Readers: Sorry for the light posting last few days. Been in Chicago, where I was hoping to blog on the road, but too busy enjoying it. So stay tuned for delayed Chicago dispatches in the days to come reporting on the latest from Mary Zimmerman, Steppenwolf, and the US premiere of Jerry Springer: The Opera!
Ok, so I can finally post something on what went down at the TCG (Theatre Communications Group) conference a few weeks ago. Apparently Wole Soyinka, the keynoter, dropped Louis Farrakhan's name in a way that was or was not controversial/offensive, depending on whom you ask. And apparently I wasn't the only one getting emails the next day from one particularly angry Artistic Director present. But now that he also was blasting the Voice's Michael Clancy, I can link to something more legit.
According to Clancy's reporting, here's what happened:
That led Tuvia Tanenbom (of the Jewish Theatre of New York) to challenge Soyinka in the Q & A, accusing him of lionizing the Jewish-unfriendly Nation of Islam preacherman.
In his keynote address about the importance of ritual in healing communities (or something squishy like that; it’s all above our pay grade), Soyinka talked about three people who have used pageantry to soothe misery and anger. First, you got Aeschylus; no problems there. Then you got Sartre; a bit of a stretch, but whatever.
Then you got Farrakhan, and the Universal Day of Atonement he proposed a few years back. Whatever you think of Farrakhan’s nastier side, Soyinka said, he was on to something there. If we could only return to the notion of humanity apologizing together on one day, the world could begin to turn away from war and greed.
Soyinka replied that Farrakhan may be a schmuck, but that shouldn’t preclude us from using him as a metaphor. And then he made his second mistake: he deployed
an oblique reference to people who consider themselves victims. According to one attendee, the audience understood him to be referring to self-important theater professionals, including himself. But to Tanenbom, that could only mean one thing: those mouthy Jews.
Among the many recipients of Tanenbom's subsequent email blast (go ahead and read it here for his side of the story) was the ADL. It got their attention enough to get a quick press-release/denunciation out of them. Until...
Ah, but then the staff at the ADL went and actually read Soyinka’s speech. And promptly learned that Soyinka’s point was considerably more complex, and that he had clearly denounced Farrakhan for, among other things, defending brutal African dictators. The ADL scrubbed the release from its web site and began the time-honored process of hoping this would all just go away.
And so now Tanenbom's still pissed (at both Wole and ADL's Abe Foxman) and still nobody else can read the text of Soyinka's speech itself because TCG claims they're not authorized to publish or release it. And looks like the Nigerian Nobelist doesn't quite see it in his interest to fan any more flames.
Anyone actually there who'd care to tell it yet another way...?