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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The saga of Rachel Corrie

The main places to find the continuing and ever widening blog-orgy about Rachel Corrie are Playgoer (leading the charge); Superfluities and Parabasis. I bowed out rather early.

It's my view, though, on a very basic level, that the issue here has been overstated by very interested parties. Producers are calling each other liars. Israels military actions are being discussed. People are throwing around that deadly word censorship. Over beer with a few bloggers (lovely gents, both) I heard one of them say that the New York Theater Workshop has "given up the moral high ground." And even today, I'm wondering if the story hasn't become the story. And if anyone really knows what they feel the desired result is. Is it an end unto itself to take the "moral high ground?" Or do we want the New York Theater Workshop to scream mea culpa in the streets?

What are we angry about? Is it that NYTW bowed to political pressures? If so, then they claim to have gone out and looked for those pressures. Are we upset that they didn't hold up their end of the deal with Alan Rickman (who we all like to watch in movies)? Is it because the Royal Court seems to be calling the NYTW dishonest? If we're shocked that a theater producer pulled out of an obligation and doesn't entirely explain itself for it, we're living in a fantasyland.

I'm curious how many people have read the play. I certainly haven't. I also don't have personal connections that the New York Theater Workshop like Jason Grote does, so I have no inside information about this, nothing to add but my own anger, which just isn't there. This play will certainly be seen in NYC eventually, it will make more money than it would have otherwise (due to the contraversy) and someone will write a letter to the editor about it. If NYTW was smart, they'd change their minds right now and let the contraversy sell tickets.

The fact is, not producing a play that has a particular political subject matter is weak. But it is incredibly common. That is because our "not-for-profit" theaters are beholden to Board Members, audience interest, ticket and subscription sales...money. They are not funded like theaters in London, and therefore can get cold feet due to market and world forces.

The problem is not that the NYTW wants to shut down discussion about Israel and Palestine. The problem is, why is it worried about this? More than likely, the decision was financial.

That's the boring part. We can cry censorship all we like, but I think that Rachel Corrie's literary martyrdom is doing her message more good than if they play had just gone up next year, or or if it was being performed, right now, to your standard battery of reviews. Perhaps (here's a thought) the decision makers at the NYTW want the play to undergo some changes, or they don't feel strongly about it for quality reasons/content reasons but they didn't want to burn a bridge by saying so publicly. It could be as simple as that. Yet again, we don't know.

Maybe I'm lukewarm about this issue because I find the politics of the play a bit unsettling and I'm not sobbing that a play that puts a upper class white teenage girl from Washington State in front of an Israeli bulldozer isn't being used as propoganda in NY.

Or maybe I'm lukewarm because I feel like this is simply a function of an art that needs funding in order to make more independent artistic decisions.

Or maybe I feel a bit like an internal struggle at the New York Theater Workshop about a play I've never read has been latched onto and exploited on the blogosphere, to attack and cajole and shame producers I've never met, who made a decision I don't know the details about.

I don't feel this is censorship, it's much more complex than that. As I said on Superfluities, I feel like using the word censorship here is like using a sword to perform major surgery.

The rambling conclusion to this rambling essay is: Let's think for a minute. It's easy to become the mob. I think it's better to look for a solution. What do we want from this outcry, beyond just a chance to cry foul?


Scott Walters said...

Hear hear! A voice of sanity. I think you hit it on the nose when you wrote: "Or have we simply found what we all crave... a contraversy that gives us an easy "moral high ground?" This is a hanging curve ball over the plate and an easy one to hit out of the ballpark. We can all thump our chest and be morally superior.

I think the topic is worth considering -- what would I have done in a similar situation? What are the ramifications of such an action? But to use the event as a cudgel to hammer someone who has led an exemplary theatrical life up until now -- well, that seems to me lacking in generosity.

Thanks for the post, Matt.

P'tit Boo said...

Matt , I don't feel that people are just crying outrage without thinking about what they'd do.

And you can't say that because something is common, it's not worth fighting !
Poverty is common, racism is common, sexism is common. And so we stop talking and fighting about it ? !!!
I can't get behind you on that.

I haven't said much because i haven't read the play and because I don't really know the parties involved and also many more articulate people in the blogosphere are saying what I think too ...

But I think that what I hear being asked for by George, Alison , Playgoer and others is integrity.
These are people who believe in the integrity of the artist and who believe in the artist as a leader and not a follower ( did you hear Clooney at the oscars mentioning that ? ).

We live in times when truth is integrity has not been the job of the government. So it better be the job of the artist because otherwise , we are
F*cked - pardon my French ;)

Freeman said...

