The Fairy Princess has been looking at this country’s new Regime (YES, SHE SAID REGIME) with angst. After which she has to instantly freebase some Randy Rainbow to keep sane.
As many know, TFP is a theater professional – who has ideas – and much of the new year has been taken up with panel discussions that has expanded upon those ideas.
In January, she spoke on a panel at the Musical Theater Educators at New York University on Diversity at the invitation of Prof. Kikau Alvaro from Virginia Commonwealth University. Thanks Kikau!
She felt many of the crowd were ‘up in arms’ at some of the issues raised… but still, she persisted.
To sum up what TFP believes about, for example, putting a Performer in a role say, as Christmas Eve from AVENUE Q, and then not having them be Asian/American…
What is taught when this occurs?
What is being taught is that ethnic identity and culture is something to be acknowledged only when Caucasians say they will acknowledge it. It teaches a basic disrespect for Performers of Minority Status.
This plays into the cultural disrespect that permeates this country that has currently boiled over to such a point where we have elected a man who TFP refers to as Comb-over Twitler, and if you, as a theater educator, are ‘indulging’ in the erasure of people of minority status from the Arts – YOU are part of the problem.
Be the solution.
BroadwayCon had it’s first Asian American Panel called “Someone In A Tree“, to discuss representation on Broadway of Asian/Americans – and those on the panel were – B.D. Wong, Amy Hill, Manu Narayan, Kelvin Moon Loh and TFP
Here is what Playbill.com had to say:
TFP thanks her panelists for their time and energy – these discussions are lively and fun, and need to keep happening. She knows, at times, they can be a drag…but there were BroadwayCon attendees who came up with tears in their eyes after, just from being able to see people they could relate to, talk about a life in the Arts.
Thanks too to the amazing BroadwayCon staff, who are so supportive of inclusion. BroadwayCon makes these panels a priority, giving them a forum when many in our business make a practice of ignoring them – and so, Bravo on a great second BroadwayCon – honored to be included.
TFP then traveled to Princeton University to speak on a panel with Composer Robert Lee and Playwright, Lloyd Suh at their first Asian American Theater Symposium.
The day was presented by Princeton’s newly formed East West Theater Company, who also mounted a production of Lloyd Suh’s Charles Francis Chan Jr’s Exotic Oriental Murder Mystery, ably directed by Peter Kim. Mr. Kim was in the original Off-Broadway production of the show, and is a dynamic and talented Actor/Writer/Director in New York City.
Earlier panels included a discussion with Professor Christine Mok, University of Cinncinnati and Professor Brian Herrera, 0f Princeton University.
TFP learned quite a lot, and she has to thank Professors Mok and Herrera for having a frank discussion called “The Privileged Conversation’. One of those points IN their discussion, was Prof. Mok’s preference for writing Asian/American with the slash in between Asian and American. There is a long reasoning behind it, but in a nutshell, / let’s the term be both fluid and encompassing.
TFP is for it!
This new East West Theater Company was founded by current Princeton senior, Kathy Zhao, in response to being cast the previous year in a role based on stereotype – and if this is how Ms. Zhao responds to being challenged, all TFP can say is, the future of Asian/American theater looks promising.
She thought the Times response was valid, but she wanted to add a few thoughts while she was fresh off all these panels…just some thoughts.
First of all, the idea that the press should buckle to the whims of a
president, er, producer is ludicrous.
The press and producers have a symbiotic relationship – Producers need to sell tickets, and Critics need shows to review. Everyone knows this. However to insist that the presenting the story of Big River should be devoid of comment about the current state of racial dynamics in the United States, even while it is being presented during Black History Month,
is a far reach.
The character of Jim, who is an escaped slave cannot just be seen through the viewpoint of Mark Twain writing way back in the day, that is impossible given the internet and our current crisis that brought about the Black Lives Matter movement.
To be frank, Mark Twain would not have wanted that.
He wrote the story of Tom Sawyer because he was opposed to people OWNING other people – and his setting of the issue to be seen through the eyes of a young white boy was because he wanted things to change. He also wanted his readers to but ‘gulled’ into reading what they would think is a ‘charming story of a young boy and his misadventures‘ and wind up with a damning indictment of white privilege.
Mr. Viertel’s response was painful to read for those who value the free press (didn’t the free press just strike a palpable hit against former Government employee, Mike Flynn? Andrew Puzder?) and for those who are may also be one of the aforementioned minorities upon which those panels on diversity in which TFP participated, was based.
“But the shock of reading her stunningly polarized, politicized, narrow-minded and unfailingly myopic notions about Mark Twain, Big River itself and the place of racial and gender diversity in American letters and the American theater is something I can only picture seeing in some crackpot journal put together by college undergraduates in the late ‘60s.
