Here I sit in the Colonies, and I have just read The National Arts Council’s letter to Mr. Victor Wong, who is the Executive Director of the Chinese Canadian National Council. Mr. Wong quite obviously wrote to the RSC in light of Artistic Director Gregory Doran casting China with a coat of white paint. And good for him! Bravo! I toast Mr. Wong with a cup full of maple syrup whilst wearing a Mountie hat! Thank you Mr. Wong.
(My Canadian Chinese Cousins will be duly impressed by this. I don’t really know them, we are apparently related through a Great Grandfather with multiple wives and concubines, but what are you going to do? That’s China for you. A First Cousin married a Canadian actually, with my same name, awkward, but she has a fabulous company for Ex-Pat Canadians in Oz called Oh Canada !)
The letter is from Nigel Hugill, I will pull a bit of the text.
What has occurred to the Fairy Princess, sitting here twiddling my toes in the lovely, balmy LA weather, and having just been to The Ovation Awards (LA’s Theater Awards) last evening is, that the Royal Shakespeare Company is very uncomfortable with language.
What’s that you say? But what is theatre if not language? The theatre is language and costumes and sets all designed to tell a story to make you think. There are plays that make you think about a variety of subjects – about love, or sex, or money – plays are designed to make you think. On occasion, there are plays that make you think about issues that you are uncomfortable with.
The Orphan of Zhao is one such play for The Royal Shakespeare Company.
It’s all very “words, words, words, I’m so sick of words” And it is not, actually the words Asian or East Asian or Casting or Diversity or Multi-Cultural – those words they are willing to fling about like ramen in a food fight.
What is getting their goat is one other word, and it is not supercalifragilisticexpealidocious.
The word is….wait for it…apology.
I mean, yes, to apologize is to throw yourself on a sword a bit, Mr. Doran, but it’s not necessarily fatal. AND…I happen to have one right here, as a matter of fact:
Just kidding, just kidding – don’t throw yourself on a Chinese sword Mr. Doran, you would be vastly uncomfortable and definitely need a tetanus shot.
What is odd to me about this whole situation, is that the Brits are known world wide for some very particular traits – Beautiful Princesses
Sweeney Todd (the legend, not the musical)
and..what is that other one…don’t tell me, don’t tell me….oh yes, ETTIQUETTE!
Isn’t the British standard held up for the rest of us because of their love of protocol? Doesn’t everyone have to have a card to leave on a silver plate with the butler while we wait to gain entrance? Isn’t everyone on baited breath to see if they will be received by the Host should they be having an ‘at home’?
It does not take a village, nor a an upbringing by a starchy, staunch Nanny to know that when you own a dog and it takes a big poo on the street, your obligation is to pick up the poo. (Preferably in a small plastic, recyclable bag which you then deposit forthwith into a receptacle of the trashy variety)
But THAT is not what Mr. Nigel Hugill is deciding to do. He has decided that all this kerfuffl-ing is not something he need immediately be concerned with. He is taking it under advisement. He is now off to don a smoking jacket, after checking his stocks on the “Change, and toddle off to his Club to enjoy brandy, cigars, and the company of his Peers. Poo on the streets? Didn’t bother Mr. Nigel, he just stepped right over it.
Mr. Hugill – the Fairy Princess is not on the British Arts Council, nor has she fluttered her wings across a West End Stage (and this whole thing has really stuck a pin in that one, wouldn’t you say?). However, you need a few smacks with the wand if you think that the British ‘love affair’ with East Asians has, in any way, given you any leeway in this situation. You don’t have a heck of a lot of credit with us, you are in foreclosure for the following reasons:
Exhibit A: The Mikado – yes, originally written to protest British mores, but that’s not the way it’s usually done is it? Nope, usually done in “Yellow Face”
Exhibit B: Jonathan Pryce in MISS SAIGON
Yes he did Miss Saigon in Yellow Face, till the Yanks yelled about it – so off went the prosthetic eyes, and off almost came the ENTIRE US Production as Cam Mac jumped up and down and raged about the right of his team to cast someone who was not Asian, as a Eurasian.
Well. Well. I am actually Eurasian so….you all were half right, or rather half wrong in that case.
But now we are on to Exhibit C – The Orphan of Zhao
I have a lovely friend who is a Broadway Veteran, who happens to be multi-racial, who said to me: “I don’t believe in people saying they don’t see color. How do they drive? What they should say is that they do not react to color, that they choose not to acknowledge it.”
There’s been all this back and forth about who is right and who is wrong and who is responsible for Artistry and so on, and it is time to call it a day. I would rather play with a Corgi and drink Earl Grey and forget this tiff with those of the British Arts Council and it’s minions.
Thus, The Fairy Princess is going to be magnanimous. She is going to ‘break it down’ for Artistic Director Doran and all the Members of the British Arts Council who are happily looking down upon the East Asians from their Ivory Tower of Pomposity. Ready? Here you go:
YOU. NEED. TO. APOLOGIZE.
Take a page from the book of La Jolla Playhouse, they apologized. Seriously, Moises Kaufman apologized.
See, once you do that, everyone can move on.
Digging in your heels and sulking that you were right, does not make it so, it makes you look like Veruca Salt in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Here’s what you say:
Dear (Insert a respectful address, if you can bring yourselves to, won’t you?)
We at the British Arts Council and The Royal Shakespeare Company have heard your complaints. Given the vast amounts of attention that our Casting of The Orphan of Zhao has warranted, we have had time to look at the issue from all sides. While we believe fully in the talent of our current Cast, we do think that we made a mistake.
Casting a play set in feudal China with a majority of Caucasians, was, in fact, the wrong thing to do. While it was not done with malice, and cannot be undone, you can rest assured that the RSC and the British Arts Council will do everything in their power to make sure that this is never done again.
We value our UK Citizens who have East Asian heritage, both those that are in the Performing Arts and those who are valued Audience members of the RSC. We hope in the future, to go forward, working together, both to expand our knowledge of world plays and to respect the heritage from which the play came.
Our deepest regrets for any hurt feelings, we never intended that this be the result of what we hope will be a long collaboration with China, bringing their stories to our stages.
Vastly Superior Public School Attendee blah, blah, blah, multiple letters from her Majesty blah blah
Seriously, just do that. No, go ahead right now and DO THAT.
Why? Because you are a Leader, and Leaders are not afraid to admit mistakes – they are only afraid to repeat them.
I would like to quote Terrence McFarland’s Ovation Award Speech, from the event I attended last night. Terence is an exceptionally thoughtful and erudite man.
“I am reminded that we, too, as theater makers, are in service.
Twenty years ago on the Taper stage a group of artists came together and served.
They were a bellwether in the perception shift of a plague and redefined what was possible to accomplish in a single, epic play.
Margaret Mead’s quote seems apt: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. ‘
I challenge you, citizens, to embrace the sentiment inherent in Kushner’s infamous line from Angels in America:
“The Great Work Begins.”
And thus, The Fairy Princess challenges The British Arts Council and the RSC to allow the Great Work that they currently DO, to embrace what has been mentioned previously, and allow their future Great Work to include more East Asians.
It is possible to do Great Work when dealing with those whose heritage includes The Great Wall.
ESPECIALLY if the show is set in CHINA, FEUDAL CHINA!!!!!!!!!