The Mikado

Seattle (2014)

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 Brew bubbles: First Reactions

The Community Reacts

The wider community makes comments

Sometimes, humor is the best approach

The ultimate expression

Seattle community follow up (where The Revue makes just one pithy comment)

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.

In the wake of this, the reactions:

And the results of the revised NY GASP Mikado?

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.”