The Playgoer: Barnard "Corrie" Panel Transcripts

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Barnard "Corrie" Panel Transcripts

Barnard College, April 7, 2006. From l. to r: Barnard's Shawn-Marie Garrett (moderator), Christopher Shinn, Kellt Stuart, Alisa Solomon, Prof. Marvin Carlson, Gregory Mosher, John Heilpern.

Under "better late the never"...

The Yale Drama journal, Theatre, has finally published the transcript of the April, 2006 Barnard College panel discussion of the New York Theatre Workshop "Rachel Corrie" controversy. (Yes, when we were right in the thick of it.) For a more raw account see my original post. These are basically the opening statements, edited and presumably revised by all the participants--except, unfortunately, Gregory Mosher who had a lot of sharp things to say and riled up the crowd, but opted not to let his remarks be reprinted here. A shame.

In any case, not to rehash, but if interested, try accessing the online version via Duke Journals.

And while we're rehashing I will go ahead and make available here my own essay on the "Corrie" mess that I wrote for the recently published New York Theatre Review, which very much complements the Barnard statements. Since there's no online link to the NYTR contents, I'll just cut & paste it into a hidden blog post, here, for your reading leisure. (Still, do buy the book, please!)

From the Barnard panel, let me just quote for now a few lines that stand out as especially timeless and not just rooted to that particular argument. They're from Paula Vogel, as relayed at the panel by her friend, Professor Marvin Carlson:
“It is simply not true that American writers are not writing political plays; we simply know that they will not be produced in New York at not-for-profits with visibility and budgets. We hear in the Times how only the British writers (such as [David] Hare, [Martin] McDonagh, etc.) write politically. They write politically, yes, but they write inside a system that still subsidizes theater and new work and so their work is visible. And we import our political work, which lets the producers and board members feel virtuous. And now, with the Corrie incident, I fear we have to import political outrage, too, from Britain.”
As true now as it was then.

17 comments:

Edward Einhorn said...

I was actually invited to be on this panel but had to cancel at the last moment. Perhaps it's for the best, because I suspect I would have been the lone voice defending NYTW.

One of the disturbing things about this debate, to me, is the idea that what NYTW did represents censorship. Knowing how writers have truly been consored over the years and are currently being consored, and also being a card carrying member of the ACLU, I consider the issue of censorship to be very important.

But the word censorship is overused, and, as a result, diffused. This was a particularly egregious example. The fact that a non-profit theater has chosen not to do a play, for any reason other than a govenment dictate banning the play, is not censorship. In this case,the Artistic Director made a free choice--AS HE HAS A RIGHT TO DO. To force him to produce a play that he has chosen not to do would be a far greater abridgement of his freedom.

Did RACHEL CORRIE get shown by someone? Yes, it did. Was it a good play? That's up to individual audience members to decide. I think, on the whole, probably not. Was NYTW censoring the play by not showing it? Definitely not.

And side question also comes to mind--was RACHEL CORRIE a radical play? In my mind, not at all. It was presented in London first, of course, not as an attempt to challenge audiences, but more as a reinformcement of the conventional wisdom prevalent there--the Israelis are oppresors, the Palestinians victims, etc. Was it shocking to see another play that did not challenge any pre-existing assumptions? No, assuredly not.

In New York, which definitely has a more mixed set of views on the Israeli question, it is more challenging to some audience members. But the response to NYTW demonstrates that among the theater people, the views tend to be more uniform. Eduardo Machado, when he gave his speech at ART/NY, implied that is was radical to protest the closing of Rachel Corrie in front of that group. In what way? 90% of the audience was on his side.

I do think it is important to have plays that reflect all views of a subject. And it is equally important to have a society in which those views can be freely discussed. I think NYTW has demonstrated a commitment to explore views on all subjects(take, for example, their current play).

But despite the laudatory work of NYTW to present differing viewpoints, an Artistic Director should be able to produce plays that only present plays that reflect a certain point of view, as well. Does an anti-racism play need to be followed by a pro-racism play? Did STUFF HAPPENS need to be followed by a pro-Bush diatribe? And if an Artistic Director chose, for example, to have only anti-Israeli plays, isn't that his choice? Just as if it would be the choice if that Artistic Director chose to have plays with only a pro-Israeli bias?

In the end, I don't know if any of that really contributed to NYTW's production. My own opinion of RACHEL CORRIE is that it was an undeveloped drama showing a skewed point of view, presenting a naive and idealistic woman who put herself in harms way (in my mind, more because of the youthful belief that you are, somehow, immortal, and that a bulldozer will see you and stop because that's what should happen) as a martyr. Her story was a sad one, but the controversy around her death was much more interesting, for stage at least, than the story of her life.

By the way--I will be without internet access for a while after this afternoon. If anyone happens to respond and I don't, I am not ignoring your comments--I just can't get to them.

The Playgoer said...

