The Playgoer: Panel Discussion this Friday

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Panel Discussion this Friday

This has been making the rounds since last week, but here is the open invitation (with minor edits), from the Barnard College Theatre Department. An interesting panel, with Gregory Mosher, playwrights Christoper Shinn and Kelly Stuart, the Observer's John Heilpern, and beloved eminence grise of theatre historians, Marvin Carlson.

Reservations not required. If you want to come, just show up.

"Rachel Corrie' and the Theatre of Public Opinion"
Friday, April 7 at noon
Minor Latham Playhouse, Barnard campus
(119th St. & Broadway)

While trying to prevent the demolition of Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip, the American college student Rachel Corrie observed:

“You just can't imagine it unless you see it, and even then you arealways well aware that your experience is not at all the reality: what with the difficulties the Israeli Army would face if they shot an unarmed U.S. citizen, and with the fact that I have money to buy water when the army destroys wells, and, of course, the factthat I have the option of leaving.”

This paragraph appeared in the last email Corrie sent before she was killed by an Israeli Army bulldozer on March 16, 2003. A little over two years later, though, her voice was heard again, this time in thetheatre. Drawn to Corrie's story, the actor Alan Rickman and journalist Katharine Viner adapted Corrie's lively, impassioned letters and emails for the stage. Their play, “My Name Is RachelCorrie," has had two sold-out runs in the past year in London, produced by the Royal Court Theatre.

But the play's journey to New York has been anything but smooth. "My Name Is Rachel Corrie" was slated to open on March 22 at the highly respected New York Theatre Workshop, home of "Rent." Then NYTW Artistic Director Jim Nicola decided to postpone the opening indefinitely. Defending his decision, Nicola cited conversations with "Jewish friends" and "colleagues of colleagues" as well as a “very defensive and very edgy" mood among New York theatre audiences, due in part to Ariel Sharon's illnessand Hamas's victory in the recent Palestinian national elections. Nicola sought extra time to arrange for post-show discussions that would "contextualize the work so Rachel Corrie's powerful voicecould best be heard above the din of others shouting for their ownpurposes."

Almost immediately, NYTW's decision sparked an international controversy. Caryl Churchill, Tony Kushner, and Vanessa Redgrave were among many in the global theatre community who reacted by harshing criticizing Nicola and crying censorship in publicationsaround the world.

So far, the controversy has generated less light than heat. Yet the questions the "Rachel Corrie" postponement raises--about funding forthe arts, the role of marketing and donor relations to programming,the question of political theater, and Middle East issues on the American stage--are crucial. The backlash against NYTW also merits closer scrutiny: are the causes of this rancor more complex thanthey appear at first glance?

Perhaps this is a good moment, then, for the New York academic and theatre communities to come together to examine the dynamics at work in not-for-profit theatre that sparked the "Rachel Corrie"controversy and its aftermath.

In an effort to explore the wider issues, we are organizing a panel discussion at Barnard College, Columbia University entitled: 'RachelCorrie' and the State of the Art.” The panel will take place onFriday, April 7 at noon in the Minor Latham Playhouse, 119 andBroadway on the Barnard campus.

Participants include:
--EDWARD EINHORN, Artistic Director, Untitled Theater Company #61, New York
--JOHN HEILPERN, theatre critic for the "New York Observer," Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Columbia School of the Arts
--GREGORY MOSHER, theatre director and Director, Columbia UniversityArts Initiative

--ALISA SOLOMON, journalist, theatre critic, and Professor at the Columbia School of Journalism
--KELLY STUART, playwright, and Columbia University Professor in Playwrighting

Hey, what's this about "the controversy has generated less light than heat"? Should Playgoer take offense? Well I'll be there anyway. And I hope such "enlightenment" will be supplied by some good new reporting from the panelists. No one wants a rehash less than I do.


Anonymous said...

I would dearly love to attend this panel discussion. I would even fly in from Chicago if 26 patients didn't stand between me and Friday night.

I am particularly interested in the examination of the complexity of the backlash against NYTW.

This issue is about art and freedom of expression and freedom from interference. It is also about very much more. Yes theatre fans, it IS about politics, but not necessarily the politics of the middle east. People don't like this play because of those politics. People feel like screaming about censorship because of politics here at home.

On a domestic level the people of this country have been lied to about the reasons for us to go to war. We have felt the shock and humiliation of finding our county guilty of torturing prisoners and the additional shame and humiliation of hearing our leaders justify the "need" for torture. We have seen record profits for oil companies and big business. It is standard practice to award contracts to private companies for the provision of our sons and daughters in harm's way in Iraq. We know we are being spied upon by the government.

The party in power will certainly do nothing to curb this litany of transgression against common decency. John Dean,a Republican, sat in front of a Republican controlled commitee yesterday and told them their president was seeking to increase the power of the presidency purely for his own sake. He described himself as an individual that had sat on "the dark side" (Watergate)of abuse of power and asked that they heed his warning. They shouted at him.

The opposition party also seems powerless to bestir itself in any meaningful way. Russ Feingold was hung out to dry. One legislator had the gumption to second his motion to censure this president.

Speaking for myself, it seems as if we are going to hell in a handbasket and there is nothing I can do. I march in protest against the war. I put my money where my mouth is with my practice and try and take care of one needy person at a time. I have been shown just how meaningless my vote is. On the top of this great big pile of dung sundae, I get the CANCELLATION of My Name is Rachel Corrie for a cherry.

Finally, we are confronted with the NYTW afraid of its own shadow.
The people of the arts community have always represented to me the willingness to live outside societal constraints and to challenge them when they needed to be challenged. Not even here are we able to show that we still possess one iota of the greatness and courage that has been ours in the past.

Yes, it is only one play and one theater, but for God's sake! If a progressive theater in downtown NYC cannot stage a not very radical political play, we are in trouble. I'm a fed up leftist intellectual. I'm entitled, and maybe required, to get a little heated up.

Anonymous said...

I'd rather hear Edward Einhorn's opinion on the ethics of filing an unauthorized derivative copyright, and then suing the author of the original work for "violating" the unauthorized derivative copyright. Why don't you put him on a panel discussion about that?