As someday it may happen that a victim must be found,
I’ve got a little list, I’ve got a little list.
Of Society’s Offenders who live proudly above ground,
and who never would be missed, who never would be missed.
There’s pestilential productions who take hatred as their guide,
Who upon their being ‘caught’ then moan ’bout ‘history and pride’.
The ones who giggle with their fans, their makeup all askew
Who never seem to question, or accept another’s view,
Their one response it seems is “Look, don’t tell me what to do!”
They’d none of them be missed, they’d none of them be missed.
She’s got them on the list, she’s got them on the list
And they’ll none of them be missed, they’ll none of them be missed.
There’s the self righteous Director, who proceeds without concept,
The Yellowfaced soloist – I’ve got them on the list!
Those who praise the music, but perform it quite racist -
They never would be missed, they never would be missed!
There’s the Baritone who defends his lack of knowledge and of taste,
Who oft asserts his ‘ given right’ to play another race;
And the lady from the suburbs, who dresses like a Maid,
Who knows she does not look Asian, but finds Caucasians ‘staid’,
She’d rather paint ‘exotic‘ than go play a Cockney maid…
I don’t think she’d be missed – I’m sure she’d not be missed!
She’s got them on the list, she’s got them on the list;
And they’d none of them be missed, they’d none of them be missed.
Finally, let’s all agree this topic is just rife,
with charges, counter charges, all which causes strife.
Does no one see in fact that Sullivan and Gilbert would be pissed!
For that you’re on the list!
They wrote the show to mock society’s rigid chain of thought,
To say what we learn should shape us, not just what we’re taught.
The show says use your brain and heart, but it seems it’s all for naught.
For that you’re on the list! For that you’re on the list!
It’s not enough to say you ‘want to’ and then go see it done,
We do not live in places where of opinion there’s just one.
And frankly, if you have to scream and rail about so loud,
It means that of your performance there is little to be proud.
Your show is not ‘authentic’ if you’ve re-written “Little List”
Racist shows won’t be missed, they’d none of them be missed.
I’ve put you on the list – I’ve put you on the list,
You’d none of you’d be missed, you would NONE of you’d be missed.
The Fairy Princess is a bit late to the game about writing about The Mikado Production in Seattle, or perhaps she was ahead of her time, because she co-wrote the screenplay, The Mikado Project, several years and several film festivals ago.
(There is a lovely review of the DVD from The Huffington Post, here)
(You may purchase it on Amazon.com here)
There have been many, many articles about The Mikado recently, since the first piece for the Seattle Times by Sharon Pian Chan (The Yellowface of The Mikado In Your Face) .
Journalist, Jeff Yang, wrote a thoughtful response (Yellowface Staging of The Mikado Has To End) which The Fairy Princess was interviewed for that appeared on CNN.com.
Another (The Problem With The Mikado) by Brendan Kiley from The Seattle Stranger, quotes Jeff’s article, but makes other wonderful points.
NBCNews also highlighted the issue, (Stereotypes in The Mikado Stir Controversy) and in fact, the film of The Mikado Project, in discussing it – many thanks.
Each time that someone has written about this situation, the wagons around the Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan company have been circled, and they have defended themselves from charges of racism and yellowface makeup.
They even went so far as to have their African American Female Business Manager write an open letter to try to shame the Asian American community into accepting Yellowface makeup, which is a classic technique, turning the minorities against one another.
One wonders if Seattle G&S expands their repertoire to include a blackface Porgy & Bess, if she would still hold her own opinion?
Still, that was impressive, Seattle G&S. Well played.
The Fairy Princess chuckled a bit at that, because it is a technique ripped right from the Andrew Jackson playbook. Then she heard the radio interview with the DJ, Dan Ross, who refused to accept, in any way, that he might be a part of a racially tinged performance. Not surprising, the ones who know they are wrong usually shout the loudest – it is called ‘deflection’.
The Fairy Princess was still not moved enough to write about this issue.
She felt that journalists were doing a fair job of keeping the story alive and accountable, and as she had been quoted numerous times in these articles, she thought she had made herself clear – when you have a production in which satire is sacrificed in favor of racial mockery, you turn a much beloved operetta into “a racist piece of crap’.
And she was fine with that, she was.
Until this morning, when she read the response from Seattle G&S’s Producer, Mike Storie – in which he loudly proclaims two things:
1. They have an Asian American on the Board of the company who has played a variety of parts
2. The Mikado should continue to be done.
Now The Fairy Princess is mad. She is truly, deeply mad, and now she IS going to respond.
In response to the first – who cares if you have an Asian American Board Member?
He’s played an Italian? So what? Italy is a seafaring nation, or was, and they traded with Asia, so there is a likelihood that there were Asians in Italy. It’s not so far fetched. That we are supposed to incredulously proclaim “Well, if an Asian American played a Gondolier, then the Company cannot have racist moments“, well, that is a failure on your part to even comprehend the issues at play here.
