The Fairy Princess was feeling pretty good…
It had been several months since her speech at LA Stage Day, chronicling why Yellowface in theater should meet its untimely end…here it is, in case you missed it.
There have been endless panels on diversity, on co-opting experiences and on whether or not empathy is key to bringing us all together (Which, btw, The Fairy Princess was j‘accused of having none of, but now, now….I do, it’s just reserved for dolphins in The Cove, LGBT people who live in places like Russia and Nigeria, and orcas trapped in captivity- that kind of thing ), so she kinda thought that we were done!
That she could toddle off to book signings…
And to see good friends in shows where she could meet Actors that she admires….
The Fairy Princess relaxed! She did! She thought that her message had been heard – after all, VARIETY even reiterated her points about Diversity = Dollars! VARIETY!
The best part was that they mostly deal with Movies and Television, therefore The Fairy Princess assumed the message had moved on from theater, to more lucrative hills alive with the sound of commerce. But you know what happens when you assume? Felix?
The Fairy Princess thought that American theater had gotten the message – that Asian American Actors are plentiful, and even if there is not a large percentage in your own city, if you require them because you are choosing to use their culture to set your play, you can put a casting call out in a city like New York or Los Angeles – where MOST ACTORS ARE (we do not just store API Actors on the Coasts, we store almost all of them regardless of ethnicity on the Coasts), and they could do this amazing thing that Actors do….travel.
Who doesn’t love a good, singing Howard Keel? The man was magic!
However, The Fairy Princess was WRONG – the Fairy Princess has been GOBSMACKED by the City of Brotherly Love’s Lantern Theater.
They are doing a production of The Tragedy of Julius Caesar by that guy, you know him….
Which, The Fairy Princess enjoys – she does love a good rassel with morals and iambic pentameter as much as anyone who has attended a Conservatory training program. She does not even mind when you move the settings around, or place the play in ‘another world’ to shake things up a bit- after all, it’s not like we haven’t seen it, now is it? She even loves diversity in Casting, oh how she LOVES Diversity in Casting.
So why then is her tiara clamping down on her brain?
Not because they cast this guy – who would protest casting this guy in anything? He’s handsome, he’s talented, and he’s a TONY nominee….no, it’s not the casting of this guy or anyone else in this play – they are all likely, very talented….there’s a bit of a, hmmmm, element though that is bothering The Fairy Princess….
Why, oh WHY could The Fairy Princess, who advocates for including Asian American Actors in shows where their own heritage is being used as a setting, WHY could she be upset about The Lantern’s Caesar?
Well, here is a quote from Playbill.com about the show “Influenced by the aesthetic and philosophical similarities of feudal Japan to Shakespeare’s Rome, set, costume and sound design incorporates conceptual elements such as Shoji screen architecture, traditional Japanese warrior clothing and music performed by Philadelphia’s Taiko drum band ensemble, Kyo Daiko“
They know that Japan is a real place, right? It’s not just a place to grab a robe and a california roll from and call it a day, right? Japan is a real place, with real people who look a certain way. Their DNA makes them look a certain way….
Ummmm….perhaps I am slow, but perhaps we’ll just ask the Assistant Director to explain it to us:
(UPDATE: the above video DID exist and was prominently featured on both The Lantern Theater’s website and on their Facebook page. Since this blog first appeared a few days ago, and since it has been viewed by well over 1,000 people – largely theater people I am assuming, the AD’s at The Lantern Theater chose to take down the video after the resulting internet kerfuffle.
WHAT WAS IN IT: In the video they had the Asst Director of the Production in question talking about why they chose the setting they did. They looked and they thought that Feudal Japan had the most in common with Rome of Caesar’s time, and given that in Shakespeare’s time actors would probably have appeared in doublets etc, they wanted to change the costuming. They were not eager to have everyone in togas. It had been done before, so they needed a NEW Concept. Therefore they changed the setting from the Ancient Rome we have come to expect and they created a new one- this was/is now a Rome that had been invaded by Japan.
At the time of this play as now set at The Lantern Theater, the Japanese have LEFT Rome, but very thoughtfully left all their culture and trappings behind them, which opens up this show to include shoji screens, kimonos, armor, fighting styles, and taiko drums. )
As we CANNOT watch the Assistant Director explain it anymore, please click (HERE) for an interview with the Director from the Philadelphia Metro.
So…just so we are clear – the show is set in Rome, but a Rome that has been conquered by Japan.
However the Japanese have now left…
BUT THEY TOOK EVERY LAST PERSON OF ANY ASIAN HERITAGE WITH THEM AFTER THEY CONQUERED ROME?
They took every last Asian heritaged person that would have been there after what would have been a series of battles that would have extended over years? All the children that would have been created by the soldiers as they raped and plundered their way through Rome, they were all Russell Crowe about it?
