Last Night's Polite But Necessary Discussion at the Seattle Rep About Race, Theater, and the Mikado Controversy


Whenever I discuss race in a crowded room, I just look at the nearest black person and do/say whatever they do/say.
These gabfests always make me think about the scene from "Manhattan" where Woody Allen debates with the intellectuals on how to deal with Nazis:…

Thank you for posting this (read the whole thing twice) simple innocent philosophical question (for a show of hands): "would a performance of 'The Mikado' be less, or more, or about the same (the point being missed) offensiveness, if it were acted entirely with actors of Asian descent? (if not provably Japanese)
> but I'm a double Virgo

oh fucking come on, this is how the director thinks?

sorry but I have very little trust in the critical thinking skills of anyone who feels they need to trot out astrological bullshit even as a conversational segue.
@5 It's called humor.
Well, CHZA, whatever it takes for you to discount one of the most important voices heard last night.
@ 3. Funny you should ask—Mr. Storie said a G&S company from Japan had performed Mikado at a G&S festival (I think an international one) not long ago to great acclaim. I think the knowingness is all, and the confronting the problems in the material, which an all-Japanese cast would (I think, anyway) help ameliorate.

@ 5. Relax, CHZA. It was an appropriate and lighthearted note in what had been a mostly dour room (and in the midst of a pretty serious message). She's a brainy powerhouse.
Could you imagine this type of panel for the Book of Mormon? Nah. That goes to show maligning of culture and people is STILL acceptable these days - just not late 19th century interpretations of Asian culture. You'd think a progressive city who gets up in arms about this musical would also do the same about current ones.
The wringing of hands, the biting of lips...the hasty search for a polite solution...

Oh, how Seattle is made uncomfortable when the self-made portrait is replaced by the precision of a looking glass.

Vanity of vanities, all of it is vanity.

In the end tomorrow may be little different from today, but it may be by a measure better.

Racism must be worn away piece by piece, shard by shard like the persistence of wind, sand and water on stone until every divisive angle is worn away, every point of friction made smooth.

Give it no ground, provide it no solace. Be unyielding in your persistence. Make it weary until it fades into extinction.
Storie deserves credit for being there and taking the opportunity to speak to a largely hostile crowd, but good lord was his response tone-deaf. How you can listen to two hours of "How To Politely Talk About Race in America 101" and then trot out "well we've got an Asian person on our board" and "you don't have to go see it if you don't want to" is mind-blowing.

It was a great turnout for a worthwhile event, thinly-veiled jabs at the Rep and tangential, off-topic racial venting aside. Hopefully the next event can focus more on substantive things that can be done to cultivate the talents of local minority actors/directors/stage hands - free classes, more mid-tier theaters where they can mingle with Equity folks, etc.

I hope many in last night's audience attend the October workshop with Robin DiAngelo sponsored by the Office of Arts & Culture. She's wonderful.…
Just wanted to point out that Alice Childress wrote "Trouble in Mind." I believe it was produced in partnership with The Intiman Festival and The Hansberry Project.
knowingness is all, and the confronting the problems in the material, which an all-Japanese cast would (I think, anyway) help ameliorate
i can only guess at what "knowingness" means in this context, and will presume that it's something which necessarily must elude an all western descended cast?

ok... so we understand a cast of all Japanese descent 'helps' a performance of The Mikado. now the really sticky question: would an all Chinese cast be superior to an all western cast?

(and i'll halt my curious questions there as to continue would be negatively judged as sophistry)
The thing that's missing here is that the Mikado is really, really bad. Other than the racism, what else is there to the play?

Plays like, say, The Merchant of Venice are different. Merchant is extremely anti-semitic, but it's also a very good play, and has a lot of other stuff going on. You can, when you direct it, accentuate the other stuff and diminish the anti-semitism, even deconstruct it.

