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March 13, 2006


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Word, Isaac. Kabak's "shrill" potshot against those protesting the "brief postponement" is even lamer and more disingenuous than Nicola's original, "shocked, shocked!" reaction to the flak.


Hi Isaac. I've mostly been a lurker on the blogs so far, but wanted to point out that I felt something similar about the "shrill" comment and wrote it up over at my place this morning.


This letter is shocking. You have to imagine Kabak cleared it wiith Nicola before sending it on Wednesday. So whatever "behind the scenes" work all these playwrights are supposedly doing -- the ones who will not make a public statement -- doesn't seem to be working. At what point does Nicola have to respond to Pinter, Eustis, Fisk, etc...? You would think he'd have done so by now. But they still seem to be in attack mode. Horrible.


I would be surprised if he was a Republican, because Republicans always show up on the boards of arts organizations -- they're the only ones who know about managing wealth!

FYI, there's nothing on the Usual Suspects site. Although initially, Kevin Young (Jim's assistant) emailed all the Suspects Jim's original statement.


Kabak is a literary agent who apparently represents Jane Pauley and other journalistic figures at William Morris.

Jason Grote

Thanks again for the kind words, Isaac. Kabak's is a really revealing letter - I think that these arts brahmins are sort of complacent in their power. Traditionally, the only artists that aren't at least somewhat cowed by these powerful institutions are the ones who ignore them, like Erik Ehn. The reaction on the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas list was (in some quarters anyway) total outrage that we would have the gall to question Jim Nicola's decisions.

I think they were totally blindsided by this, and are (unsurprisingly) about a decade behind when it comes to new media and such. A theater prof from the University of Minnesota emailed me with an obnoxious response from Alan Schrier at NYTW - in response to a question I didn't see, Schrier said, "Blog Wars? Don't you have anything better to do sir?" This in a media landscape where MySpace's audience dwarfs any TV network's.

Of course, it's utterly depressing that Rupert Murdoch gets it and the people who run our major theaters don't. But that also means that those of us who do understand the power of new media - like our esteemed host Isaac here - have the potential to reshape how theater is made (among many other things).


What's he supposed to call the voices that are damning his institution?




I agree though, that the goal should be more open dialogue about this issue. That also means, though, that all sides have to give each other a little room to wiggle and explain and rethink and consider.


question for you, Matt, because I know from reading your blog that you feel that in regard to Rachel Corrie, many are making a mountain out of, while maybe not a molehill, certainly not a mountain.

My question to you is this . . . don't you feel, in reading the various letters and statements from NYTW and Nicola, that they have at the very least been duplicitous with the play (stating they were only postponing it, blaming Rickman's schedule, etc) . . . even if you feel the play was terrible, isn't it more terrible when folks with the power to decide the fates of plays are duplicitious to this degree, don't you agree?

Isaac, just want to point out you spelled saddened wrong - not to be word cop, but your post is so spot on and brilliant I wanted to make it smooth as possible - jj

George Hunka

As Jason points out, these institutions only have as much power and influence over your career as you wish to grant to them. Ultimately, you decide whether you want to be a dramatist or you want to be a NYTW Usual Suspect.


"I agree though, that the goal should be more open dialogue about this issue. That also means, though, that all sides have to give each other a little room to wiggle and explain and rethink and consider."

Are you saying my post doesn't do that? I think by referencing several times my respect for the institution and for theater itself, and explaining perfectly reasonable things I would want the workshop to do in an ideal world is giving them plenty of wiggle room.

That's wiggle room that Mr. Kabak, by employing ad hominem attacks does not give me. Apparently I'm part of a shrill chorus. No need to listen to my opinion. I'm just the next generation of theater artist and consumer, why should he give a crap about me?

He didn't have to use the word mellifluous. He didn't have to use any adjectives, good or bad, in an attempt to dismiss the many legitimate points being made across the blogosphere and in the press about this issue.


There will always be people who identify with the dominant power structure no matter what. What can't happen this week is for the story to be lost: Nicola scheduled a play and then pulled it for political reasons, and then lied about and attacked the Royal Court, and then, via Kabak, attacked the artists and critics and bloggers brave enough to critcize a clear-cut example of censorship -- also called so now by Harold Pinter and Robert Fisk as well as many American artists.



That was such an elegant and passionate post.
And bravo to Jason and all who are speaking up.

Remember my post about saying no is my most popular so far .. ! You don't want to work for an organization that self censors. This network that we are all building here... that is where the power of theatre is going to come from so you don't need to worry about your career.

More seriously though, Vanessa Redgrave and Pinter agree with you. And many many others.