Mark Twain does not go in and out of style. Whatever one thinks of the specific success or failure of Big River’s efforts to translate The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to the stage, it is faithful to Twain. I’m stunned to read, for instance, that Ms. Collins-Hughes is upset about the character of Jim being the only important black character in the piece. That’s true. It’s true of Twain’s novel, but it’s worth noting that Jim is, in fact, the most important black character in all of American literature of the 19th and early 20th century. Isn’t that enough? ”
No, Mr. Viertel – it’s not enough. You do not get to be the decider of when and where racial and gender diversity is appropriate. This may be hard for you to fathom.
TFP ‘gets it’, America voted in Comb-over Twitler and some people are like, whew!
Back on top!
What a relief!
‘They’ were getting so close!
Even in the theater.
Just because your wheelhouse is musicals of the past, which often do not deal with race as a construct (except Oscar Hammerstein shows of course) – we, the audience, cannot ignore where America is now.
For Old Man Encores to yell about a good review is a sign of nothing but panic at the thought of having to be concerned with social responsibility.
It is a cautionary tale for those who believe that all Artists live in a liberal bubble.
Still, it is surprising that a man in his position decided to ‘pop off’ the way he did.
Inclusion does not come easy – we see this all over the world, for example in England with The Print Room yellow face debacle.
Look at the photo here, which shows a patron yelling at British East Asians over protesting a play set in China, where the characters are to be Chinese, and not having any British East Asians in the cast. One of the remarks made by him had to do with the British East Asians not understanding theater.
TFP is pretty sure they ‘understand’ theater.
What they, the British East Asian Artists understand, and what was also discussed this past weekend at Princeton, is that – just by being on the stage as a minority, you become a political act.
You are demanding that people turn off all the lights and sit together, almost breathe as one, to look at you and the story you are telling – your face, your history tells a story. They must acknowledge you. They must see you as a person, as an Artist, as a human.
The truth though, about political acts is that many times, they are ignored because the people for whom they are intended prefer to ignore them. Political acts are not convenient for a lot of people – upsets the apple cart.
Which is why, often when minorities demand more space on stage, or on screen, or to tell their own stories, we are shown ‘the one’ as an example for why we should be satisfied. In fact, they get all ‘alternative facts’ nutso if you try and explain things like population percentages in regards to the setting of the show, the professions shown – demographics make some people very uncomfortable.
“But you have (insert noted minority talent) – you can’t say there aren’t any!”
Actually what we can say is that the parts given to minorities again and again, do not – in any way, ‘reflect the American scene’ – our numbers are low, and often it seems, our cultures are up for grabs at the whim of those with more power.
Oh, by the by – could someone explain ‘intersectional feminism‘ to Scarlett Johannson?
She might be a few college credits shy of being able to understand that a white woman replacing an Asian woman in a film set in Japan, about a Japanese Major is NOT feminism.
It is something else…begins with an r….
Nah, she will never get it, because she does not want to. It is not ‘convenient’ for her, or Matt Damon, or Tilda Swinton, or Emma Stone to believe they are in a direct line of descent from Mickey Rooney.
Personally, TFP thinks that any major film actor or actress who agrees to be in a whitewashed/yellowfaced role should go into a closed cage match with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and explain it all to him, in depth.
But then…TFP gets testy.
Honestly, this is a F**KING exhausting because it seems like it is truly getting worse.
Look in March’s VOGUE Magazine, which FULL ON indulges in yellow face, (Angry Asian Man) but expects us to ignore it because they put a Sumo wrestler in there!
Because – Fashion Art.
Racism is pervasive – and “Artists‘ hide their innate disregard for People of Color every. damn. day. under the ‘premise‘ of Art.
(That is Karli Kloss, for those of you wondering – photographed by Mikael Jansson for Vogue.Yes, she has already apologized)
They ‘cannot’ tell us apart, nor do they even try – Dev Patel is Riz Ahmed!
Just messing with you, that is Riz on the left!
Misidentified by Burberry, perhaps the whitest brand in the world – who just happened to have DRESSED Mr. Patel for that award show!
Jeannie Mai (from THE REAL) is confused with Brenda Song (from THE SUITE LIFE)!
By the by – that last one, misidentified by Ms. Mai’s OWN network, TV One!
To add insult to injury, Jeannie Mai was with her fellow Cast Mates at the NAACP Awards!
Artists of course, like and embrace People of Color, they will tell you that a million times – but the ‘rarefied air’ is allowed to be shared only upon occasion, and only with permission.
Of course, once ‘called’ to the carpet (the Red Carpet in these instances), they are quick enough to apologize for being unable or unwilling to tell us apart, but People of Color are only ‘allowed’ to exist in that world when and where Caucasians say so, because…ART.
TFP finds that frustrating.
TEEN VOGUE better go have a ‘talk’ with Big Sister VOGUE, is all TFP is sayin….
