The following is the letter I wrote to the artistic director of the New York Theatre Workshop, Mr. James Nicola, regarding the cancellation of the play "My Name is Rachel Corrie."
James Nicola, Artistic Director
New York Theatre Workshop
79 East Fourth Street
New York, NY 10003
Dear Mr. Nicola,
I live on a farm on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I teach French and theatre in the local high school. People would probably consider my political leanings more Republican than Democrat, and more conservative than liberal.
Until this afternoon, I’d been busy organizing a bus trip among my friends to come to your theater one day in April to see “My Name Is Rachel Corrie.” Guess that’s not going to happen now.
I read your press release. When did theatre start needing time to “contextualize” work so a powerful voice could better be heard? Art is art. It speaks for itself. It stands or falls on its own merits. It does not need a politically correct stage to be set for it. And this particular voice seems to have been heard quite well in London thank you. Could it be that the din you’re afraid of hearing over here is the healthy noise of democracy?
So the thing that really frosts me is how un-American the canceling of this play is! Why does the Constitution even ensure freedom of speech? Rachel Corrie, God bless her, was practicing that very right that you would deny the rest of us. American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq die everyday to preserve that freedom of which you have just taken a little something away.
Get this: I am a teacher. In my own way I fight everyday for the freedom of speech. It’s what I tell my students. It’s what I enforce among my students. It’s what I advocate for my students. It’s what I model for my students. And, yes, I would fight even for YOUR freedom of speech, and for your theatre’s freedom of speech. But what are you fighting for? Certainly not my freedom of speech… and not your theatre’s either.
I feel very bad for Rachel Corrie’s parents, who have to watch, once again, as their daughter’s life becomes mislabeled and misinterpreted by people who never even knew her.
But, after them, who else do you think really gets hurt the most by your unpatriotic actions? Alan Rickman? Katharine Viner? No. They will both go on being quite successful. The New York theatre scene? Your own theatre? The theatre of protest in general? No, no, and no. There will be other productions and other issues.
No, the one you’ve hurt most is Me. Call me American. Call me Middle Class. Call me a police officer, a teacher, a factory worker, an office worker, a business owner, a housewife, a farmer—or anything else you want to call me. I’m not rich enough to go to England to see this play about an American who died fighting her war as she saw it. And, now, you’re not going to let me see it either.
Whether or not we agree with her politics should NOT be the issue. Rather, the issue remains far more basic. It speaks of an intrinsically American right that is being slowly eroded away: our freedom of speech.
You don’t know me. Most people don’t. So what do I have to lose? I’m going to send copies of this letter all over the place. To anyone I think might listen or needs to.
I close with a quote from a poster in the theatre classroom: “A knowledge of theatre is a rich possession. To know the development of theatre is to know the development of mankind. As theatre grows, man grows; when it is suppressed, man walks in darkness.”
Why would you have us walk in darkness?