Jason, I wanna address something you brought up in your post. Alan Schreier at NYTW is a Paul-Lynde-esque zing-slinger. Did he think he was being hilarious? I mean, I haven't read the email you were sent from the U of M guy (Go Gophers). Personally, I've always liked the guy. And FYI he is (for all the theater world's ignorance of technology) pretty tech-savvy, as far as mom-n-pop institutional frontend developers go.

I'm guessing the staff at NYTW is wishing they could plug their ears and go "La la la"... wishing they never even read the Rachel Corrie play... they are used to ooey-gooey oleaginous schmears of love, respect and admiration, pulling and pushing shows with nary a comment.

Oh, and FWIW -- as I have experienced it, the Usual Suspects membership basically means you can get free rehearsal space, and you have a slightly better chance of getting your work in progress seen or read by the NYTW staff than if you aren't a Suspect. No more, no less. They choose about a dozen people every year, and it's a mix of actors, designers, directors, and playwrights. I haven't seen or heard about the Workshop make any sort of subtle or express punitive threats w/r/t this issue, i.e. "If you speak out about the Rachel Corrie flap we won't consider your plays anymore." The silence is pretty creepy, I agree... I'm saying this, I suppose, by way of exploring George's (I think?) implication that Suspects or other playwrights are censoring themselves out of fear that the Workshop won't read their plays anymore. I mean, there are a lot of playwrights on thr Suspects list, incl. Kushner, Doug Wright... but some playwrights are much more active members of the Suspect community than others. Some are US's in name only.

I wonder if any playwrights are worried that they will look like Eddie Haskell at this point -- i.e. if they speak out disingenuously adding their voices to the discussion for posturing, esp. since the blog people have already discussed it so thoroughly and well.

One thing I am curious about, though, is how many people have *privately* expressed their concern w/o making public statements. I suspect that the artists closest to the Workshop are trying to keep things private and save them more embarrassment.

OOH! Hot off the email presses. Just got this from Andrea Ciannavei from the Labyrinth Theater Co.:

NYTW said on Friday they were trying to put together a town meeting to talk
about the postponing/cancellation controversy of MY NAME IS RACHEL CORRIE.
No details have been announced as of yet. They have a statement which you
can read at www.nytw.org

There will be a gathering prior to the possible town meeting (whether it
happens or not) at East 4th Street Bar on Wednesday March 15 @ 5:30pm.

A few people will read excerpts from Rachel Corrie's emails which generated
much of the material of the postponed/canceled one person play.

Please come and hear what she wrote, you can use it as an opportunity to get
familiar with the substance of her writing before the meeting or just know
what she wrote since you may not get a chance to see the actual piece.

This is not a rally, the purpose isn't to give speeches or wave banners.
Those things are not bad things, depending, I guess, on which side you're
on, but it's not the reason this gathering is called.

Understandably a lot of people have strong feelings, and use strong terms in
describing them, so hopefully by getting together we can remember what
Rachel Corrie wrote and keep it in mind. It will be kept short. half hour or
so of different people reading excerpts.

So again details:

Excerpts of Rachel Corrie's Emails & Letters

East 4th Street Bar
Btw bowery and 2nd Ave (across from NYTW)
Wednesday March 15, 2006 @ 5:30pm

Jason Grote

Yeah, Col, Schrier could have thought he was being funny, though email is a notoriously bad medium for communicating tone. And I'm sure that NYTW got some nasty-ass letters, as hating one another over the internet is fast becoming America's favorite pasttime. So maybe he is an OK guy, but a couple of people sent me exchanges where he was impolitic, to say the least. I'm not sure what he does at NYTW (I'm guessing he's just a webmaster), but they probably shouldn't have him fielding questions from the public during a PR debacle.

And, for the record, I would love to be an NYTW Usual Suspect, and will probably be the first in line to see Naomi Wallace's new play when they do it there. I think it's maybe a reflection of the Bush administration's zero tolerance for dissent that everything has become so stark - but honestly, if any organization would blacklist me for public criticism, how enjoyable, personally or professionally, would it be for me to work with them?

I don't think NYTW would blacklist me, by the way, Jim Nicola and Linda Chapman have both been very cordial to me in any interaction, but they may decide, now and forever, that I'm a pain in the ass and not worth the trouble. But god, isn't theater boring enough? We need more trouble, not less of it.


Considering some of the basketcases who've worked there in the past, they should be so lucky to have someone as "troublesome" as you there!

Jason Grote

Welp, I hear through the grapevine that no one there is mad at me, which is nice.

But I also had a very interesting, and related, conversation with an anonymous friend about how few playwrights are willing to even discuss any terms at all for fear of seeming "difficult." S/he had stories about playwrights whose names you would know ditching the cast and directors they developed their work with for fear of alienating theaters. I guess there is a general feeling of gratitude that one is getting produced - I sure feel it! - but in between being a strident pain in the butt and going along sheepishly, there is a whole range of behaviors. I can't imagine that any arts administrators, no matter how Papp-like in their egomania, would hold a grudge against an artist for saying, "uh, hold on, I think we should talk about this." And I think that's true whether the "this" means politics, or it means casting, or it means a marketing or design choice...