In addition, this API Board Member is not in The Mikado, which seems telling. There is no statement from him highlighting how he felt, walking in and seeing the show. You have cited him, fine – he’s there. Not in a visible way during this controversy, but he’s there…somewhere….lurking.
Fine, you have one.
That first proclamation was not what engendered this response, no, we’ll get to that…hold on, prepare yourself.
This is what made The Fairy Princess’s tiara tilt – none of the articles cited mentioned banning The Mikado from being performed ever again – and yet, that is what Producer, Mike Storie is intimating with his answer “It is worth performing and preserving, and can be a catalyst for better understanding“.
Aha. You see, Mr. Storie is implying that we, the ‘awful and actual’ Asians of America, are trying to reach out our little yellow hands and remove an operetta from the lily white fingers of those who would perform it with authenticity and dignity.
L-R: Dave Ross as Koko, William Darkow as Pish Tush, and Craig Cantley as Poo Bah
He is so convinced of this narrative, he has not only shared it, he has compelled his Business Manager to brandish her “As a woman of color…‘ sword in defense of this poor, beleaguered operetta, so sadly under attack.
Hopefully she will be able to pick the right one, because you know, Japanese swords all have…oh who am I kidding, they wouldn’t try and get this right either.
This is not the case, Mr. Storie – and this is why you have finally roused The Fairy Princess to share her personal thoughts on this issue.
You are threatening people with the thought that Asian Americans are out to erase an operetta that they very much enjoy – and this is not what happened. Asian Americans do not want to ‘kill’ The Mikado, we want you all to do better. We want you to make a Mikado that everyone can go and see, regardless of race, and feel good about seeing.
We want you to put together a production of The Mikado that we can bring our children to proudly as an example of music and art – not one where we have to usher them out of the theater and have the ‘yes, you are different and people will make fun of you for that‘ talk.
That is NOT a talk we want to have after dropping a bunch of $$$ on tickets.
Asian Americans have the HIGHEST disposable income of any group, so while you are moaning about not being able to pay your Actors for four months, you may want to adjust your thinking on who your audience is, at least in Seattle.
The argument that you are performing the piece with love and authenticity is a false one. Yes, your company may love performing it, but as every good Gilbert and Sullivan expert knows, Gilbert never intended to mock Japanese people. He went through every effort to have ‘authentic’ costumes and had visiting Japanese artists come in and advise his Cast members as to how to walk and act.
Have you followed the examples set forth by Gilbert himself in this matter? Did you have Japanese Artists come and advise you as to the the authenticity of your costumes and scenery and mannerisms? Did you even try?
You live and work in Seattle, a city which counts 14% of the population as having Asian heritage. Seattle also has a huge International District, which, amongst other attractions, has the Wing Luke Museum which is dedicated to telling the Asian stories of the Pacific Northwest. The population of that area alone, just in the I.D. is 56% Asian American. So, very easily, you could have looked in your own backyard so to speak, and found advisers if authenticity was an issue for you.
Was authenticity an issue for Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society?
The Fairy Princess guesses not.
Because here is an actual Japanese woman in the 1800’s
Vintage Photo of a Japanese Woman, circa 1880
And here is what Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan did:
Production Still: Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan’s Production of THE MIKADO
Again, here are some actual Japanese women studying, so, ostensibly “Maids”
Hard at work at Geisha School, studying the art of Singing, circa 1880
And…back to Seattle…
So no, your production is not authentic to memory of Gilbert, because you have not tried to do the extra work that he did at the time it was written. In point of fact, he had much less ability to BE accurate, due to language barriers, yet he tried. You have the I.D. in your backyard, and you did not pick up a phone or send a text or even go visit the museum to see if you have the correct obis now, did you?
“Fess up. No, you didn’t.
We can tell from the photos.
Your production is also not authentic because you have likely rewritten “A Little List” and made it palatable to local Seattle audiences – which is one of the hallmarks of the show. Once a show has had a rewrite of any kind, you cannot say it’s an authentic recreation of what someone did back in the 1880’s because you have done your best to ensure it is not.
This is what is infuriating to The Fairy Princess about Gilbert and Sullivan Societies in general, and of course, specific to this production in Seattle. Citing ‘history’ as an opportunity to prance about dressed as totally inaccurate and unauthentic Japanese people, is not supposed to be the take away from The Mikado.
The lesson to be learned from The Mikado, is that blindly following something because it has ‘always’ been done that way, is wrong. The Mikado is supposed to inspire you to see the ludicrous possibilities of what can happen when people do NOT think for themselves – executions, forced marriages, breaking the law, and so on.
The Mikado is not supposed to be used as a weapon to encourage racial mockery, it is not supposed to be the last bastion of visible hatred of Asian people which is left over from the invasion of Pearl Harbor.
The Mikado is supposed to let you know that if you follow your true self, everything will work out. It says that even if you are considered too old for love, you can find it. It says that the silliness of society’s rules, are to be taken with a grain of salt, and approached with caution. Finally, it says that if one can reason with whomsoever is in charge, and present their case, wrongs will be righted.
