The Playgoer: NYTW Recap

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

NYTW Recap

Playgoer regular Dr. Cashmere explains it all to you...

Off-topic, but on the eve of NYTW's first panel discussion, I wanted to recap a couple of points:

1) With all the talk about visas, lighting designers, contextualization and so forth, it's important to revisit the initial explanation Nicola gave for the "Rachel Corrie" postponement, before NYTW's PR offensive began. Here's an excerpt from the first New York Times article, Feb. 28:

"Yesterday, James C. Nicola, the artistic director of the workshop, said he had decided to postpone the show after polling local Jewish religious and community leaders as to their feelings about the work."
"'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,' he said. '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."

Nicola has shrugged off his explanation by saying that he was "naive" in dealing with the media. But that's a dodge. Either the play was pulled for the reasons stated or it wasn't. If it was, and NYTW allowed its artistic judgment to be trumped by the desire to avoid offense, it made a mistake. But if Nicola's explanation was in fact an invention (which I don't believe for a second) designed to cover for visa/lighting issues, it's almost worse. Because in that case, Nicola is shifting blame for logistical failures, unfairly, onto an unnamed group of powerful Jews--a move he should know conjures up all sorts of sordid stereotypes. So it's really one or the other: All the talk about contextualization, etc. shouldn't distract from that basic fact.

2) NYTW is still standing by the idea that their job in presenting a play is to allow the author's voice to "rise above" competing voices. Here's a passage from Nicola's March 14 statement, still up on the NYTW website:
"In researching My Name is Rachel Corrie, we found many distorted accounts of the actual circumstances of Rachel's death that had resulted in a highly charged, vituperative, and passionate controversy. While our commitment to the play did not waver, our responsibility was not just to produce it, but to produce it in such a way as to prevent false and tangential back-and-forth arguments from interfering with Rachel's voice."

The upshot of this view is that if they're loud enough and persistent enough, critics--even misinformed critics--can have veto power over programming decisions. Can a theatre whose mission is presenting "provocative" and "challenging" works fulfill that mission while allowing outsiders this kind of power?

Would Nicola perhaps like an opportunity to amend his remarks?

We shall see, Doctor. We shall see...


freespeechlover said...

Could someone keep track of what happens at these panels. I'd like to know the good, the bad, and the ugly, since I don't live in New York. I would also like to know if Dr. Cashmere's questions get real answers. I'd like to know if they let people really ask real questions about their statements and get real answers or if more dissimulation goes on.

Also, I would be curious to know the following: as soon as Nicola or whoever from the NYTW talked to his "Jewish friend" and a "Rabbi," did he then recognize that it would be a good idea to widen his circle and immediately contact Palestinians such as Betty Shamieh. If not, why not?

I want to know if Nicola and the NYTW think that this phantasm called "the Jewish community" in New York trumps their professional relations with the Royal Court Theater, Katherine Viner, Alan Rickman, and Craig and Cindy Corrie. They will say that they contacted the Corrie's to apologize, but that's very different than putting a "friend" or a "Rabbi's" point of view before their professional colleagues.

I'm interested in whether the use of the term, "community," functions as a way to de-professionalize theater.

Finally, they keep clinging to this idea of "New York" and the "local" theater community, but in the age of the internet, that can verge on parochialism. That parochialism about "community" made them miss the fact that the blogosphere would go into high gear and get picked up by the mass media. It made them miss that "communities" are virtual and not landlocked in the way they imagined them. Do they have any thoughts about that now?

Thanks much for any info. you can offer.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Cashmere should go tonight and say this. Or, if he can't, someone should read it in his stead.