The Playgoer: The Timeline

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Timeline

Since much of this controversy stems over a public disagreement between two theatres over the nature of their negotiations over the last few months, perhaps it would be enlightening to spell out what is relatively known so far. So here's an attempt at a rough timeline of the saga of My Name is Rachel Corrie's attempted journey to NYC.

I am trying to stick as much as possible to easily verifiable dates and events. I won't stop myself, though, from indulging in some informed speculation--in parenthesis--if only to highlight key areas still being kept secret.

April 13-30, 2005: Rachel (the play) premieres at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs in London.

October 11-29: Royal Court Theatre brings the play back for a second engagement in its larger "Downstairs" mainstage venue. This attracts even greater press and wider praise.

November: Rachel has ended its run at the Court. According to the recent Royal Court press release, Rachel's director and co-creator is in Manhattan and meets with New York Theatre Workshop (presumably Mr. Nicola?). They discuss openings in NYTW's schedule and in Rickman's film commitments, and agree at least on the possibility of March, 2006.

Presumably by this time Nicola has at least read the script. (I don't believe he's claimed to have seen it, has he?) Nicola later tells The Observer's John Heilpern: “ … when I first read this play, it affected me deeply,” he said. “I thought it presented an opportunity to share with our community a powerful message that the good fortune to be born into comfortable circumstances comes with the responsibility of conscience. One must always be aware of the misery of others and take compassionate action.” Note how, from the beginning, Nicola is struck more by the appeal to privileged people of "conscience"--not the potentially more controversial portrayal of the intifada.

Of course, a big unknown right here is: who approached whom?

January 4, 2006: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffers his massive stroke and lapses into the coma from which he has still not emerged--and which Nicola would later cite as a "distraction" from the play.

January 25: The militant and terrorist-tainted Hamas win the Palestinian parliamentary elections. Another factor later noted by Nicola as decisive.

January 31: Talks between the two theatres apparently have continued since Rickman's meeting. According to the Royal Court, New York Theatre Workshop contacts them with a "production schedule" along with proposals for "budget," "a press release", and "flights."

February 6: Rachel wins three London Theatregoer awards (a kind of upscale "People's Choice," with internet voting), generating increased press coverage and questions about the show's future beyond the Royal Court, where it had ended October 29. The London website prints, "This spring, it will receive its New York premiere ahead of a planned international tour."

February 7: The news story is picked up by The Olympian, the hometown paper of the real-life Rachel Corrie. Note the specificity: "Next month, the one-woman play will debut in the United States, running from March 22 to May 14 at the New York Theatre Workshop." Still no official release in the New York theatre world, though. Nothing on NYTW's website, or the Times, or No buzz.

February 6-on: Alan Rickman fan-sites, like this one, are all atwitter with excitement over his play coming to the US. On February 14 "Claudia" reports hearing from Rickman's personal assistant: "Dates for 'My Name is Rachel Corrie' in New York, are in the process of being finalised, she hopes to be able to let me know more next week." The following day she relays another communication from the assistant confirming that Rickman will be in the States from mid-February through April. A few fans report frustration in booking tickets, though, when New York Theatre Workshop tells them they're not for sale yet and plans are not yet finalized.

The small staff at the ultra-downtown NYTW were probably a little caught off guard by the barrage of calls from Alan Rickman groupies!

February 10: Royal Court claims a meeting took place in New York with representatives from both companies to sort out and prepare final agreements.

btw. February 13-15: Rickman fan "CatsPlay" later writes that "early" in this week, when she calls for tickets, she is told an announcement is immanent.

February 17: Royal Court sites this as the date Jim Nicola officially asks them for a "postponement" of the play.

Nicola has referred to "the less than two months we had to mount the proposed production" hindrancerince in the process. Two months before March 22 would be late January/early February. (Post-Hamas, by the way.) But two months leading up to February 17 takes it back possiblNovemberember--i.e. his initial meeting with Rickman. Was mid-February his "cutoff"? Technically, of course, one could point out the whole pre-production process could be considered November to March. Four months is twice as much as two.

February 21: "CatsPlay" calls NYTW again for news, encouraged by the show finally appearing on Telecharge (a fact confirmed by Royal Court as well).

To my surprise, they indicated that they had indefinitely postponed the production, and that the information should not have appeared on Telecharge. Needless to say it was an awkward conversation and the gentleman on the phone sounded somewhat flabbergasted. When I tried to press him a bit more, the phone person indicated it would probably be a year or more before the production would be reconsidered.
CatsPlay doesn't stop there, and emails Jim Nicola directly. And gets a response!

"We have postponed the production indefinitely. We were unable to make it happen
in the very tight time frame that emerged. It may be reappearing in London."
I thanked him for the info, and asked if he knew if the play was in discussions with any other theaters in NYC, or if things were a lost cause at this point. His response was as follows, "I really don't know. I think it is unlikely for a NY production in the next few months. London seems more possible."
What happens the next seven days? Unknown.

February 28: One week after this exchange, the New York Times publishes, "Play About Demonstrator's Death Is Delayed" in which Nicola makes his first public statements about the play at all:

[Nicola] had decided to postpone the show after polling local Jewish religious and community leaders as to their feelings about the work.
He would later (following week?) tell John Heilpern: "I haven't personally spoken to any members of the Jewish community who've opposed the play...I have spoken to many Jewish friends who have had degrees of discomfort with the topic."

