Citing Censorship, Artistic Directors Sign Letter of "Outrage" Over Ousting of Theater J's Ari Roth; Tony Kushner Issues Scathing Statement

News   Citing Censorship, Artistic Directors Sign Letter of "Outrage" Over Ousting of Theater J's Ari Roth; Tony Kushner Issues Scathing Statement
 
Artistic directors from leading theatres in the U.S., including the Public Theater, Lincoln Center Theater, Playwrights Horizons, La Jolla Playhouse and the Guthrie Theater, issued a letter in support of Ari Roth, artistic director of Washington D.C.'s Theater J, who was fired Dec. 18, in what industry members are calling "an act of politically motivated censorship."

Tony Kushner
Tony Kushner Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

On Dec. 18, Roth told the Washington Post that Carole R. Zawatsky, chief executive officer of the DC Jewish Community Center, of which Theater J is an arm, delivered notice of his dismissal and that the given cause was insubordination. He had served in his role there for 18 years.

The Post reported that Roth and Zawatsky frequently disagreed on Roth's programming choices, with the most recent being over the the fate of Theater J’s Voices From a Changing Middle East Festival. In November, the Jewish Daily Forward reported that the DCJCC was removing parts of the festival; Roth told the Post that his comments to the media following that article were used as an example of his insubordination.

"They’ve crafted a letter that’s saying I’m resigning, not fired," Roth told the Post, adding, "I was terminated abruptly." He said he refused to sign a severance agreement and that he had been discussing "an elegant transition" that would result in him departing Theater J in a few months.

The DCJCC released a statement quoting Zawatsky Dec. 18 that read: "Ari Roth has had an incredible 18-year tenure leading Theater J, and we know there will be great opportunities ahead for him. Ari leaves us with a vibrant theater that will continue to thrive."

Following the Dec. 18 performance of Theater J's production of Tony Kushner's The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism, with a Key to the Scriptures, cast members took to the stage to read a letter from Kushner supporting Roth, DCTheaterScene reports. Kushner wrote, "Ari wasn't fired, as the executive committee has claimed, because of insubordination. That's a preposterous and cowardly whitewashing of the truth. Ari was fired because he believes that a theater company with a mission to explore Jewish themes and issues cannot acquiesce to a demand for uncritical acceptance of the positions of the Israeli government regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict or to insistence on silence. Ari was fired because he refused to surrender to censorship. He was fired because he believes that freedom of speech and freedom of expression are both American values and Jewish values."

The video can be seen in full at the bottom of this article.

In addition, artistic directors from leading theatre companies from across the U.S. issued a statement in support of Roth.

The letter reads:

"We, the undersigned artistic directors, are outraged by the action of the JCC in Washington, DC in summarily dismissing the long-serving artistic director of Theater J, Ari Roth, on the morning of December 18.

"The stated cause was 'insubordination,' and it is absolutely clear that Roth was fired because of the content of the work he has so thoughtfully and ably championed for the last two decades.

"Ari Roth is a capable, brilliant and inspiring leader of the American non-profit theater. The actions of the JCC, in terminating him for blatantly political reasons, violate the principles of artistic freedom and free expression that have been at the heart of the non-profit theater movement for over half a century. Such actions undermine the freedom of us all.

A free people need a free art; debate, dissent, and conflict are at the heart of what makes theater work, and what makes democracy possible. We deplore the actions of the JCC, offer our complete support for Ari Roth, urge the American theater community to protest these events in all possible ways, and call upon the full Board of the JCC to renounce this action of the executive committee of the JCC."

Those who signed the letter of support follow: André Bishop (Lincoln Center Theater), Anne Bogart (SITI Company), Art Rotch (Perseverance Theatre), Barry Edelstein (The Old Globe), Bill Rauch (Oregon Shakespeare Festival), BJ Jones (Northlight Theatre), Blanka Zizka (The Wilma Theater), Braden Abraham (Seattle Repertory Theatre), Brian Kulick (Classic Stage Company), Carey Perloff (American Conservatory Theater), Charles Newell (Court Theatre), Chay Yew (Victory Gardens Theater), Chris Coleman (Portland Center Stage), Christopher Ashley (La Jolla Playhouse), Curt Columbus (Trinity Repertory Company), Darko Tresnjak (Hartford Stage), David Herskovits (Target Margin Theater), David Ira Goldstein (Arizona Theatre Company), Emily Mann (McCarter Theatre), Eric Rosen (Kansas City Repertory Theatre), Gordon Edelstein (Long Wharf Theatre), Gregory Boyd (Alley Theatre), Howard Shalwitz (Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company), James Bundy (Yale Repertory Theatre), Jamil Khoury (Founding Artistic Director, Silk Road Rising), Jasson Minadakis (Marin Theatre Company), Jeffrey Horowitz (Theatre for a New Audience), Jeremy Cohen (The Playwrights' Center), Jim Houghton (Signature Theatre), Jim Nicola (New York Theatre Workshop), Joe Dowling (Guthrie Theater), Johanna Pfaelzer (New York Stage and Film), John Eisner (Lark Play Development Center), Jonathan Moscone (California Shakespeare Theater), Joseph Haj (PlayMakers Repertory Company), Kent Thompson (Denver Center Theatre Company), Kevin Moriarty (Dallas Theater Center), Kurt Beattie (ACT Theatre), Kwame Kwei-Armah (Center Stage), Les Waters (Actors Theatre of Louisville), Martha Lavey (Steppenwolf Theatre Company), Melanie Joseph (The Foundry Theatre), Mia Katigbak (National Asian American Theatre Company), Michael Kahn (Shakespeare Theatre Company), Michael Ritchie (Center Theatre Group), Michael John Garcés (Cornerstone Theater Company), Michelle Hensley (Ten Thousand Things), Moisés Kaufman (Tectonic Theater Project), Neil Pepe (Atlantic Theater Company), Oskar Eustis (The Public Theater), Patrick Dooley (Shotgun Players), Peter Brosius (Children's Theatre Company), Raelle Myrick-Hodges (Contemporary Arts Center), Ralph Peña (Ma-Yi Theater Company), Rob Melrose (Cutting Ball Theater), Robert Falls (Goodman Theatre), Sarah Benson (Soho Rep.), Susan Booth (Woodruff Arts Center), Tim Sanford (Playwrights Horizons), Tony Taccone (Berkeley Repertory Theatre) and Wendy Goldberg (National Playwrights Conference, Eugene O'Neill Theater Center).

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