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.

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, according to CJC, “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.”

See our last post on “My Name is Rachel Corrie.”

See also: rachelswords.org

See also: Too Hot for New York, The Nation, March 16

  1. “Lobby”?
    Um, maybe I’m being dense here, but I see no reference in the above to AIPAC or any of its front organizations. Except maybe the Canada-Israel Committee, which certainly can’t be considered a part of a Washington “lobby” given that it is Canadian. And even if we make this allowance, is it probable that Richler’s comment alone was responsible for the capitulation?

    Would somebody care to explain?

    1. lobby
      so what if it’s not part of a DC lobby. It lobbies on behalf of Israel. And do you imagine it doesn’t coordinate with like-minded folk south of the border?

        1. and another thing…
          what if those who pushed to cancel the play were influenced by the plethora of anti-Rachel Corrie media crafted by CAMERA, or in TNR, whose publisher is on the board of WINEP? Or read anti-Corrie literature produced by various groups?

            1. Rachel Corrie play nixed in Toronto
              Rachel Corrie play nixed in Toronto
              JTA, Dec. 27

              A Toronto-based theater removed a controversial play about a pro-Palestinian activist’s death from the short list for its upcoming season.

              Martin Bragg, artistic producer for the Canadian Stage Company or CanStage, said “My Name Is Rachel Corrie” was dropped from consideration because it was dramatically weak, not because of its political content.

              Bragg said he reached the decision after seeing a production of the play in New York that failed to engage the audience.

              “It didn’t seem as powerful on the stage as it did on the page,” he told Variety.

              While Bragg said the play was never officially accepted into its 2007-08 season, CanStage’s decision sparked some intense reactions in online reports, some of which have reported the play was censored and canceled because of its potential to offend Jewish sensibilities.

              One blog claimed the play was pulled due to the influence of the American pro-Israel lobby.

              Corrie, an American activist with the International Solidarity Movement, was accidentally run over and killed by an Israeli bulldozer as it tried to uncover arms tunnels in the Gaza Strip in 2003.

  2. Rachel Corrie Play Censored in Toronto
    Why is the Jewish community so threatened by The Play on Rachel Corries’s life?What do they have to hide?The truth about how Israel treats the Palestinians is covered up because it’s so ugly and painful. The Palestinians are the most persecuted people on earth.The Jewish community may have alot of money and power,but when they try to stop freedom of speech and artistic expression it makes them look very bad.

    1. The Jewish “community”?
      A minute ago it was the “lobby.” I wish this member of the “Jewish community” could get hold of a little money and power for a change…

      And while not wishing to minimize persecution of the Palestinians, the (f’rinstance) Darfurians might contest that they are “the most persecuted people on earth.”

    1. NYT weighs in

      Arts, Briefly Compiled by Lawrence Van Gelder

      For ‘Rachel Corrie’

      A Toronto theater has scrapped plans to stage “My Name Is Rachel Corrie,” The Toronto Star reported. Martin Bragg, artistic producer of the Canadian Stage Company, told the newspaper in a telephone interview that he had decided not to make the play the centerpiece of the company’s 2007-8 season, as he had recently suggested. The newspaper offered several possibilities for the decision. Mr. Bragg said he was “absolutely reduced to tears” by the script, but found the production flat when he said he saw it playing to a half-empty house Off Broadway in New York. But so-called insiders at the Canadian Stage Company said members of its board were alarmed by negative reactions from influential supporters, including Jews, to a play that could be perceived as anti-Semitic propaganda. The Star said that the nonprofit theater had lost nearly $700,000 this year, and its audience has diminished, making the prospect of alienating subscribers unwise. “My Name Is Rachel Corrie,” assembled by Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner from the writings of an American-born advocate of Palestinian rights who was killed by an Israeli Army bulldozer in the Gaza Strip in 2003, was seen at the Royal Court Theater in London before causing an uproar when a planned New York Theater Workshop production was postponed. It was eventually produced Off Broadway at the Minetta Lane Theater, above, where it closed on Dec. 17 after 9 previews and 71 regular performances.