The Playgoer: Philip Weiss revisits NYTW

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Friday, August 01, 2008

Philip Weiss revisits NYTW

I've been meaning for a while to call attention to Philip Weiss's moving post back in June about attending an event at New York Theatre Workshop honoring the Palestinian youth organization, the Jenin Freedom Theatre.

Weiss wrote the definitive Rachel Corrie article back in '06 when that storm was brewing around NYTW. But now he has kind words for them.

The directors of the NYTW had invited the Jenin Freedom Theatre to reach out to the New York theater community for help—for drama teachers, singing teachers, speech coaches, writers, anything, to keep that theater in the refugee camp going...

I am writing with explosive feeling. That is because of where this appeal took place. In the New York Theatre Workshop, which censored the Rachel Corrie play two years ago. NYTW was ripped apart by that event. At that time I had no sympathy for the theater company. It was obvious that some one or other on the board had found the play objectionable and had overruled the artistic director, Jim Nicola, and so the case was seized upon, in the New York Times, in the Nation (where I wrote about it), and on playgoer. [Oy! -ed.] It was a shock: a live demonstration in New York of censorship that has since become a common occurrence inside the Jewish community.

Well the other night at the NYTW, hosting this Arab theater group they have met and worked with many times, there were two of the enemies. Jim Nicola wearing a green Ocracoke café tshirt, a big sweet warm man. And Linda Chapman, a skinny vigorous woman who buzzed from one guest to another welcoming them. I understood that this outreach is not some sudden or forced motion of their hearts. The New York Theatre Workshop has been active on the Arab-Israeli problem for years now, and it fulfills them to give a platform to Mervat Aiash, to talk about cultural revolution in Palestine....

The world has come a long way since Rachel Corrie was censored (though it happened again and again, in other cities). NYTW has instead of backing down in a climate of fear and censorship, doubled down. Its staff has brought in Nibras, the Arab-American theater company, and staged several Palestinian voices....

This is difficult terrain, Linda Chapman told me. She felt caught up in a media drama two years ago. As a journalist I know how easy it is to paint people as enemies. This doesn’t help.

I may take issue with whether the New York theatre world at large has indeed "come a long way" since '06 in dealing openly with the Arab-Israeli conflict. But I certainly would not begrudge NYTW's efforts since then to make amends and/or rectify the impression they gave back then. I know I didn't make any friends there either during those days, nor do I expect to now. But, basically...yeah, what Phil said.

1 comment:


I have had the pleasure of both working as an usher at the NYTW and meeting Ms. Linda Chapman more than once, and have always admired the work they do over there. That said, the debacle that was MNiRC and its repercussions (sp?) definitely took its toll on the Workshop...I am glad they are able to, in some way, make amends and continue to spark some awareness and thought into the Arab-Israeli conflict, as they have done so well with other productions and artist collaborations in the past.