Edward,

I'm a bit reluctant to respond to your "Censorship" point at length since I feel like so many of us here engaged in the very same argument at the time. So I'll just refer readers to one of my posts back at the time that took on this very issue, especially the semantics of calling something like this "censorship" or not:

http://playgoer.blogspot.com/2006/03/c-word.html

I'll reiterate one major point, though, just to make sure it is not forgotten as this event recedes into the past and history is rewritten--NYTW *never* claimed their reasons for scratching the play were artistic. Nicola constantly maintained he believed in the play. So the scenario you posit, Edward, of a theatre simply having the freedom to reject plays they don't want to do... I don't think that applies here. There was very clearly some outside pressure that prevented the company (at least in their minds) from producing the play they *wanted* to do.

Edward Einhorn said...

I would respectfully disagree with you on that last point. Nicola did maintain he believed in the play, but he also said that the play, in his opinion, wasn't ready to be performed, and that his decision was an artistic decision, not a political one or one based one pressure. He did say he was influenced by some feedback, but that is a different matter.

Whether people believed his explanation or whether he presented it clearly, at first, is another question.

Anonymous said...

Edward, Nicola offered the "later excuse" that you lamely reiterate only after both telling the Guardian and the Times, in two separate interviews, that he pulled the play for one reason only: unnamed people who were part of "communities" NYTW talked to told him not to do the play because of the political situation.

Once Nicola saw that the real reason which he first proffered would was not defensible, did he argue that artistic and set concerns were the real reasons he had cancelled the play.

It is not in any way difficult to know these facts, which implies that you have either willfully ignored the truth for some reason, or are just being perversely provocative.

Dr. Cashmere said...

Let's not forget the bit about a board member's rabbi finding the play distasteful, and concerns raised by an "old friend" of Nicola's.

Ah, the memories.

An aside: Isn't it great that you can just plug "james nicola and rabbi" into a search engine, and click your way right back into the middle of the debacle?

It's become a lot harder to rewrite the history of incidents like this one, and that's a good thing.

Anonymous said...

PG: Why take a swipe at Theater mag for the date of this publication? They are an academic quarterly -- that's the pace they go at, for better or worse. Why imply they were trying to delay things? These kinds of journals can't do what dailies or weeklies or other more news-focused, fast-publishing venues can do. No doubt they got the transcript out as quickly as was possible for them. I'm very happy to read it and think the journal deserves congrats rather than a snide implication.

The Playgoer said...

Whoa, I didn't mean to berate "Theatre" at all. Sorry if my overall snarkiness on this issue enveloped them, but that was hardly what I was thinking.

I guess saying "better late than never" and "finally" are not POSITIVE phrases, but, hey, I had to acknowledge somehow that it's been 16 months since the event.

Frankly I'm surprised they still published it this late--and kudos them indeed for doing so since it's hardly as "newsworthy" anymore.

Anonymous said...

Uh, aren't the considered thoughts of smart playwrights and critics on a crisis ALWAYS newsworthy in a theater journal, even if the immediate crisis has already passed?

The Playgoer said...

Fair enough, anon. I apologize for any offense to the reputation of "Theatre" and hereby renounce any grumbling.

After all--and I mean this in the best possible way-- better late than never...

Edward Einhorn said...

I just checked in and saw the recent comments. A bit old, but just to respond briefly:

I find the anger at my defense of Nicola unsurpringly, unfortunately. It is typical of sort of bullying technique that has been common in this debate. It is a common flaw of discussions on the internet, I find--where debates become a question of who shouts the loudest, not a forum of ideas.

Of course when you key in rabbi and Nicola the first thing that comes up is this. There is no question about who shouted the loudest. But why does the fact that Nicola talked to his friend, a Rabbi, about the show, who mentioned some concerns about the play's one-sided portrayal of an event, and the fact that Nicola had artistic concerns have to be mutually exclusive? It doesn't, of course. Just because Nicola talked to a Rabbi friend doesn't mean that his friend forced him not to do the show. That was Nicola's decision, and I see nothing in his track record to make me believe that was not an artistic one. Being concerned that the play is one-sided is not just a political concern, it is an artistic one.

Once again, views can differ about Nicola was being honest, but why the anger?

This brings me to an elephant in the room, in the debate--the connection with Judaism and Israel. It seems to me that there is a disturbing correlation between the assumption that a rabbi and some (presumably Jewish) audience members would have the power to sway Nicola from his artistic goals, and the typical stereotypes about the Jewish control of media/art.

I'm going to tread carefully here and say that I do not accuse anyone attacking Nicola of being anti-semitic. That would be ridiculous, of course, But I do think that, as Avenue Q says, everyones a little bit racist, and that we fall into patterns that we are not even fully aware of.

Would the assumption that Nicola did this out political expediency have been so quick if the issue weren't Israel, with all the Jewish baggage that goes into every debate about that country? Would the anger have been so great?

