The Playgoer: more Lehrer rebuttals

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

more Lehrer rebuttals

To their credit, the Brian Lehrer show "blog" has posted a bunch of listener responses ("we're drowning here, actually" says their webmaster) against his "plague on both your houses" stance, and especially against his misinformed arguments against Katherine Viner and the Royal Court Rachel Corrie team. So if any of those were you, coming from this site--good going!

I especially applaud the self-identified dramaturg "KB" (who has worked at NYTW, to boot*) for demistifying once and for all this babble about what "contextualization" really means in a working theatre. NYTW has got some people fooled that they were going to set up some Middle East thinktank or something. Let's get real.

Dear Brian:

Thank you for readdressing this issue. I listened to it later on Friday because I had boycotted your show that morning.

I think that first of all, what education and outreach constitutes is misunderstood. My perception of it is a separate department specializing in educating the surrounding community with classes and workshops on theatre. They also work closely with the literary and dramaturgy staffs on study guides, usually for classes coming to see the show. The outreach component extends to expanding contact in the community beyond the standard subscriber base - i.e. low income families. NYTW, like most theatres in New York, does not have an Education and Outreach staff member, let alone a department. To refer to what they are doing with Rachel Corrie as "education and outreach" to me, is misleading and cynical.

I'm a theatre dramaturg and a great deal of what I do is write program notes, articles for the newsletter, give pre-show lectures and post show discussions. I have never thought of this work, though fun and rewarding, as education and outreach - it's mainly marketing where the point is to advertise the play, spark interest, and make the audiences feel included and like members of the theatre community. I don't mean to belittle this interaction, which I really enjoy and I have worked on plays where it has seemed very valuable to have some sort of dialogue after the show because the experience has been so powerful for the cast and the audience. But I've never seen the case where having experts diffuse the play afterward has been necessary- and certainly not worth postponing to the next season. Unless they're flying these people in from Israel, it shouldn't take that long to book them.

In terms of NYTW losing valuable patrons and fundraisers- I completely reject the idea offered by your caller that patrons should have any sway over a theatre's artistic choices. That is just wrong and dangerous. That leads to safe programming and a "giving the people what they want" ethos, which is not what non-profit theatre should ever aspire to, certainly not a theatre like New York Theatre Workshop. Theatres are fluid and they change with their leaders and times. Patrons and subscribers constantly leave for various reasons, be it financial or aesthetic and they get replaced by new ones. They are probably wreaking more financial damage on themselves by having a theatre dark for two months than programming a play that not all of their patrons approve of. I also think that NYTW does a tremendous disservice to their subscribers and patrons in thinking that they are neither smart nor loyal enough to go with them on this risk.

Of course everything I offer up here is speculation because NYTW has not been forthcoming at all with the reasons why they are not doing this play. Every time they speak in public they contradict themselves and sound just plain ignorant - i.e. Jim Nicola citing his source for Rachel Corrie being a member of Hamas as "the internet." I am so shocked by this behavior and really disappointed. I've always admired this theatre as they do some of the most theatrically daring and exciting work in New York. I'm even one of their script readers and I'm very proud of that. But I guess it is easier to get away with a modernized Hedda Gabler than a "politically incorrect" play, which whether or not you agree with its politics, is actually relevant and current. Thank you for your time. Looking forward to MondayMorning Politics.


As this debate widens outside of theatre circles, we will hear increasing comments from commentators like Lehrer who are not theatre-literate. So let's keep them on their toes and set them straight when they reveal their knowledge gaps.

*Amended. I overdid it by calling KB an NYTW "insider".


Anonymous said...

Well said, KB.

Anonymous said...

I'm the "KB" who posted on Brian's blog. Thanks for your nice words, Playgoer, I really enjoy your blog and how well you've publicized this issue. But I just want to make clear that I am in no way an "NYTW insider," I just said that I was a script reader as a disclaimer, since I am, however tenuously, linked to the workshop and it seemed that if I was going to criticize them I should be honest. But I've never spoken with anyone on the literary staff, or staff period, about Rachel Corrie, and I have no idea what they're going through over there. In terms of everything else I said in my post I'm just speaking from my experience at other theatres like NYTW.

Anonymous said...

What KB describes is the normal procedure: programme booklets with some information on the playwright and play, a post-show talk once in a while, a special event for the youths. But Lynn Moffat clearly said on Democracy Now that they had intended to have post-show discussions with scholars and poeple from the community after each performance. That's not only very unususal but also very patronising towards the audience who obviously is too stupid to understand the play on its own.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking a big risk, KB, and speaking out. I know other people at NYTW feel the same as you but are remaining silent.