An editorial by Seattle Times op-ed writer Sharon Chan kicked off this controversy, which saw daily picketing by grassroots protestors, pushback from the Gilbert and Sullivan Society, and a whole slew of feature articles and editorials, both pro- and against The Mikado.
What also happened, however, is that what followed was a forum involving the general Seattle theatre community. This forum discussed the balance of artistic expression versus responsibility to under-represented communities. Initial expectations were for a crowd of 30-50; instead, more than 300 people demanded to discuss the issue.
Following both the production and the forum were a series of racial equity workshops offered to the Seattle arts community from both Theatre Puget Sound (the Seattle area group for theatre professionals) and Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture… and were promptly filled to capacity. Workshops have been offered in increasing diversity in casting, as well… and those too were promptly filled.
Sounds good, but has that translated into action?
Though it’s too soon to say for sure, we do know one of Seattle’s largest theatres, ACT, has included an Asian American actor in their first Core Company of seven, and followed up with two Asian American actors in their second Core Company of five, and has featured at least one Asian American plays such as Jeanne Sakata’s Hold These Truths and Lauren Yee’s King of the Yees per season. Seattle Repertory Theatre has featured up and coming Asian American playwrights like Kimber Lee and Qui Nguyen in consecutive seasons, as well as the immersive musical, Here Lies Love, that recounts the story of the First Lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos. Finally, this past year saw an period that saw no less than 12 different productions produced by or showcasing Asian American artists crammed into a breathless six weeks. Many of these actions aren’t directly traceable to The Mikado, but the energy it generated seemed to have fed this flowering.
Here’s the chronology:
The Fuse is Lit
- The original editorial from Seattle Times’ Sharon Chan: “ The yellowface of ‘The Mikado’ in your face.”
The Brew bubbles: First Reactions
- The Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s response to the editorial.
- Sharon Chan’s reaction after seeing the show: ‘The Mikado,’ yellowface and seeing the Seattle show”
- Dave Ross (a cast member) and his defense of the show (and it can only be described as dunderheaded): Seattle Times editorial columnist and Dave Ross go head-to-head over “yellow face” in “The Mikado”
The Community Reacts
- Prof. Josephine Lee’s academic underpinnings to objections to “The Mikado”
- The Revue commenting (in a rather dull fashion) on the controversy.(Sorry, but it IS about 25 minutes or so….)
- Former Mu Artistic Director, Rick Shiomi, who created a 2013 Minneapolis version of “The Mikado” without stereotypes or yellowface acting: “Making ‘The Mikado’ without Asian stereotypes”
- Westfield State University Professor Robin DiAngelo who writes about whiteness and white fragility: “What does it mean to be white?”
- Community heavyweight Jeff Yang comments on CNN: “Yellowface staging of ‘Mikado’ has to end”
- Super-heavyweight The Angry Asian Man weighs in: “Real-life yellowface! Now playing in Seattle”
- International Examiner editorial board: ” ‘The Mikado’ controversy an opportunity to create and educate”
- ReAppropriate guest post by Sean Miura: “Undoing ‘Mikado’: Japan is not an imaginary place, and I am not a metaphor”
- Bo Lim, an associate professor of Old Testament at Seattle Pacific University, used “The Mikado” to discuss about stereotypes still used in evangelical teachings in a post for the Sojourners website: “Why Evangelicals Should Care About ‘The Mikado’ Controversy If They Care About Reconciliation in the Church”
- WQRX, the New York classical music rado station, news story: ” ‘Asian blackface’ in ‘The Mikado” stirs controversy in Seattle”
The wider community makes comments
- NPR segment by Sam Sander: “Why We’ve Been Seeing More ‘Yellowface’ In Recent Months”
- NPR Codeswitch’s Kat Chow also did an online chat: “Roundtable: The Past And Present Of ‘Yellowface’ “
- MSNBC news segment by anchor Richard Lui: “Stereotypes in ‘The Mikado’ Stir Controversy in Seattle”
- Seattle Times commentary by theater critic Misha Berson: “The ‘Mikado’ controversy: A call for calm discourse”
- The Atlantic commentary by Gwynn Guilford: “It’s time to stop using ‘exoticism’ as an excuse for opera’s racism”
- Seattle’s groundlevel rag The Stranger comments by Brendan Kiley: The problem with The Mikado
- CBC Radio segment by host Stephen Quinn: “The Mikado controversy: Does opera have a race problem?”