They left behind their clothes, customs, war tactics, weapons, shoji screens, and taiko drums, but left not even ONE person – not one courtesan, not one general, or lowly foot soldier, or peasant – they rounded them ALL up and put them on a giant boat back to Japan…well I guess that explains why they left all the clothes, they did not have room on the boat!
Does that seem somewhat RIDICULOUS to anyone else?
Has anyone at the Lantern Theater actually looked at, well, a history of Japanese invasions from, well…the beginning of time, and examined HOW they handled wars and invasions?
Julius Caesar was killed March 15, 44 B.C.
His Japanese Contemporary, was Emperor Sujin (in fact, here is a list of ALL his contemporaries). Now, there is not much known about Emperor Sujin, however….he and his sons were able to fend off the Mongols, led by Ghengis Khan. At the same time, he was invading Korea and establishing the Japanese regency.
A regency. Like, a royal thingy – not in their own country. They didn’t leave. They brought stuff with them and they left people there to watch it. People with swords and armor – because they were an invading nation.
They would not, you know, go into only THE MOST POWERFUL WESTERN NATION OF THE TIME AT THAT TIME AKA ROME and conquer it and then turn around and go “ok boys, pack it up, we just wanted to prove a point that we could, and now we are off to figure out how to torment Korea for the rest of time, so…yeah, put everyone in the boat, no, no, leave the screens…we’ll just make more“
So what IS this then? This is just one more production to add to the seeming ENDLESS list of productions where the Director chooses to purloin the culture of an Asian nation, and then, instead of doing the LOGICAL thing, like casting Asian Americans to be in this ‘mythical Rome-pan‘ to show that they had been invaded and conquered, he decides nope.
No Asians in Rome-pan.
Rome-pan only has the dress, the settings, the weapons and the drums of “Mythic Feudal Japan” but not the people. (Although, technically, the dress of Japan at that time, actually mirrors Chinese fashion, so probably mythical Rome-pan may have it’s own glitches in authenticity)
Now, The Fairy Princess is of mixed heritages – one of them being Irish. As an Irish person, or rather, a person of Irish Heritage who has read books and so on, she knows that when a country, for instance in her particular case – Ireland, gets invaded, there are things that happen during that time period.
Like rape, and killing, and intermarriage, slaves taken, slaves left, fortresses built, languages shared, languages merged, and what does this mean? Well…it means that you know, we have different hair color that is unusual in an island nation. It means that red hair in Ireland comes from the invading Celts, and black hair possibly from ancient sea routes through Spain, and that kind of thing. Vikings, Gaels, Normans, all have been to Ireland, which was a sea going nation.
It means, that if one is invaded and conquered, the mark of the conqueror is not just in the fact that they bring their ‘stuff’, it is in the DNA they left behind.
WHICH MEANS that in 44 BC ‘Rome-pan’, there should have been some Asians or Eurasians cast up in there!
At the VERY least. WHICH MEANS that the Director was probably not thinking, as the Asst Dir now pundits (and I am not quoting here, I am pundit-ing) that Rome was overtaken by Japan etc, etc, etc….
The Fairy Princess thinks that he was thinking more along these lines – I really, really want to shake it up and use Japanese stuff, because I think it will look fresh and I think people in Philadelphia will think it is exciting to have taiko drums in Ancient Rome.
Which is…kinda lazy, isn’t it?
I mean, if you are going through ALL THE TROUBLE of making up ‘Rome-pan’ and trying to sell it to audiences in a city that embraces tolerance and Quakers and well – brotherly love – wouldn’t you think that it would be nice to show some to those Asian American Actors who regularly do Shakespeare, and who would have enjoyed a fresh take on Julius Caesar?
Honestly though…it’s not really, hate to break it to you, Philly, a ‘fresh’ a take on Shakespeare…cuz there is a little play we Asian Americans like to do called…wait for it….SHOGUN MACBETH
(Obviously that is Lady MacBeth, and this is the wrong quote for that moment, but…)
Anyway, in blogging, as in Shakespeare….
I mean, you can buy SHOGUN MACBETH from Samuel French!
So…yeah, not such a fresh take then…huh?
While The Fairy Princess wishes the actors in this production well, again, they all seem quite talented, she cannot, cannot in good conscience stop her magic wand from applying several well placed whacks to the tushes of Director and Artistic Director, Charles McMahon, the Assistant Director and Education Director, Joshua L. Brown (who SHOULD HAVE figured this out and said something prior to Casting), and…The Lantern Theater of Philadelphia.
The production is up and running now – but this HAD to be said – particularly because there are EXCELLENT Asian American Shakespearean Actors and Actresses and yet AGAIN, they have been ‘white-washed’ from partaking of an expression of their own ‘mythical – which is a total cop out because Japan is a real place with real people’ history.
So it’s already up and running, it is…
Which means, they can KISS MY FAN TAN FANNIE!