It was, of course, much ‘easier’ in the past to ignore sticky subjects like inclusion in theater and how people will view the show through the ‘matters of the day – because ‘such things’ were not discussed. Theatrical Producers of a certain age were raised in that tradition and they do not like to be questioned. They liked things as they were – and of course they would, for them, it was a nice world to live in.
However the rest of us no longer live in the world where men of a certain age, education and privilege are allowed to reign unchecked.
Good reviewers can separate performances from issues that are on the greater spectrum – which Ms. Collins-Hughes did, in TFP’s opinion. She gave the performers pretty much a rave, but she pointed out that choosing a show like this, at this time, is an odd choice, and that while Jim is a main character at first glance, he is not fully developed.
This is a critic who went and viewed the original Broadway production to put her points in context – it is, actually, an innately responsible journalistic approach to theater, and frankly – it’s refreshing.
Theater reviewing sometimes devolves into a cult of personality, rather than impartial viewing of a production on it’s own merits.
It is also telling that this is a Female Critic – and so there comes the additional debate of – if it was a MALE Critic who wrote this SAME thing, word for word –
WOULD YOU HAVE COME FOR HIM, MR. VIRTEL?
Now, ENCORES Concert Series has been around since 1994 – and their ‘thing’ is to present American musicals of ‘the past’, sans too much scenery, for those who are avid musical theater fans. Some of those shows have, of course, gone back to Broadway because of the impact of the ENCORES presentation – for example, CHICAGO.
(Just an aside: CHICAGO as it exists now in the world and on Broadway, regularly uses Performers of Colors in lead roles – and that is a credit to the Producers and the staff that maintains this long running show)
This is all well and good. It also should be applauded because American musical theater is rich with shows that have faded from general public memory.
However “the past’ of American Musical Theater history is mainly Caucasian.
ENCORES does cast some performers of minority status – for example, last year they tried with a “Hamilton‘ style casting with their ‘1776’ – however in general they do not seem to embrace inclusion or diversity with any regularity in lead roles. In fact, they have not done many musicals that explore stories that have race as part of the setting of the show.
Out of the shows they have done – St. Louis Woman, Hair, Golden Boy, House of Flowers, Purlie, It’s a Bird, it’s a Plane, it’s Superman, Kismet, and The Wiz – only “Superman’ & Kismet have Asian roles written in the show.
In Superman, they are the evil “Flying Lings‘.
Kismet is set in fictional Baghdad during mythic Arabian Nights times.
One hesitates to think what Mr. Virtual would think is appropriate for Asian History Month given his choice for the month of February!
TFP saw their “Wild Party”, yes, that had some diversity, however that reflected the original casting of that show.
Then of course, they ‘added on’ to their ‘shows that have minorities’ tally this season with Big River.
So while ENCORES does employ Performers of Color, it certainly does not seem a mandate of theirs to be inclusive. They are very happy with their status quo – and while it’s not awesome and amazing…it is worth pointing out that they still do way better than The Roundabout.
What she is saying is, ENCORES could do better. Broadway could do better too.
TFP appreciates that Mr. Virtel tried to ‘clap back’ to a review.
She realizes he was backed by many theater lovers (Including Frank Rich) online who find being conscious of today’s society ‘exhausting’ and would really like minorities to take a nicely subservient role and exist to serve only adjunct parts where they ‘should’ be – that is not going to happen.
Theater and politics have always co-existed, and this will never change.
We saw it with HAMILTON‘s ‘noble call‘ to VP Elect Pence.
We saw it with NYGASP’s updated production of “THE MIKADO”
In fact to quote HAMILTON – “History is happening in Manhattan and we just happen to be in the greatest city in the world, the greatest city in the world. Look around.”
Yes, Mr. Viertel – LOOK AROUND!
You can do BOTH – you can be a ‘woke’ Producer AND still love period musicals.
As Oscar Hammerstein wrote “Impossible things are happening every day.”
Here in New York City – our critics SHOULD do the work, and they SHOULD put their reviews in the context of the time, absolutely.
Maybe if Mr. Viertel took a nap, he would be able to see that her input in the context of this musical with her review, both prepares a modern audience and gives them the ability to figure out what may ‘bother’ them about it – it does not negate performances nor their wanting to see it.
The point is, just because styles are changing and one is bearing witness to it does not mean that there is not room for everyone.
The point is, just because something is not the same as when you first started in entertainment, does not mean it is wrong.
The point is, diversity equals dollars – and dollars keep musicals afloat.
IN SHORT – GOOD JOB MS. COLLINS – HUGHES!!!
Long Live a FREE PRESS!!!!!!
For trying to ‘shame’ a female theatrical critic on the basis of “Because the White Theater Gods Say So’….
TFP fines Old Man Encores a thousand theatrical listenings, each -of LEGS DIAMOND and CARRIE, the musicals!
Oh yeah, TFP knows a few old musicals too…