Continuing in the Times on 2/28, he says of the "Jewish community" response:

"The uniform answer we got was that the fantasy that we could present the work of this writer simply as a work of art without appearing to take a position was just that, a fantasy."
... In particular, the recent electoral upset by Hamas, the militant
Palestinian group, and the sickness of Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister,
had made ''this community very defensive and very edgy,'' Mr. Nicola said, ''and
that seemed reasonable to me.''
And also:

''I don't think we were worried about the audience,'' he said. ''I think we were more worried that those who had never encountered her [Corrie's] writing, never encountered the piece, would be using this as an opportunity to position their arguments...It seemed as though if we proceeded, we would be taking a stand we didn't want to take,'' he said.

Were the negotiations with the Court continuing?

Mr. Nicola said that he still hoped to produce the play during the 2006-7 season but that he hadn't heard back from the Royal Court yet. A call for comment to the Royal Court's general manager, Diane Borger, was not returned.
It was Borger Nicola had called on February 17 to effectively pass on Rachel Corrie.


I will say, in Nicola's favor, the Hamas/Sharon timing can be made to fit Nicola's narrative--and offer one possible answer to the big question: what changed between November and February to make you do a 180? But can that really be what all this is about?

And I suppose it's now possible to see how he could live in a bubble this whole period, believing in his head nothing was "definite" and no commitment made. But wasn't that obviously a mistaken impression, worthy of ackowledgement?

I'll leave it at there for now. Playgoer reports: you decide.


Anonymous said...


I heard from a friend that you were referencing my post regarding MNiRC tickets, and wanted to clarify a few things.

1) Regarding your timeline, MNiRC was also nominated, but did not win, a 2006 Laurence Olivier Award, in the category of 'Outstanding Achievement in Affiliate Theater', nominated January 18, 2006, awards presented February 26, 2006. My understanding is that that Olivier Awards are the most prestigious theater award in the UK.

2) In your below post referencing my information regarding my contacts with NYTW, I was not calling NYTW every day. About a month prior to the post, I had emailed Nicola, who told me to keep checking the website, they were in negotiations but nothing definite. I was calling NYTW on a weekly basis, and towards the middle of February also began checking Telecharge on a daily basis.

3) Your statement,

the theatre clearly implies they expect the show to go on as scheduled

may be just a bit too definitive. My call the week prior to 2/21 left me with the impression that the show was coming -- that was my interpretation. As I recall, the conversation went something like this. This is paraphrasing what I recall,

-- Do you have any information on when MNiRC tickets are going on sale?

-- No, that hasn't been announced yet. We are making decisions about our spring season next week and there should be announcement then, check back.

-- OK, if/when they do go on sale, what is the best way to get tickets?

-- NYTW person then explained the methods for getting tickets. Said, call us back next week.

Thanks for your efforts on this topic.

Anonymous said...

“Corrie herself has faded into obscurity, a subject of debate in internet chat rooms and practically nowhere else.”

- Joshua Hammer (Newsweek's Jerusalem bureau chief) Mother Jones Magazine, September/October 2003 issue

Announcement I received yesterday:

"Please come to a reading of Rachel Corrie's words at The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions' activists' centre, DAILA (4 Shlomzion Hamalka Street, West Jerusalem), by ICAHD Advocacy Officer, Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, Thursday March 16th @ 12.30 noon. This is part of worldwide solidarity against "postponement" of the Royal Court Theatre's production in New York. A multitude of such readings will take place in Basra, Cairo, Montreal, Kosovo, Nigeria, America etc. As of today, 40 groups and over 250 individuals have endorsed the initiative from dozens of cities in countries all over the world, including Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Egypt, France, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Nigeria, Palestine, Thailand, UK, USA. ...

andrew ford lyons said...

You should google Mr. "Why Palestinians Usually Get It Wrong" and see how he's been spamming this exact same tired tirade all over the internet. Interestingly, considering his screen name, his little screed is full of long-ago discredited lies.

A) "Rachel Corrie was accidentally killed by an Israeli bulldozer"

Audio recordings aired on Israeli television show that the military knew she was there.

B) "closed Israeli military zone"

Otherwise known as the occupied Palestinian territories, where demolition of homes is counter to international law, specifically several parts of the Geneva Convention which outlaw collective punishment or the creation of permanent structures by an occupation force.

C) "to protect Palestinian homes that were sitting on top of tunnels"

The Israeli military never alleged any tunnels were under this home or homes in the area. The home was set for demolition because it was in what Israel had deemed a "buffer zone." The Israeli government has said this much in public documents.

D) "Rachel Corrie burning an American flag to show her support of Palestinians"

Rachel was in Rafah as the U.s. decided to start killing Iraqis and was joining them in a protest of the war in Iraq. She quickly drew a U.S. flag on a scrap of paper. Palestinians, long under an illegal Israeli occupation, were blaming the invasion on the U.S. unwavering support for Israel and were burning paper versions of the Israeli flag. Rachel felt that it was not right for herself, as an international in the area, to do that, so she chose her own nation's flag, which seems pretty appropriate. As the Halo Benders say, "Free speech is all about getting stuff off your chest. A visual aid can come in mighty handy."

E) The last two paragraphs are full of creepy racist garbage so I don't feel the need to address each statement individually. The author would like nothing more than to see Palestinians wiped off the face of the planet. One is unsure whether it's driven by purely racist hatred or has its basis in religious fundamentalism. There are no facts stated and it just shows he's an idiot.

Rachel's words will be heard in New York on March 22. Find out more at As for the New York Theatre Workshop, since the folks there have seen how, across the board, people react to censorship, they've been trying to get the play back.

Party on.