I'm not saying that a problem that is common isn't one worth fighting. I'm saying that we should look at root causes, have sympathy, and try to get a real result. The minute we get into "NYTW has shown they have no integrity!" We are speaking in absolutes that we can't really back up, and the result is defensivness on all sides.

The fact is, the root causes are not being giving a fair discussion. For example:

1) How much of a role in this did funding play?
2) Why does NYTW engage in sounding out their potential audience? Is it a practice that has protected them in the past? Is is based on a theory about cultural sensitivity that's gone wrong? What is really happening?
3) If NYTW said, tomorrow, "We see the light. We are going to put on this play. We didn't realize it would cost us so much goodwill, and we are going to put it out there.." would that be what we're after? Or are we looking to attack.

What I hear is a lot of attack. Carol Churchill has had great success at NYTW. I wonder what she thinks about their integrity?

Alison Croggon said...

Wow. I rather take exception to the idea that I'm part of a mob with pitchforks. And I think that very badly mischaracterises the tone of most of the blog discussion, which has been pretty sober and responsible.

I'm afraid that "censorship" is the appropriate word. Look it up in the dictionary. What concerns me is that it is part of a much wider movement to censor wide-ranging and honest discussion of what is going on in the M-E and dissenting politics generally. If you don't know what I'm talking about, check out a new book called "The 101 Most Dangerous Academics", just released in your fair country. Only the latest thing in a deeply troubling stream of decisions and events, large and small, over the past five years.

I can't believe that a playwright is complacently saying that it's perfectly fine for a company to demand changes of a play that until now has been incredibly successful because certain friends of the director of the hosting company felt "uncomfortable" (check out the Observer). I don't think that was under discussion, however, whatever else is.

A good result from this discussion, as from all discussions, would be for people to become more thoughtful and more aware of the world they live in.

Freeman said...

I'm sorry Alison, to offend (although I don't think you and I have much trouble disagreeing.) Simply put, I think the tone of the discussion has been self-righteous.

I'm not complacently saying that the NYTW is correct in what it says. But making a bad decision about what you want to produce is not censorship.

I refer to this as a bit of a mob because NYTW made a public decision that is disagreed with by the blogosphere and many people in the NY Community. It went, rather quickly, from "you shouldn't have done that" to "you don't have the RIGHT to do that." The latter statement is overreaching. The former is a perfectly reasonable opinion.

It's not complacency that I'm preaching. I believe firmly that this particular play is a litmus test for the theatrical blogosphere's effectiveness. We can either be a self-righteous echo chamber, or a healthy dose of reality, an alternative to "gotcha" politics.

I understand your disdain for the US, Alison. But I do live here, and I'm trying to make it a better place to live in. One of the major problems in the US is not that there is a large swelling of political correctness OR conservativism. It's that the sides no longer consider each others points of view at all. They shout at each other. Liberal bloggers do not read conservative ones and vice versa. Being moderate is increasingly considered weakness. Discussion is dire, and on each side is the sense that at any given moment, if we are not vigilant, the society will collapse. No one gives an inch.

This discussion wreaks of that sort of kneejerk reactionary politics and the sophomoric desire to create monsters of anyone who suddenly strays from our political limits.

The result? Real monsters, like George Bush, are not distinguished from people who make bad calls like James Nicola. Suddenly postponing a play is conspiratorial censorship, and not some systemic problem with their decision making. We miss the real issue (Theaters cannot win because they are funded by blue-haired, nervous widows and not the public at large / Hamas winning democratically in Palestine turns our entire discussion about democracy and terrorism on its ear) because someone, somewhere, got cold feet about a propoganda piece that was done in London, where being anti-Israel is far more acceptable.

So instead of becoming a tool for attack, and letting NYTW's blood in the water turn us into sharks, we should maybe raise the red flag and look at this from all angles.

Also...could someboy please get me a copy of this play? I think it's time SOMEONE read it.

Alison Croggon said...

Matt, I don't feel "disdain" for the US. I visited there last year for a month and loved it, and met some amazing people. That doesn't mean I'm not critical of certain government policies, and not just for reasons of schadenfreude: my government is in lockstep with Bush at present, right down to uranium sales to India.

I can't see where Playgoer, Parabasis or Superfluities were talking about a "right". They were analysing inconsistencies and plain nonsenses in Nicola's various statements. They were wondering what it meant for the climate of free speech in NY theatre. That seems to me both perfectly legitimate and perfectly logical, and not in the least sophomoric. There was also a lot of acknowledgement of the NYTW's record on controversial work. That record sadly made the decision worse, rather than mitigating it. I haven't seen anyone indulging in hyperbole like "Jim Nicola is just like George W Bush". Where? Did I miss it? Jason, who has been very active on this, is far from condemning the company at large, or even Nicola. I think, as I said, that you are very unfairly misrepresenting the discussion so far.