Well, that just happened to me with a certain play going up in April at Culture Project:.


I am reluctant to blog about it extensively, for various reasons, but -- let's say it's been a very painful month.

Alison Croggon

Slight off topic, but this interests me: I believe, sadly, that that observation is largely true - that writers (and actors and other artists) can be so grateful to get a job at all that they'll permit institutions to walk all over their work. It's entirely understandable, but it is also a way of shooting onself in the foot (admittedly, withdrawing one's play/acting/directing services might equally be shooting onself in the foot). But it does demonstrate where the power lies...and how sometimes that power is contemptuous of the work that actually gives it the power it has. Without artists, artistic institutions are nothing: and sometimes they forget that. We ought to remember it.

For the record, I'm a fuss maker. It depends on the circumstance; when my play Lenz was produced for the Melbourne Festival I was very upset because it was radically cut without my knowledge or permission, something I didn't know before dress rehearsal. I refused to go to opening night and wrote a long letter to the director and told all my friends to skip it, because it was embarrassing; but it was too late to make any difference, so that was as far as it went. I wanted my name off the program, but of course it was already printed. And I am a fuss maker at Penguin, who publish my YA books here. They would probably get rid of me if it wasn't for the fact they make money out of me, and might make a lot more, and so are trying to be nice. But personally, the idea that artists can be treated like shit because they are powerless really raises my ire, and I believe it ought to be resisted whenever it arises. They depend on us for their fat cat salaries, and ought to be reminded of that.

Jason Grote

Col, that sucks. You are far from the only one... When next we see each other, I can tell you stories. You would be amzazed at some of the luminaries who routinely get screwed in favor of... who knows what.

Alison, bravo for standing up - but I would be amazed to hear anyone call me difficult. Most people who have actually interacted with me think of me as a pretty nice guy, or at least mild-mannered. I just think it doesn't hurt to ask.

Alison Croggon

Hey Jason, in person I am terribly polite - my voice is soft and low, an excellent thing in a woman, as I remember, and I hate to hurt people's feelings, and actually in most scenes of real conflict I am probably more stubborn than loud. I don't like making trouble for no reason. But I've also learned over the years that being too nice can be a way of being pushed around.

Col, I'm too far away to read the subtext, but commiserations anyway.

Jason Grote

Alison, I probably implied something I didn't mean to - also, I have to acknowledge that it's different for men and women, even in the 21st century, and even in the comparatively enlightened pastures of the arts. A guy who negotiates is expected to do so, whereas a woman who does so can be slapped with unfair dragon lady stereotypes...

Scott Walters

OK, how about not shrill -- maybe: self-righteous? chest-thumping? holier-than-thou? verbally abusive? overwrought? overheated? sanctimonious? calumniating? castigating? censorious? contumelious? defamatory? derisive? disparaging? insolent? insulting? opprobrious? reproachful? reviling? rude? sarcastic? scathing? scolding? scurrilous? upbraiding? vilifying? vituperative? (thank God for dictionary.com)


Hey Scott,

Not exactly sure the point of your comment. Did you mean it as a joke or what?

Debbie Gordon

Here's some ideas about what the NYTW could have called the "shrill" radicals who have simply misunderstood their innocence:

How about people who dissented from Nicola's decision? How about U.S. citizens who had looked forward to seeing the production and were willing to spent their hard earned money to travel to New York and walk among the precious egos of theater directors to see the production? How about "us," the audience that is still waiting to see the production before we can even decide what we think of it? How about us, the citizens in a democracy who are supposed to be robust enough to live in a democracy? How about us who, when we are not interested in a production, film, art exhibit, or think we might experience "sensitivity," when we see some piece of cultural expression, don't go? How about us who get the philosophy founding the first amendment which in a nutshell is "I don't have to be you"? and it is not reasonable for me to prevent you from being you? That's the meaning of political liberalism as it is taught in basic introduction to U.S. civics courses in universities. In fact, that kind of course typically fulfills a graduation requirement for a bachelors degree from a public university that is accredited.

Is is true that these days the U.S. Constitution has become defended by the "shrill," because of the laziness and complicity of those who, humanly all too humanly, think that no one would ever come after them. That's what is at the bottom of it all, and I mean bottom as in scraping the barrel of citizenship. Those who are today defending civil liberties are cast and seen as "zealous," "overwrought," etc. by the very people who benefit from our passion and put us down at the same time for it.

We are seen as "shrill," by people who often enough say in private how much they appreciate that we're "out there," but who are too afraid of their shadows, to come out of the little political closets they have built for themselves. Often, of course, with help from others.

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