An Open Letter to Jim Nicola, Artistic Director, New York Theater Workshop
I write an open letter to encourage you to set a firm date for the opening of "My Name is Rachel Corrie" and to ask you to help me understand what is going on at the workshop that caused it to "postpone" the production that, while apparently not "announced" as firm, was deemed certain enough that its London-based authors booked flights to New York to see it, and tickets were advertised on the Internet.
I live in Olympia, Washington and am a friend and supporter of the Corrie family, and also a friend of Andrew Ford Lyons, with whom you recently corresponded. I also read widely, and notice a substantial difference in your very personal response to Mr. Lyons — it was simply all about having enough time, though this is a one-actor play and the actor knows the play cold — and the report in The New York Times that you polled "the Jewish community" and detected a lot of edginess about several factors that really have nothing to do with the magnificent life Rachel lived for 23 years which is enshrined in this award-winning play. Now I see on your web site the suggestion that you are simply waiting to hear from the Royal Court Theatre in London. Which is it, Jim?
In a lifetime of playgoing, journalism and public service, I can’t recall a theatre company polling any particular community to determine whether or when a dramatic work should be presented. The fact that you have done this and, on the basis of the results, have "postponed" this drama to a time uncertain makes me extremely uncomfortable about whether the arts are to retain their traditional, vigorous freedom of subject and expression. I speak as one who has consistently opposed attempts by the National Endowment for the Arts or other groups to pressure or influence what artists do.
One of my questions concerns your perception of "the Jewish community." Many of the outstanding voices against the occupation of Palestine are those of Jewish organizations. For exampe, Brit Tzedek v Shalom. And the New York-based Jews Against the Occupation. Did you speak to those leaders? And was it in any sense a scientific poll, or was it just calling around to some friends of one of your benefactors?
And why did you do this, Jim? Have you ever "polled" the gay/lesbian/transgender community, or the anti-abortion community, or the evangelical community? Specifically, I ask you if this "poll" was a response to any contact from the Mayor’s office, as is being rumored on both sides of the Atlantic.
I will not cry censorship, but I will tell you that I am extremely uncomfortable, especially at a time when faculty members of leading educational institutions from New York to Los Angeles are under intense pressure if they don’t hue to the State of Israel/AIPAC line. Not to mention all the machinations of the Bush administration to perpetuate its views.
You have spoken of "sinister forces" which will try to use this play to their own ends. Since when is that a standard for making artistic judgments? And what are those "sinister forces," Jim? Could you be referring to those who oppose the State of Israel’s 39-year occupation of Palestinian lands? Much of the civilized world, including Jewish groups, mainline Protestant and Cathlic groups and probably the majority of Europeans oppose the occupation. Were these the "sinister groups" to which you were referring?
I am an Episcopalian. My church is actively involved in "corporate engagement" to discourage the makers of Caterpillar D9s — for example — from doing business with the Israeli Defense Force. Are we Episcopalians "sinister?"
The workshop’s action in "postponing" this play has catapulted it into a spotlight. Thousands of people will be asking the same questions I put to you here, and many will do so more stridently, and will have more questions. I’m not trying to begin a debate. I’m wanting to support you in your statement that you want to produce this play.
To get out of this firestorm, I believe you have to be totally forthcoming on these questions. And the fastest way to end the controversy will be simply to announce a firm performance schedule in the fall of 2006. Jim, only you can assure that you will present this work with integrity, as you state on your website. But you will never be able to control how groups with varying positions will view this or other work you might produce, nor will their views ever impeach your integrity.
–The author is a member of the Bishop’s Committee on Justice and Peace in Israel-Palestine of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia (Western Washington) and also of the Olympia-Rafah Sister City Project. Before retiring, he owned a printing business and earlier served as a state official and as a reporter and department manager for media companies in Seattle. He can be reached at Warren_Guykema@Comcast.net