can say of the arts reporting in the NYT in general. They did a really shitty job. Like they usually do.

freespeechlover said...

You're all correct, including playgoer, who should pat himself on the back for this blog. I'm not being obsequious. In this case, blogging has been organizing. I don't think the media wouldn't have covered the story adequately or inadequately without being pushed by both Viner's op ed and the blogs. Blogs are places where peons communicate across a range of borders, which make possible things like online petitions, which was an act of traditional political organizing. The peons signed a petition to the NYTW.

What we maybe could have also done is to start a petition drive calling for people like Kushner to come forward and exercise leadership given his and others' positions. When it comes from peons, that's not charity.

But in a way, again, I think something akin to that happened. Even the fact that big shots know that people are blogging or having discussions online or wherever--they don't even have to be a part of them--makes them at least curious and more likely to make statements to the media, which Kushner did.

And let's be honest. Coming out on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not like coming out on other issues with the exception of maybe man-boy love. Kushner did an excellent job of describing what working on Munich was like.

However, and this is key, when the wacko end of anti-Palestinian organizing knocks on your door, you have to be willing to set limits, like 5 minutes, as to how long you will entertain "dialogue" with them.

When any progressive organization opens its doors to the right-wing, even if comes under the guise of liberal "feedback," it should take what gets conveyed with a grain of salt and then gently shut the door. I think it does take "savvy" as Nicola called it to know how to do that.

I hope that MNIRC comes to New York to a theater that can handle it without anything but a playbill or maybe talkbacks--things that are "normal," but NOT the kind of heavily controlled nonsense that has gone on at NYTW. I hope that because it will be GOOD for the international reputation of theater in N.Y. and the city more generally.

freespeechlover said...

another thing--what playgoer may be looking for is leadership from those in positions with privilege to exercise it. this is a human wish, but I'm afraid it still it is a wish. that is, the higher up you go, the more people have to lose. nonetheless i feel some sympathy with this wish, as when this whole brouhaha started, philip seymour hoffman and pals sat across the street from the NYTW at a bar and read rachel's emails.

i thought this was an important gesture on his part, and i confess a part of me hopes that his theater does the production. the fact that he would read those emails on the day everyone else was impressed me. i have a feeling that if he would be involved in anyway, there wouldn't be contextualization "concerns," and a lot of time spent on whether there were tunnels under the home Corrie was trying to protect, etc.

PeonInChief said...

Dear Playgoer, I know that it always helps in dealing with the press to have a warm celebrity in your corner, but to expect that on most issues is foolish.

I suppose that I should admit that I firmly believe that the vast majority of actor celebrities spend the morning getting their hair done, and the rest of the day deciding what to wear. And not one of them makes a public statement without first checking with the handlers to make sure that it's not going to make any inappropriate waves anywhere. This is a prejudice on my part, for which I accept full responsibility.

In addition, actor celebrities are most often more attractive than the norm and, incredible as it may seem, we ascribe better behavior to more attractive people. (As someone who is kindly described as plain, I have always found it somewhat unnerving to have acquaintances suggest that I am -- insert positive characteristic here -- with such expression of surprise.) So we may be expecting better behavior of someone who is really quite ordinary.

And we have no way of knowing what Mr. Rickman's motives are. Does he feel that he's already said everything he had to say? Did his handlers tell him that being out front on this one was a bad idea? Did the Harry Potter franchise people ask him to back off as, believe it or not, the franchise is a measurable percentage of the British economy? Is this all a plot to create buzz around MNiRC and make pots more money off it? (Memo to handlers: the little Playgoer crew is not "buzz".) Did the Royal Court as an institution decide to limit the damage to their relationship with NYTW?

We can only watch and wait. Perhaps Rickman is a coward. Perhaps not.

PeonInChief said...

Ah, Playgoer, your addendum is interesting. I think I noted elsewhere that Katharine Viner had gotten the major share of the attack in the last NYTW missive. Maybe they'll agree to let the chick take the fall. (After all, we're really emotional and tend to fly off the handle for absolutely no reason.)

freespeechlover said...

Having read with a fine toothed comb the NYTW's "goodbye to all that" statement, I find it odd that they didn't say many of these things from the getgo. It seems what happened was that Nicola really liked MNIRC and wanted to do it, only to find out after conversations with the NYTW that it could be perceived in some quarters as "controversial." Then Moffat who handles the logistics probably went crazy with the timeline she had, although here, I think if they had just worked with the work that had already been done by the Royal Court, there wouldn't have been the same sense of too much to do in too little time.

They don't like the word censorship. I don't blame them, but I agree with Alison Crouse that there is something more transparent about it being done in an upfront manner rather than in the odd way information emerged from the NYTW.

Self-censorship can take many forms, one of them being the need for too much control and a sense of overarching responsibility for too many things for which you can't possibly BE responsible. That can lead to narcissism of the kind that leads them to scapegoat Viner and Rickman (the latter to a lesser extent).

What's odd about their statement is that they go on and on about everything but "art," being the reason they had to postpone. Then they accuse everyone of being ignorant of and not really caring about "art." Except for them.

There is no other way to read this statement other than as an expression of a feeling of having been wounded by unjust and malevolent people.

"Art" has now become a weapon for them to use against their opponents. That's pretty sad.

June said...

At the risk of seeming loony, I just wanted to post notice of an Alan Rickman sighting in New York. According to this bulletin board postig, he was at the final Grey Gardens perf yesterday.

freespeechlover said...

I hope that Katharine Viner isn't taking the fall--I'm tired of seeing her having to take the majority of the pr fall from the NYTW. I don't think she was even AT the meetings that took place between Rickman and them and yet she's had to be the public face for the Royal Court Theater and Rickman.

The NYTW should talk about Rickman, and if they did, then maybe he'd have had greater public visibility on the question of censorship--yes, he made statements, but he might have been forced to be bolder. I don't know, I just know that there is some sexism going on when Viner has to take most of hit from them.

I think Brits may need visas to come to the U.S. if they are going to be working and getting paid here. I don't know for sure.