The Mikado ‘works’ with or without faux Japanese mannerisms – because the script and the music ring true. It has been performed in a variety of temperatures, with ethnic casts, without ethnic casts, and so it is puzzling, with the myriad of creative ways that one can perform The Mikado, that this allegiance to behavior from a different era lingers on. Not only does it linger, it seems to perpetuate and multiply.
Still from Seattle G&S Mikado
The Fairy Princess does not hate The Mikado – it would be impossible to do so given it’s message of hope.
The Mikado has been present in her personal journey for years – and in fact, she was encouraged as a Vocal Performance Major at Carnegie Mellon University’s Music School to study The Mikado, because her instructors felt that at some point, her background of multi-ethnicity would lend itself to being cast in The Mikado.
You would THINK, right?
(That this has not yet happened, despite a Broadway resume and an ability to appear Asian (ahem), is perhaps a question for the Theater Gods.)
The Fairy Princess has spent a lifetime mulling over the whys and wherefores of The Mikado, she owns giant vintage theater posters of it courtesy of the gallery FULLER + ROBERTS, she appeared in the original play by Doris Baizley and Ken Narasaki of THE MIKADO PROJECT produced by Lodestone Theatre Ensemble, she co-wrote and appeared in the movie version of the same title. She is, somewhat of an expert on The Mikado, and she has been a G&S fan since the age of 11, when she appeared in her grade school production of The Pirates of Penzance. (Which, honestly is still her favorite, and which, had she gotten to play Ruth and not a generic daughter of the Major General, may have led her on a totally different career path, perhaps accounting?)
The Fairy Princess does not hate The Mikado.
She hates the way The Mikado is often performed.
The Mikado, as written, is not racist.
The Mikado, as performed, often is.
The Fairy Princess knows that it is fun to play dress up, and to become other characters. She has seen productions of other G&S pieces, and in those works, it seems the Actors try harder to inhabit the characters – in The Mikado, she has seen shuffling of feet, batting of fans, bowing, and giggling and scraping, but little performance. When she has seen it, it becomes about the race being portrayed, and not about the singing.
Why is that?
The Mikado is in danger of turning into the last place where Caucasians can openly mock another race without getting accused of racism.
However, if the subject arises, as it did in Seattle, everyone involved is affronted! They cannot even begin to have a conversation about it, because it is just mean little Asian American people who ‘cannot take a joke‘, who ‘have no idea what Gilbert and Sullivan is‘, who ‘do not understand‘ the art-form.
The Fairy Princess is your worst nightmare – she is a conservatory trained singer, she is a scholar, she is a big G&S fan, and she is Asian American. She has worked in comedy, she knows a joke.
We are not being ‘sensitive’, we are speaking up.
We are not ‘unable to take a joke’, we are unwilling to be the butt of it.
We are not ignorant of either this piece, it’s music, or it’s message, what we ARE is wary of what productions like yours do to average Asian Americans who are trying to go about their day. Will people mock them to their faces, the way you revel in mocking them on stage? Will our children go to school and have some child who has been taken to see your production, shuffle their feet at them, and make the awful faces at them that your Katisha is making in the photos above?
If you are bemoaning that no Asian Americans came and auditioned to be in your Mikado, did you at any time, wonder why? Have you considered that the way it has been portrayed on American stages in the past years has been painful for APIs to watch?
Your stance that APIs are wrong to speak up is a huge injustice to The Mikado and it’s creators, who had much to say about tolerance and kindness, and the ability to see beyond what is presented as fact.
America is changing, and if G&S Societies wish to survive and flourish, they are going to have to become more sensitive to diversity – both in casting and in performance.
If you are willing, she asks that you watch her speech from LA Stage Day…
She also asks that you take a look at these clips from The English National Opera’s production of The Mikado.
Seems to me that the E.N.O. did a bang up job there, and they made their concept work totally and completely.
It seems to me that that is truly the issue – making the show work without making it offensive.
You can do it – but you have to want to, and sadly, the ‘circle the wagons’ stance really implies that you are unwilling to entertain the notion of alternate viewpoints. What is saddest is that, with Seattle’s large Asian American population, you had a real opportunity here to introduce some great music to people who may not have been familiar with it – and instead, you blew it. Will you get an opportunity to grow your audience with the largest minority population in Seattle again?
Doubtful. Not impossible, but doubtful.
10 smacks of the wand to Seattle’s Gilbert & Sullivan Society – on top of what seems to be a questionable production in terms of sensitivity, you had your Business Manager write a ridiculous letter, you had your Koko on the radio blustering and posturing about that which he clearly knows nothing, AND you did exactly what they did in the 1940’s – you threatened people with what would happen if ‘those Asian people‘ had their way.
By Jingo you did.
Finally, here is a message for you, from Asian America – stop trying to scare people with what will happen if we are allowed to speak our minds – we are going to continue to speak them, we do not CARE if you don’t like it -
KISS OUR FAN TAN FANNIES!