Yay! Another theater company run by wypipo is producing The Mikado! Because it's not enough that countless productions of that same show have been shut down throughout North America over the last decade as a result of APA activists and advocates speaking truth to power and telling artistic directors "Hell, no". Y'all people just don't learn.
And to make matters worse, this same Maryland-based company produced The Mikado four years ago and was dragged through the shit-filled mud for doing things like "taping the corners of eyes" to make their white actors look Asian or "shuffling around onstage" in heavy Kabuki make-up and wigs. But don't worry friends, this time they're really making an effort to tone down the racism! In an interview with The Baltimore Sun last week, general manager Brian Goodman was quoted saying, “We won’t do that now. We want to be sensitive."
Oh my god! My Asian heart thanks you for taking our feelings into consideration...
Goodman continued, “I got some pushback from my board this time. Some felt we shouldn’t do it at all. I was very dismissive of the issue at first, but we thought long and hard about it. We also had discussions with the Asian American Center in Frederick, and they didn’t seem to have any concerns. We decided to go ahead.”
Let's just take a moment to dissect this little paragraph here:
- The board of The Young Victorian wisely felt apprehensive about re-mounting a culturally offensive production due to very valid negative criticism received four years ago and the general manager flat out admits to not caring until essentially being forced to discuss it with board members.
- It took them a really long time to think about why a comic opera written in the 1800s, which makes fun of the British Empire by appropriating Japanese culture, is offensive to Asians in the year 2018.
- The Young Victorian - a theater company based in Baltimore city - cite "discussions" with the Asian American Center of Frederick Maryland as one of the reasons they felt the company could continue producing its re-mount guilt-free. In other words, rather than reaching out to the local APA community in Baltimore city to ask how they felt about a re-mount of The Mikado, the company instead thought it much more appropriate to reach out to an organization that's about an hour or so outside of its hometown to discuss the matter. Interesting. Also, there is no mention of what these discussions actually discussed. Did they even talk about The Mikado at all? Did they talk about the misrepresentation of minority communities in the arts? Did they ask for advice on where to buy the best fake-looking kimonos for their production? A little more detail, please, because I'm not sold that a non-profit Asian-American organization focused on the "[empowerment] of local communities" and that "engages in coalition building" wouldn't have any concerns with this particular production.
But beyond that, Herr Goodman does a really a good job defending the board's decision to continue producing The Mikado and goes to great lengths to explain why we Asians really need to chill the fuck out and tone down the political correctness.
"The Mikado is a product of its time, but also timeless."
“I fear what I see happening today as political correctness run amok.”
As if the injured opinion of one white male in the position of power wasn't enough, The Sun felt it appropriate to reference Albert Bergeret, the founding artistic director of The New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players, whose own production of The Mikado was shut down due to protests back in 2015. Apparently, he sincerely doesn't understand what the big deal is.
“Why change the work?" he's quoted saying. "Because someone says that they’re offended by it? If it’s dismissed as a racist piece of trash, I can’t buy that."
David Wannen, the New York company's executive director needlessly chimes in. "Sullivan wrote music evocative of a particular culture, but I don’t think he or Gilbert had any attempt to mock or put down anybody."
"Mimicry of another culture does not have to be part of this work’s performance practice.”
But the article really had me when Goodman began talking about Hamilton...
"That would be like saying you can’t do [the musical] ‘Hamilton’ with African-American actors because the founding fathers weren’t African-American."
Thank you, white men, for reminding me that my offense as a member of the Asian community is uncalled for. I totally forgot that when it comes to Western art, all things are timeless and acceptable. Fuck the fact that this was written in 1880 and that our people have been telling your people since at least the 1940s - when the "n" word was first removed from the original lyrics - that this musical actually is a racist piece of trash. Apparently, when a person of color says they're offended because the work you produce is legitimately offensive, we're just being extra.
I won't even go into the other quotes from other white company members because it's just not worth it. But I will mention the brief interview conducted with one of the production's Asian cast members. The article goes out of its way to quote one of only two Asian members of the chorus, Sunghee Flores. "Personally, I don’t find the piece offensive. I might not represent the majority opinion of the Asian population, but I think as long as a production is not exaggerating about how Asians should look, it’s OK. The leadership for our production tried very hard to be sensitive to Asian culture and minimize anything that might cause concern."
What's troubling about this reference isn't the fact that Ms. Flores - a Korean-American opera singer - doesn't seem to have any qualms with the piece itself. It's troubling because both the article and The Young Vic are using her words to undermine the anger of anyone else in the APA community regardless of how valid that anger might be. It's a perfect example of how members within white American privileged society weaponize words from members of our own minority communities, not only to justify their actions but to sow seeds of resentment and contempt amongst us.
Forget about the fact that Sunghee flat out says she doesn't represent the majority opinion within her own community. Nevermind that she is clearly stating that her feelings are hers and hers alone. She's okay with this, which means we should be, too.
No. Those three sentences were meant to shut us down, make no mistake.
There are a lot of things about that interview that infuriated me. But the fact that they saw fit to drag one of our own into this interview process just to fulfill their own selfish and arrogant goals brought it to a whole other level. And I, for one, have run out of patience for this sort of bullshit.
[Edit: Our original article misattributed several quotes to Brian Goodman, but we have since corrected those references.]