There is nothing in the Mikado that isn't "hahah those people are so murderous and obsessive about social hierarchy." That's it. That's the whole play. There's no other there there.
I keep asking and nobody answers, what do we do with Puccini's classic operas, Turandot and Madama Butterfly? They are both filled with glorious music and non-Asian singers in yellow-face.

Does Seattle Opera need to do anything to change or improve their presentations of these operatic masterpieces? If so, what? If not, then why not? These are NOT rhetorical questions.
liberals circle jerking each other in a room is bound to get LOTS of stuff done!
"some kind of contextualizing apparatus to show that the producers and performers are at least thinking about the problems in the work"

What the #$%! does that mean?

That's nothing but a cop-out to let the crowd avoid acknowledging the real-world consequence of this sort of overblown indignation: no theater troupe (except those actively courting controversy) will want to put on any play that could possibly be construed as having any sort of racial overtones. No Mikado, no Othello, no Merchant of Venice. No white actors playing non-white roles, and no non-white actors playing white roles either. Because even if there's no racism at play, who knows how some activist might interpret it? Why take the risk, when we can just do Brigadoon again? But wait - what if we have a non-Scottish actor playing a Scottish role? Better stick to Our Town.
Seattle Repertory Theatre in cooperation with tumblr presents, "Problematic: The Musical".

Watch dour inner city liberals jerk each other off and check their privilege LIVE ON STAGE! Tickets on sale now!
Nobody in that room is racist, and they all know it, so what in the fuck is the point.
@ 14. Yikes. What an embarrassing slip. Thanks.
@19: It can mean something as simple as a program note from the producer, or a short statement before the curtain goes up, or hosting a short audience discussion session after the play ends. It is just a matter of letting the audience know that those putting on the play are aware that aspects of it are problematic, that they have considered how to address and present those aspects, and what the reasons are that they consider the play, as a whole, worthy of staging in spite of the problematic aspects.

The vast majority of the Western canon is drawn from a time when even the most enlightened held attitudes of casual sexism, racism, classism, etc., that would never be acceptable today. I would never suggest that those works cannot be performed today. But when they are, they should be performed with full awareness and acknowledgement of the problems with the source text.

No one should ever stage Othello without consideration of race; no one should ever stage Twelfth Night without consideration of gender and sexual identities; no one should ever stage Taming of the Shrew without consideration of feminism and domestic violence. These considerations do not detract from a performance in modern society; they enhance it.
An interesting evening--the one big thing that seemed to limit its usefulness was that there was no opportunity for follow-up questions or even comments to anything anyone said. It was a series of soliloquies, the speakers lineup prearranged. Which was OK for what it was--you gotta start somewhere, and simply giving everyone space to vent was a logical first step. But it wasn't a conversation.

One question I particularly would have liked to dig into further was how to square the calls for color-blind and non-traditional casting with the criticism The Mikado got for not having any/enough Japanese cast members, the implication being that only Japanese actors should play Japanese roles. Who is allowed to play a certain role? Only someone of the same ethnicity? Or anyone?
Thanks for an excellent account of the discussion on Monday night, Brendan. I initially found the Pian Chan-initiated firestorm to be a self-promotional broadside at Seattle G&S and, as many others did, responded primarily with anger, snide cynicism, and a closed mind. I still believe that the Times' nasty attack was unwarranted, inappropriate, and did more to divide than unite but, if it led to a of conversation of this size and (I hope) importance, then ultimately it may well have been worth it.

I left the Bagley Wright on Monday night with much to think about, much to share with my fellow arts board members, and a deep abiding respect for the plain spoken practical experience, insight, and knowledge of Valerie Curtis-Newton. If you missed the event, you'll want to go on line and find the video, if only to hear what she had to say. I came from Tacoma and she alone made the trip well worthwhile.
@10: Most beautifully said.
Great recap, Brendan.
While the evening was certainly a frustratingly novice elucidation on the presence of racial realities in performance, it was a useful first step. Hopefully next time we can have an actual conversation that allows input from both sides(panelists and attendees) without the need for kid gloves.