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An Open Letter to James C. Nicola, Artistic Director of New York Theater Workshop by No Passport

Dear Mr. Nicola,

We, the undersigned, write you in the spirit of friendship and collegiality regarding your recent decision to postpone New York Theater Workshop's production of My Name is Rachel Corrie by Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner.  We are heartened to hear of your continued commitment to the play and we urge you to continue with production as soon as possible.

As both you and we know, New York Theater Workshop has a history of supporting and championing extraordinary artists from abroad and here in the United States, and of producing consistently daring, sometimes radical art. Yours is a company that has stood apart, even during tough financial times, by your integrity and commitment to challenging artistic work.  We would like to remind you that your decision to postpone comes at a time when a climate of fear has become embedded in our culture, when our shared commitment to free speech is being challenged from many sides, whether by government repression, private media outlets, or organized interest groups.  While one might argue that it is unfair that your actions are being judged in this context, it is unfortunately the world in which we all now find ourselves.  We understand that Israel and Palestine are in uncertain territory yet again, and that this is an issue that raises intense passions on all sides.  However, we also feel that these realities are unlikely to change soon, and that the most viable alternative to the violence that roils the Middle East is not less speech, but more, and more constructive, speech.

We believe that, in many cases, art is inseparable from politics, and we respectfully ask that you continue in the tradition of courage that NYTW has established—and that you look to the examples of courageous theater artists like Henrik Ibsen, Paul Robeson, Arthur Miller, Lillian Hellman, Athol Fugard, Vaclav Havel, Peter Sellars, Larry Kramer, Tony Kushner, John Belluso, Kia Corthron—more artists than we could ever possibly include here—and find the strength to continue with My Name is Rachel Corrie.  The price of not raising these issues is infinitely greater than the price of raising them.  Despite any of our best intentions, your decision on this play will send a powerful signal to artists and arts institutions alike, both about the mission and integrity of your theater and about the acceptable boundaries of conversation on this or any topic. 

Mr. Nicola, when you say that you are committed to My Name Is Rachel Corrie, we intend to take you at your word—and hold you to it. This includes seeking an answer about why you chose to consult with "local Jewish religious and community leaders" about the work.  Such polling is deeply worrying to many of us who are your audience, donors, collaborators, and community.  We will be watching to see what you do in the coming days and months.  You have an opportunity to make an historic decision.  We urge you to come down on the side of peace, justice, and open discussion.

The Undersigned.

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The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2006

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