jump into the fire

Culturebot doesn’t want to add fuel to the fire of the whole My Name Is Rachel Corrie incident and certainly has no interest in getting involved in a debate about Middle East Politics. And plus the Times covered it. But in the course of our weekend revels we stumbled deep into the heart of the rumor mill and heard a lot of interesting tidbits, most of it coming down to the possibility that this is less about righteous politics and more about bad business.

Here’s what I overheard.

The Royal Court people sent the script to NYTW in December (only 3 months ago) and then Alan Rickman came over in Mid-January to continue discussions. Without a contract and without the rights (NYTW still doesn’t have the rights from the Royal Court, I found out, and therefore couldn’t produce the play anyway) they started discussing the possibility of presenting the play and the logistics of how it would happen. While the negotiations were going on, NYTW started thinking about the most responsible way to put on the play – what sort of additional activities, education/outreach, etc. that they should program – in order to deal with the inevitable political firestorm. When they realized that this was a much bigger project and responsibility than they could pull together on the timeline, they asked the Royal Court to push the dates to give them time to prepare. This was in mid-February and NYTW never heard back from them.

I also overheard that the first time NYTW knew of the whole “prior censorship” hue and cry was when they read Katharine Viner’s article in the Guardian that was subsequently re-printed in the Los Angeles Times. Basically NYTW was still waiting to continue negotiations with The Royal Court – they had no contract, no budget, no nothing – and then read in the press that they had somehow censored this show. It all sounds kind of fishy to me.

I also heard –and this is like fifth or sixth hand – that during the NYTW research period they talked to NYPD and Homeland Security who said that in order to move forward they had to have a crisis plan in place and that civil authorities couldn’t gear up that quickly. At first hearing that sounds a little kooky. But at the same time it is credible that NYC authorities would be overly cautious about potentially inflammatory incidents.

I haven’t read or seen this play and my hunch is that this whole brouhaha is a lot of hot air about nothing. The odds are that everyone is over-reacting. NYTW is being too cautious and the Corrie people are being too self-righteous and over-convinced of their own importance.

Maybe I’ve lived in NYC and worked in this business too long but there’s a part of me that thinks its not inconceivable that this could all be a cynical p.r. move in order to create buzz around the play and try and make it a hotter property with wealthier producers than NYTW.

Because let’s face it – If we’ve learned anything (heavy cynicism alert) it is that theater changes absolutely nothing and has almost no impact on the real world. (slightly incendiary statement alert) Most theater is about re-affirming people’s confidence in what they already believe. So we go see Diary of Anne Frank and say, “Yes, the holocaust was bad” or we see Raisin in the Sun and say, “Yes, racism is bad” or we go see Rachel Corrie to confirm our own sense of moral outrage. Whatever. It is a very bourgeois and conservative impulse. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but come on.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a show that actually had content so incendiary that it caused even a ripple of protest or discontent. If you really want to piss people off, stage something like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. If you really want to wake people up, then do something radical. For instance, once, after sitting through my umpteen-billionth self-righteous feel-good Holocaust play, I had a thought. If you really, really want to create a performance about the Holocaust you need to cast really, really anorexic people who are dying. Or better yet, on a slightly more abstract level, invite people in the audience to bring their cherished family pets to the theater to see a happy show about animals. And then kill their pets in front of them. And if they don’t give up their pets, beat them with truncheons.

Now that’s entertainment.

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