Sunday, December 24, 2006

From the mail bag:

Rachel Corrie play: censored in Toronto

The lobby prevents Rachel Corrie’s voice from being heard — again.

From Variety, Dec. 22:
‘Corrie’ canceled in Canada
Play has potential to offend Jewish community
It’s curtains for “My Name Is Rachel Corrie” in Canada.

CanStage, the country’s largest not-for-profit theater, has changed its opinion and decided not to present the show as part of its 2007-2008 season.

The play, about the 23-year-old American activist who died under the wheels of an Israeli bulldozer in 2003, was originally produced at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 2005.

When James Nicola programmed it this year for the N.Y. Theatre Workshop, pressure from Jewish board members caused him to cancel the show. It was eventually produced Off-Broadway, where it ran from Oct. 15 to Dec. 17.

“It didn’t seem as powerful on the stage as it did on the page,” said artistic producer Martin Bragg after seeing the production at Gotham’s Minetta Lane Theater.

But in a situation eerily similar to the one that faced Nicola, it appears that pressure has been brought upon Bragg from some of his board members not to alienate the Toronto Jewish community.

Jack Rose, from the CanStage board — while admitting he has neither read nor seen the script — said that “my view was it would provoke a negative reaction in the Jewish community.”

And philanthropist Bluma Appel, after whom CanStage’s flagship theater is named, concurred. “I told them I would react very badly to a play that was offensive to Jews.”

Bragg denies he was lobbied by the board in any way and insisted that “I pick the plays. No one on our board has ever told me what we can and can’t do.”

CanStage posted a $700,000 loss last season and is currently facing a struggle after producing 10 plays in 2006, none of which met with critical or audience approval.

Those who followed the saga of the original cancellation of “My Name is Rachel Corrie” will recall New York Theater Workshop Artistic Director James Nicola’s first explanation as to why the play had been cancelled: “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.”(LAT, March 10)
An echo of Nicola’s fears north of the border occurred within the last couple of months in the Canadian Jewish News. Upon hearing of the possible staging in Toronto of My Name is Rachel Corrie, Alicia Richler, associate director of communications for the Canada-Israel Committee, said that although everyone in Canada has the right to free speech, the timing of the news is poor, since an Israeli man was recently killed when a rocket launched from the northern Gaza Strip hit a factory in Sderot.
From the Toronto Star Dec. 24. The alternate version being told among CanStage insiders: Members of Bragg’s board were alarmed by negative response from influential supporters of the theatre, especially in Toronto’s Jewish community, who were canvassed for their opinion. Many were dismayed and openly critical when confronted with the prospect of the city’s flagship not-for-profit theatre producing a play that could be construed as anti-Semitic propaganda, especially during a frightening period when Israel’s existence is threatened by Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.

Contacts for the CanStage Theater in Toronto
Audience Relations, Company Information,
House Programs, Media Requests
Valorie Block
Publicity and Communications Manager
T 416.367.8243 x259

Customer Service
Carla Arnold
Customer Service Manager and Privacy Officer
T 416.367.8243 x229
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