Rachel Corrie, spotlighted yet again

Seattle Jews have taken an innovative approach to educating audiences on a familiar controversy.

rachel corrie play 298.8 (photo credit: Courtesy)
rachel corrie play 298.8
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Ever since International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activist Rachel Corrie was killed in 2003 while acting as a human shield against the bulldozing of Palestinian homes, controversy has swirled around the 23 year-old college student and the circumstances of her death. The much-debated play, "I Am Rachel Corrie," has only fueled the fire, with some seeing it as a politically motivated venture to skew the facts surrounding her death, and others viewing it as the innocuous story of an idealistic young girl's life. The 90-minute one-woman show, co-written by actor Alan Rickman (Harry Potter and Love Actually), and the features editor of London's Guardian newspaper, Katherine Viner, tells the story of Corrie through her own emails and journal entries. During its premiere in London in 2005 the play was met with rave reviews, despite some protest action from the Zionist Federation. However, after fostering a hotbed of controversy, the play was pulled from the Broadway New York Theater Workshop (NYTW) before it even premiered, generating accusations of censorship. The show was also later axed from the Toronto-based theater CanStage. Now it's the Seattle Repertory Theater's turn to host the contentious play. The lights have barely dimmed, but the drama is already underway. Unlike the previous public response in New York and London, which took the form of protests, demonstrations and heavy media coverage, members of the Seattle Jewry have taken a different approach. Over the past eight months, an alternative strategy was developed by a consortium of voluntary leaders from secular Jewish organizations in Seattle. The group shared the view that the play was grossly misleading and its members set out to better educate the audience. A spokesperson for the group commented: "The play presents virtually no context or background on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, instead providing a one-sided recital… by this impressionable girl." The group researched its options and canvassed for opinions on how to respond to the play. This included frequent communication with the managing director, artistic director and the public relations director of the Seattle Repertory Theater (also known at The Rep), as well as seeking suggestions from a media analysis team, former Rep subscribers, Seattle Jewry and students. The outcome was the decision to take out two advertisements within the play program itself. This space was used to present general background information and to set the play within a more factual context, as well as to direct audience members to a Web site set up to educate people further on the Corrie story. The Rep initially gave the green light to this action, however it has since been reported that it isn't happy about the ads. The Jewish Federation in Seattle also took out an ad in the same spirit. Sharon Finegold, facilitator of the consortium, explains the motives and thinking behind the action: "[We're not trying] to counter free speech or artistic expression or to try to stop the play. We offer theatergoers a way to explore the context of the events…. We wanted to draw as little attention to the play as possible while still not standing idly by… we will not engage in any dispute and will not create a media worthy event." Finegold went on to explain the hope behind the Web site (www.rachelcorriefacts.org) publicized in the ads: "[The site] can be used nationwide if the play travels… to make resources available to those who might want further knowledge about the context of Gaza demolitions and the Israeli desire for peace. That is our primary strategy." The site provides thorough background information on the ISM, the specifics of Corrie's death, and its aftermath. It also details facts and figures behind the Israel/Palestinian conflict, offering an entire library of links to further resources. When prompted for his reaction to dealing with backlash to the play, Rep director Braden Abraham was unfazed: "I am excited by the challenge… my reaction to those against the showing is to encourage them to come and see it for themselves." Abraham stood firm in championing the play: "[The play] presents a complex portrait of this extraordinary young woman… it shows Rachel's perspective has integrity and I can't abide by those who feel that her point of view doesn't have the right to be expressed..." All that now remains is to wait and see how this fresh approach to countering the play is received. Will the advertisements make any real headway toward educating audiences? Seattle Jewry hopes so.