The Playgoer: CATF Fallout

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Monday, July 02, 2007

CATF Fallout

The Baltimore Sun goes behind the scenes of the infighting over the programming of "Rachel Corrie" at West Virginia's Contemporary American Theatre Festival. "Initially, the 27-member board was so split on the wisdom of mounting such a divisive show," reports Mary Carole McCauley, "that the festival hired a mediator."

The biggest protest was from H. Alan Young, a former director of the festival himself who resigned and took his $100,000 donation with him. Young's certainly entitled to his opinion and free to bail on his own festival if he wants. And a couple of his rationalizations--I mean, reasons, hold some water.

Young, who resigned from the festival's board of directors, finds Rachel Corrie's interpretation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be prejudicial and deeply inaccurate.

He also objects to the inclusion of a play that he believes violates the festival's mission to stage new works by American playwrights. (In his opinion, Viner and Rickman, both Britons, and not Corrie, are the play's authors.)

"Unless Rachel Corrie had supernatural powers," Young says, "she could not have written the account of her death with which the play ends. The account of her demise was written by another Englishman who was a colleague of Corrie's, so that account is suspect."
Okay, he seems to be saying all Limeys are somehow "suspect," but put that aside. I would agree "Corrie" is a play out of the British theatre, and so technically any theatre or contest with a strict "US Playwright" stricture could rule it out.

But on the other hand, surely a lot of theatres committed to an exclusively "American" repertory would consider foreigner-penned adaptations of American authors, no? The words of the play indisputably are Corrie's, regardless of the last 5 minutes. (And since when can a mere epilogue quoted from another source throw the whole authorship into question?)

Young goes on to cite other reasons, though, which are even more "suspect" themselves, or at least stretch the credulity of the censorial cover-up:
He also weighed other factors before making his decision: He believed the board was breaching its fiduciary duties to safeguard the festival's financial well-being...."The board should absolutely have superseded the producing director if they knew that putting on a particular play could have a detrimental impact on the festival's financial outcome," he says.
And probably a good reason Boards should have no say in artistic programming at a nonprofit (emphasis on the non) institution.

As the facts have shown, of course, "Corrie" has had quite the opposite of a "detrimental impact" on ticket sales. What a great corrective to the panicked cry of controversy as automatic box office poison.

And check out reason #4. (As Mamet wrote in a recent Unit episode: "When your kid has more than one excuse, you know neither of them are true.")
In addition, he says the play can't be considered "contemporary" because the situation on which it is based no longer exists. Israeli civilians and military forces have since left the Gaza Strip.
Ah, I see. So "contemporary" means D'oh! That was 10 seconds in the past. Okay , how about

Yes, so the Israeli pull out from Gaza marked the end of the Arab Israeli conflict. You heard it here. Ancient history.
Young says he welcomes controversial and thought-provoking plays, "no matter what the subject matter. But I object when the plays are so offensive as to cause loss of significant funds. I also would expect them to present more than one point of view."
So yay to free speech as long as it doesn't lose money and doesn't offend the "other" point of view. Pretty qualifying remarks.

Young would really be better of simply maintaining he hated the play because he loves Ariel Sharon and Bibi Netanyahu so much. That I can respect. But his other theories on what constitutes acceptable drama will simply be proven wrong by the already favorable reception to the play at his former theatre.

Kudos again to his successor Ed Herendeen for weathering the storm.


Mark said...

Kudos on bringing this story into the blogosphere and great commentary.

Your reference to Young as a director and to Herendeen as a "successor" can be misleading, though. Young, of course, was a board member, and Herendeen the artistic director both before and after this fracus.

Anonymous said...

One of the rationales about the play not being "contemporary" is false: Settlements were evacauated from the Gaza Strip, but the Israeli presence remained very strong, if not in terms of troop level, in terms of surveillance, economic control, control of Palestinians' movement, etc. The occupation is not over, neither in the West Bank nor in Gaza.