I suspect not, and the anger in particular that a "rabbi" might have influenced Nicola's opinion is telling.

When I key in Clinton and Jew I find Jew Watch, a web site devoted to finding the secret connections between Jews and government.

Is that beause google has acted as a repository of truth, which Clinton can't erase? I think not. I think it is because Jew Watch has shouted the loudest.

Anonymous said...

Good point, sir. Google hardly is the repository of truth. For example, when one googles "Edward Einhorn," all sorts of fascinating information. Is "shouting the loudest" akin to suing for the most damages?

Edward Einhorn said...

Such anger at me still for defending Nicola. Intimidation?

Yes, my opponent in my law case does shout loud on the internet. Not with any true facts, but she does shout. From the beginning, I stated publicly that all I wanted from her was the fee she originally promised for my work. But her shouting would indicate otherwise. So yes, I have personal experience with the deceptive power of the internet and those who manipulate google to create "facts".

I could go on...but I won't. I have no desire to have a shouting match with either her or you. Just to talk about a theatrical question without resorting to personal slurs that really have no relevance. Can you manage that?

Anonymous said...

Actually, I'm a different Anon, I have no affiliation with what's-her-name, I'm not shouting, and I could care less to what extent you fellate Nicola. Perhaps no one will share this with you (i.e., give you a clue), but um... Good luck with your career. Let's just leave it at that.

John Branch said...

Considering that there are many countries in the world where the traditional meaning of censorship still applies (that is, a power exercised by some political and/or religious authority), I'm still reluctant to apply it in the Rachel Corrie case. But it may be that we should recognize (and the dictionary should recognize) a new situation, in which other powers, namely the institutions that control the production and presentation of art, may also impose censorship. In any case, I think most or all of us have had our say on this point already, thanks in part to Playgoer's giving us a forum for it.

To turn to Paula Vogel's comment, with which Playgoer closed his post: It's curious that a country with such a high degree of legal freedom of expression (i.e., America) often seems either uninterested in or afraid of political expression. Maybe another meaning of "censor," i.e., a psychic authority that represses the unacceptable, has taken on a greater role here now that the traditional, external authorities have been limited in their sway. In other words, now that we don't have to fear the government (or the church) so much, we instead have decided to fear the neighbors (or the members of the church). And/or we just take the freedom for granted and forget about it.

It's a curious country we live in.

Edward Einhorn said...

Honestly, I'm not sure how to respond to this, and I am asking you, Garrett, for some guidance here.

Do I enter into a long defense of myself, with an accounting of exactly what happened, etc, etc? I have chosen not to really do that so far. I did put my thoughts up on my web site regarding director's copyright in general (http://www.untitledtheater.com/DirectorsCopyright.htm), but I have for the most part tried not to engage in mud slinging, and honestly, in any account of the actual events, I would have to paint my opponents in a very dark light, becuase from my perspective they committed and continue to commit a series of heinously immoral acts.

I have instead tried to honestly answer any questions that anyone has asked. I am not afraid of quetions on the subject. And anyone who knows me personally or has worked with me (including almost everyone involved in the show in question), knows how absurd my opponent's allegations are.

But of course there are those who don't know me, and some will believe what my oppenent says (I avoid mentioning any names in particular in response to their tactic of mentioning my name whenever possible in order to harm my reputation). It's fruitless to argue in those situations. It becomes a he said/she said battle.

Some day I will probably tell the whole long story, if nothing else because it is fascinating, in an academic way. I have learned a lot about the reality of how copyright/copyright enforcement works, the court in relationship to that, and most of all, the elusive quality of truth. It has added to an already healthy skepticism I have about articles and the way opinions are formed more on personal prejudice than information.

But don't fear about me, anonymous writer (does anyone besides me have the courage to write their names to support their poisoned pens?) I have experienced no career lag and don't expect to. I do believe that if one creates good work and treats people well that in the end, it pays off.

But my question to you, Garrett, is this--will you weigh in here? If this anonymous person (or persons?) continues to attack me, what would you have me do? Ignore it? I just can't because than it is assumed to be true. Retreat? I am not interested in constantly fielding this hostility, and I think that it is time for you to step in with an opinion on how you feel I should handle this.

John Branch said...

I don't know what the issue is that Edward Einhorn and his anonymous critic(s) are debating. But I think, to answer a question that wasn't directed to me, that one certainly can ignore an attack rather than reiterating one's defense; silence doesn't necessarily imply assent, as I believe Sir Thomas More argued long ago.

The Playgoer said...

Edward--I assure you my silence here lately has nothing to do with the argument at all. I've simply been away the last few days and not reading up on my Comments section at all.

I will say I'd like to put a stop to this particular thread about Mr Einhorn's past issues since it's entirely OFF TOPIC. I urge the anonymous commenter in question to by all means go to Ed's site and keep up the argument there. But as it is my policy to delete most off-topic comments, I will have to do so from now on, on that topic.