Saturday, March 04, 2006

More on Corrie and Censorship

Many of the people who are flinging opinions about have not read a word of either the play adapted from her diaries, letters, and emails or the originals of Corrie's writings which are available on line. There are web pages. I read some of them while helping out with the production of Eliza Wyatt's FLOWERS OF RED, which is a fictionalization of the last days of Corrie's life.

Here's a recent Guardian piece written by a co-writer of the My Name Is play. As you will read, the production planned for nytw has been offered a theatre in the West End, and will open there at about the same time as it was intended to play in NYC:

Katherine Viner is a British journalist who collaborated with Alan Rickman
on an adaptation of Rachel Corrie's letters and journal entries "My Name is
Rachel Corrie," a production of which was just "indefinitely postponed" by
New York Theatre Workshop.

Surely Americans will not put up with this censorship

The decision by a New York theatre to cave in to pressure over our play
shows how the scope for free debate has narrowed

Katharine Viner
Wednesday March 1, 2006


The flights for cast and crew had been booked; the production schedule

delivered; the press announcement drafted and approved; tickets advertised
on the internet. The Royal Court production of My Name Is Rachel Corrie,
the play I co-edited with Alan Rickman, was transferring next month to the
New York Theatre Workshop, home of the groundbreaking musical Rent,
following two sellout runs in London and several awards.

We always thought that it was a piece of work that needed to be seen in

the US. Created from the journals and emails of American activist Rachel
Corrie,telling of her journey from her adolescent life in Seattle,
Washington, to her death under a bulldozer in Gaza at the age of 23, we
considered it, in a sense, to be an American story, which would have a
particular relevance for audiences in Rachel's home country. After all, she
had made her journey to the Middle East in order "to meet the people who
are on the receiving end of our [American] tax dollars", and she was a
killed by a US-made bulldozer.

But last week the New York Theatre Workshop cancelled the production - or,
in their words, "postponed it indefinitely". The political climate, we were
told, had changed dramatically since the play was booked. As James Nicola,
the theatre's artistic director, said yesterday: "In our pre-production
planning and our talking around and listening in our communities in New
York, what we heard was that after Ariel Sharon's illness and the election
of Hamas in the recent Palestinian elections, we had a very edgy situation."
Rachel was to be censored for political reasons.

It makes you wonder. If a young, middle-class, scrupulously fair-minded, and
dead, American woman, whose superb writing about her job as a mental health
worker, ex-boyfriends, troublesome parents, struggle to find out who she
wanted to be, and how she found that by travelling to Gaza and discovering
the shocking conditions under which the Palestinians live - if a voice like
this cannot be heard on a New York stage, what hope is there for anyone
else? The non-American, the non-white, the non-dead, the oppressed?

Anyone who sees the play, or reads it, realises that this is no piece of
alienating agitprop. One night in London, a group of American students came
to a performance and mobbed us afterwards, thrilled that they had seen
themselves on stage, and who they might, in a different life, have become.
Another night, an Israeli couple, members of the rightwing Likud party, on
holiday in Britain, were similarly impressed. "The play wasn't against
Israel, it was against violence," they told Cindy Corrie, Rachel's mother. I
was particularly touched by a young Jewish New Yorker, from an Orthodox
family, who said that he had been nervous about coming to see My Name Is
Rachel Corrie, because he had been told that both she and it were viciously
anti-Israel. But he had been powerfully moved by Rachel's words and realised
that he had, to his alarm, been dangerously misled.

But the director of the New York theatre told the New York Times yesterda
that it wasn't the people who actually saw the play he was concerned about.
"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 writing, never
encountered the piece, would be using this as an opportunity to position
their arguments." Since when did theatre come to be about those who don't go
to see it? If the play itself, as Mr Nicola clearly concedes, is not the
problem, then isn't the answer to get people in to watch it, rather than
exercising prior censorship? With freedom of speech now at the top of the
international agenda, and George Clooney's outstanding Good Night, and Good
Luck reminding us of the dangers of not standing up to witch-hunts,
Americans should not be denied the right to hear Rachel Corrie's words -
words that only two weeks ago were deemed acceptable.

I'd heard from American friends that life for dissenters had been getting
worse - wiretapping scandals, arrests for wearing anti-war T-shirts, Muslim
professors denied visas. But it's hard to tell from afar how bad things
really are. Here was personal proof that the political climate is continuing
to shift disturbingly, narrowing the scope of free debate and artistic
expression. What was acceptable a matter of weeks ago is not acceptable now.
The New York theatre's claim that the arrangement was tentative is absurd:
the truth is that its management has caved in to political pressure, and
the reputation of the arts in New York is the poorer for it.

It is surely underestimating the curiosity and robustness of the American
public, many of whom would no doubt be interested in an insight into the
reality of occupation that led to the Hamas victory. Artistic communities
need to resist the censorship of voices that go against the grain of George
Bush's America, rather than following the Fox News agenda and gagging them
before they have even been heard.


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