I think, too, you should do some research on organisations like AIPAC. There are larger questions around this smaller one. I've been following the attempts to narrow the areas for free speech in America for years, and I think the issue is very concerning, and especially concerning for artists.

And yes, the bloggers made a difference. They created a forum where these expressions of concern from a wide variety of people could be heard, and that's good. Otherwise the whole deal was going to be quietly swept under the carpet. That is creating an alternative to a hegemony that Nicola was clearly depending on. That's not "gotcha" politics. That's making democracy, in some small way, work better.

I think your vague characterisation of Londoners as a bunch of anti-Semites is, however, definitely a little sophomoric. I don't believe Michael Billington is anti-Semitic, nor is he - much as, bless his heart, I disagree with him on occasion - a big one for theatrical propoganda. He was a big rap for this play. I'd quite possibly disagree with him, but that, actually, is not the point.

Freeman said...

I didn't refer to them as Anti-Semites, I said that anti-Israel is more acceptable in London than NY. Otherwise, I simply perceive a tone in the US that you may not perceive. The tone is one of absolutists, looking for evidence that confirms their cynicism.

Alison Croggon said...

I'm sure you perceive tones that I don't, Matt; you're there and I'm here. Though I do keep an eye on some of the right wing blogs and sites, just to depress myself. They are long on assertion and name-calling and short on argument, information and evidence, unlike many (I don't say all) of the left wing orientated sites I also visit.

I just don't see absolutism or cynicism in any of the blogs you name here. Or a frenzied desire to blacken someone's name. And I seriously don't know why you're characterising the conversation thus.

It does seem to me rather cynical to characterise serious concern about principles (in this case, free speech) as merely a desire for moral superiority. I would think it perhaps it might be about more than that.

Mohammed Is A Woman, Peace Be Upon Her said...

Lovers of Islam Unite! - Pancakes for Mohammed, peace be upon Her

Keep your calendars open for Sunday, March 18th, at 11 AM for the first annual Pancakes for Mohammed, peace be upon Her, Sunday Pancake Fundraiser at Dennys. This is a great way to raise money for our Islam saving cause while eating great pancakes. And remember, “Hold the sausage please!”

For those of us who are trying to convince our Muslim brothers and sisters about the true gender of the Prophet, peace be upon Her, come out and speak up and bring a few shekels to donate. Also, be sure and bring your best drawing of the Prophet, peace be upon Her. I propose that each group vote on the best depiction of the Prophet, peace be upon Her and pay for the winning artist to eat for free.

Now remember, drawing the Prophet with a bomb on Her head has already been done, so please, choose something else.

Why Palestinians Usually Get It Wrong said...

Remembering Rachel Corrie - A Supporter of Terrorism

Three years ago Thursday, Rachel Corrie was accidentally killed by an Israeli bulldozer after she entered a closed Israeli military zone to protect Palestinian homes that were sitting on top of tunnels used by Palestinian terrorists to smuggle illegal weapons to be used against Israeli civilians. Rachel Corrie was a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISD), a firm supporter of Palestinian terrorism (what the ISD calls “resistance”), “by any means necessary.”

There has been a lot of heated debated about the New York Theater Workshop’s recent postponement of the play, My Name Is Rachel Corrie.Some folks have suggested that the theatre caved intoIsrael supporters. Other, more paranoid types, have suggested that the infamous “Israel Lobby” had something to do with the postponement.

The photogrpahs on the right show Rachel Corrie burning an American flag to show her support of Palestinians and choosing to lay in front of an Israeli Bulldozer in the hopes of protecting tunnels used by Palestinian terrorists to smuggle illegal weapons.

One of the reasons that the Israeli army closed the area that was being bulldozed was because Palestinian snipers often shoot at bulldozer crews. This endagers not only Israelis, but "peace activists" as well. Palestinian terrorism insures that Israeli bulldozers have very litlte visibility because of the need to protect the driver with metal shielding. Ms. Corrie chose to lay down in front of a bulldozer. Her act was not one of peace, but of suicide. Clearly Ms. Corrie spent too much time in the company of suicide killers and their supporters.

Perhaps the New York Theater Workshop simply realized that they did not want to be associated with Rachel Corrie because Ms. Corrie supported terrorism and allowed herself, either knowingly or unknowingly, to protect Palestinian terrorists. Perhaps the theatre company did not want to be associated with Ms. Corrie because she was eager to publicly burn American flags. Or perhaps the theater simply did not want to be associated with the left’s obsession with supporting anti-Semitism.