- NBCNews.com: “Stereotypes in ‘The Mikado’ Stir Controversy in Seattle”
Sometimes, humor is the best approach
- YOMYOMF “6 Times When it’s OK for white people to don yellow face”
- The 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors explains the controversy in Yellow Face Rock.
The ultimate expression
- Erin Quill nails it, with a Little List parody and a devasting argument, that ends
The Mikado is not racist
How you do it can be racist.
The contagion spreads
- Providence Opera does The Mikado
- Petition to protest
- And Providence Opera basically tells critics to STFU
- And…..the NYGASP tells the community to STFU (new)
Seattle community follow up (where The Revue makes just one pithy comment)
- Livestream of the event itself (2 hours)
- Seattle Times story
- Sharon Chan’s report
- The Stranger’s report
- NBC News report
- Office of Art & Culture Seattle follow-up session for all arts groups
New York (2015)
The New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players (NYGASP) had planned a traditional Mikado production for their 2015-16 season, complete with Axe Coolie. New York playwright Leah Nanako Winkler stood up, writing a blog post outlining her opposition, which set off a flood of complaints via email and on NYGASP’s web page. As well, prominent national arts bloggers like Howard Sherman and Jacqueline Lawton took up the cause, questioning the appropriateness of a yellowface Mikado in the 21st Century. NYGASP backtracked from their original plan, delaying The Mikado until 2016-17; right now they are doing a retooled production, consulting with Asian American theatre artists, and recruiting Asian American performers for both this show and other shows in their season.
- Leah Nanako Winkler details her conversations with NYGASP, which were left on a less than satisfactory level.
- Erin Quill blogs on the last time they performed it and it was made even more racist than most ham handed dunderheads make it. Axe Coolie, fer’ Gawd’s sake….
- Howard Sherman, noted national theatre blogger, talks about this.
- Chris Peterson writes a blog at Onstage.
And gets responses. Really….interesting…responses (My sympathies, sir).
- Ming Pfeiffer blogs about this for 2amtheatre.
- The ever fabulous Melissa Hillman blogs “But I Get To Be Racist Because Art“
- And national publications, such as BroadwayWorld and the venerable Playbill are taking note.
- Reappropriate comments.
In the wake of this, the reactions:
- Update: NYGASP has met with concerned community members and promises to rework the show and be more creative with its approach.
- Erin Quill has a reaction to this (which I bet some people would be surprised at).
- And American Theatre has something.
- Also, http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Final-Curtain-for-Racist-Gilbert-and-Sullivan-Opera-20150918-0011.html
- Unworthy has a feature.
- Now the NY Times.
- A. Rey Pamatmat speaks on 2am theatre.
- Equity commends the decisions and offers to mediate.
- HowlRound curates a series on yellow face:
And the results of the revised NY GASP Mikado?
NYGASP The Mikado Is it Diverse Enough?
San Francisco (2016)
Artists from Ferocious Lotus and Crowded Fire Theatres met with the Lamplighers, who had planned a Mikado production for this year. After posting an open letter as well meeting with the Lamplighters’ sponsor, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, a revised production debuted this year, with a new setting in Milan, Italy. Reviewers found it just as funny and pointed, while slyly noting cultural appropriators are on that little list of those “who would never be missed.”
- Ferocious Lotus’ open letter:
- The BEYOND ORIENTALISM video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPp6llxK6UI
- These Howlround videos — one from the NY forum, and one from our SF community conversation:
- Front Page SF Chronicle: http://www.sfgate.com/performance/article/Mikado-gets-a-makeover-to-remove-7926978.php
- American Theater Mag: http://www.americantheatre.org/2016/04/20/building-a-better-mikado-minus-the-yellowface/
- Article on the resulting, changed production:
Bay Area Theater Co’s Work to End Yellowface and Blackface in Shows