The Playgoer: Last Night's (non-)Panel

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Friday, March 10, 2006

Last Night's (non-)Panel

So I was not able to see the "The Public Theater Goes to War" panel last night, either in person or online. But from the reports I hear, seems like they're not going to war against much. George Hunka caught the webcast and has written it up.

In short--no one seemed very interested in taking on New York Theatre Workshop or defending Rachel Corrie the play (or the person for that matter) until the last 5 minutes of a two-hour event. In fact, the defense of "haven't read it, no comment" was invoked a little too easily, it appears. Are you guys for free speech or aren't you? And if you think Nicola's actions are ok if the play is a bad play--then aren't you curious why he picked it in the first place? And aren't you--as playwrights--concerned about an Artistic Director out there accepting plays for production and then changing his mind about whether they're good or not? (And for the record, the "bad play" excuse is not even one of the many rationales Nicolas has offered.)

BUT--the only news to possibly come out of this is that Public chief Oskar Eustis actually appears to have flat-out said Nicola's decision in this case was wrong(!) even though he praised him personally and his record at NYTW. So that's something. Maybe. Then again, I'm already hearing conflicting reports of how definitive this statement was and--again--it was held back until the very last minutes.

A reader has emailed me his blow-by-blow account, which I'll share in full since it gives some great details and is the closest we'll have to a transcript until one is issued or if the webcast is archived. (In which case, remember to fast forward just to the last 5 minutes!)

I missed the very beginning, but basically what happened is that they spent an hour and half talking about everything BUT Rachel Corrie. Andthen they did 20 minutes of questions and no on asked anything aboutit. And then the moderator said we have time for two last questions, and then one, and then STILL no one had asked about it.Then he calls another couple questions, and a woman asks something like, "Given the recent news about New York Theatre Workshop, could you talk about the risks beyond funding of doing political theatre." Andthen people in the audience start applauding.And then Brett Leonard asks if they're applauding because they WANTRachel Corrie cancelled or want it uncancelled. (They wanted it uncancelled.) And then there was like a 2 minute shoutingback-and-forth between the audience and the panel.

THEN one of the panelists (forget which) says that the panelists all talked before the panel started--except Eustis, who hadn't yetarrived--and decided that they wouldn't talk about Rachel Corriebecause none of them had read it. At that point, Eustis says that he*has* read it.During that back-and-forth with the audience, Leonard, Hagedorn andRabe all say that they don't know enough about the particulars to comment. But Leonard comes pretty close to defending it, saying that it's not censorship, it's just an AD changing his mind. He says that someone sent him a petition to sign but he doesn't know what he would be signing up for because he doesn't really know the details. And thatMTC cancelled CORPUS CHRISTI and Papp cancelled something. (At whichpoint Eustis chimes in, "Yeah, not the finest hour for either institution.") So, implicitly, Leonard's point seems to be, what's the big deal. But then he DID go on to say that if it was cancelled for tricly political reasons, he doesn't agree with that. (Thanks.)Finally, Eustis says the obvious: that Nicola made a mistake, that the best thing that could happen is for NYTW to change its mind, and that we all need to appeal to their "better angels" here because Nicola has been an outstanding AD and a politically adventurous AD and a real asset to the NY theatre scene.

Then--at that instant--the moderator said goodnight and the feed went dead. Mind you, everything that I just described happened in the last 4 to 6minutes of a panel that lasted like 100 minutes. So it was utter banality for like 95 minutes followed by 5 minutes that were pretty chaotic and strange. In the middle of the chaos, Eustis asked why none of the people with Corrie questions went up to the microphone to ask them during the Q and A. Not sure why they didn't--maybe they all figured that *someone* would surely ask those questions.

It was also sort of sickening for people like Rabe and Leonard to sit up there for like 90 minutes and blabbing on about the importance of political theatre and theatre that's willing to take chances and engage in the Serious issues and complaining that there isn't enough of that out there and then--when there is actually something on the line--to say "It's complicated" and "I don't know the facts" and "I haven't read the play." Anyway, it was bizarre.

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