The Fairy Princess did some “Activist-ing’, she did.
Normally, she writes about productions and they are generally in a different town or somewhere where to get involved in the physical aspects of protesting, she would have to jump a plane.
Sadly though, right here in New York City, the National Asian Artists Project, has decided to do an All Asian American production of Show Boat.
Yes, this Show Boat.
At this point, everyone knows which Show Boat we are talking about – the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein classic, Show Boat, which deals with the divide between the Caucasian and African Americans Post- Civil War in the Deep South.
Show Boat is a show that, in TFP’s opinion, is not one that can be done by APIs with any sense of dignity or sense of history, or, well…sense.
In fact, if one is to do this show without the Cast as written, based on the novel where these themes – between Caucasian and African American – are not honored, it makes you appear as, well…
TFP attended this ‘talkback’ given by NAAP, to see what was going to be said.
Some pretty interesting things were said, particularly by Co-Founder Steven Eng.
Co-Founder of NAAP, Steven Eng
TFP Live Tweeted exactly what was said, but it would be tiresome to replay it all exactly
(although if you wish you can go to her Twitter account @Equill and check them out)
To sum up what was said by NAAP at this ‘open forum”, and share what TFP learned:
1. Baayork Lee is the only reason Big Name Directors will work with Asian American Performers
2. If they were to cast African Americans in Show Boat, it would not ‘serve their mission“
3. “We are not denying opportunity to Caucasians or African Americans because we were never going to cast them’ – Steven Eng
4. “We are driven by our mission…and Tommy Tune is very aware of that’ – Steven Eng
5. “I am not going to talk about Tommy’s concept (for the show) I don’t think it is fair when it is in development” – Steven Eng
6. The Rogers & Hammerstein Organization is the one that did all the intermediary legwork between the Hammerstein and Kern Estates to help approval happen, specifically Ted Chapin.
(Sidebar: If TFP were Ted Chapin, she would be a bit concerned about how often his name came up and his enthusiasm for this project was mentioned and how much he loved it so they did not have to do any of the ‘leg work’ because good Ol’ Ted Chapin was the go-between for them between the estates of Kern and Hammerstein to get this clearance. Methinks Ted Chapin may get an earful from some folks…some folks…somewhere…just sayin’) (Watch your back Ted Chapin)
7. “We will not be changing the show” – Steven Eng
8. “Tommy has been given leeway to change some things‘ – Steven Eng
9. “You have to trust us” – Steven Eng
10. One of the reasons they chose it was ‘to see if Asian Americans could do it’
11. Baayork Lee and Tommy Tune chose this show specifically because they felt other shows were ‘too easy’.
(One can only assume they meant ‘too easy to do without offending and erasing an entire people from their actual history’. That kind of ‘too easy’ )
Which made TFP and others kinda feel like:
Now, observers at home, lest you think that this meeting was unattended – it was not. In fact, prominent Musical Theater Actor, Jose Llana was one of the first to speak of his dismay.
Broadway Performer, Jose Llana
Mr. Llana wanted to know why, specifically why, this particular show was chosen – which was a question that would be asked and remain unanswered repeatedly through the evening.
Hansel Tan asked a question on everyone’s mind as well – how was this going to harm us (API Performers) in the future? Because, as he pointed out, “Nothing here in New York happens in a vacuum”
Actor, Hansel Tan
Cast Member of the Current Broadway Revival of The King & I, Marc Oka stated “It is a visceral feeling, it does not feel right….What some of us would like to tell you is of the danger of this production...’
Broadway Performer, Marc Oka
Co-Artistic Director of Lodestone Theatre Ensemble and member of the LA Ovation Committee, Chil Kong gave a blistering speech asking for the justification of this choice, and requested information that he could bring back to colleagues that are People of Color, to make them understand this, when very few in the room could understand it either.
Noted Tenor, Dillon McCartney,
who sings with The Three Irish Tenors came simply to see, as a fan of the show, what the discussion would be.
So the ‘crowd’ as it were, the crowd demanding answers, was diverse, which was heartening.
Actor, Orville Mendoza, who did not think that he was going to get up and speak, felt compelled after listening to Mr. Eng circle endlessly around the fact that yes, he knew the show was about race, but would not say why they were choosing to ignore the historical factors race played in the show to explore…well…race...but they were intending to explore race because Show Boat is all about race….
Yes, It was confusing.
Actor, Orville Mendoza
Anyway, Mr. Mendoza got up and with great respect, did say that he felt that doing a show about race where you are ignoring the race that belongs in that particular show due to historical accuracy was like “putting a hat on a hat, (because) this show already has a message”
Many views of those present were variations of thoughts expressed in the book by “Show Boat; Performing Race In An American Musical” by Todd Decker (link to purchase here) for example: “My emphasis on race rests equally on definitions of whiteness and blackness. Magnolia and Ravenal perform their whiteness every bit as much as Joe performs his blackness and any actress playing Julie must perform that character’s mixed-race identity, whatever that has meant in particular times and places.”
Show Boat is a musical where, everyone agreed, race matters and despite repeated and fervent requests from several people, a concept was never explained.
One wonders what noted journalist, Jeff Yang is going to say about this whole situation, as he took copious notes on his laptop in the back of the room. TFP is a big fan of Jeff Yang, so she will be very interested to see if he writes on this debate.
Jeff Yang aka @originalspin
After a while, TFP decided to get up and speak – she had made points before, but she wanted to go on record and reiterate why she is convinced that this production is the wrong thing to do:
1. This is not an Asian American story to tell, in any way. We were not ripped from our homelands and made to serve in the most degrading ways possible, people who believed they were superior to us based on nothing but skin tone.
2. After all the strides that have been made in getting theaters to acknowledge that they should cast APIs in roles where the writing requires an Asian Heritaged Actor, to now decide to look to another Minority group and co-opt their experiences makes us hypocrites, and weakens our advances.
3. TFP is a Person of Color within the Broadway community, being part of that community, and also a student of the Musical Theater, she could never think that her auditioning for the role of “Queenie” (which is the role she was asked to come in for) was ‘right’ in any sense of the word. Not as a student, not as a colleague, and not as an Artist – The Fairy Princess will not be playing Queenie.
4. The final point that TFP made was that the concept is offensive, but then to add insult on top of injury, NAPP has chosen as a Director, he tallest White tap dancer in the world….
and THAT was when we finally heard from Baayork Lee, who had sat (after reading a small statement in the beginning) staring blindly ahead in a chair at the front of the room and never speaking, but that was when we heard from Ms. Lee.
She yelled out “Native American, he is Native American!”
TFP apologizes to Mr. Tune for calling him Caucasian, she did not realize it was offensive.
But then TFP was curious about Mr. Tune and his Native American heritage (you may know her Father represented NA Tribes so she knows a bit more about NA issues than an ‘average’ American), and while she does not want to ‘see his tribal card’, she was curious if he had channeled his culture in his work.
Because, when one is a Person of Color…
their heritage often shows up in their work, and perhaps he felt, as a minority, he could use that to enter the minds of African Americans after the Civil War.
Maybe that was why he chose it?
Anyway, TFP was curious, and you know what it did to the …
So she took a walk on the internet and in a book called “The Great White Way: Race and the Broadway Musical” by Warren Hoffman, (Link to purchase here) she found this passage:
“Despite the fact that Tommy Tune himself is part Native American, The Will Rogers Follies was accused of depicting Indians in a poor light. According to a letter sent by representatives from the American Indian Community House in New York,
“The life and work of one of the Cherokee Nation’s most famous citizens is currently being butchered and distorted at the Palace Theater in The Will Rogers Follies. The show is replete with racist caricatures and stereotypes; everything from a braided man in buckskin crashing a unicycle to Tommy Tune’s interpretation of Indian dance, which is more suited to an episode of Scooby-Doo than Broadway“.
They took special offense at a piece of choreography that featured an actor costumed as a Native American dancing on a drum and summed up their comments by stating “These antics are applauded and laughed at by an audience who doesn’t know any better and thinks that this Indian version of “Stepin Fetchit’ is totally acceptable…What is most hurtful about this show is that Tune, it’s director as well as it’s choreographer, is a self identified Choctaw Indian’.
TFP has many thoughts about this…but let’s get back to the meeting….
Several young NAAP devotees also arose to say these various things, here is a sampling with TFP’s reaction in green.
1. “I just moved here” (Can the Adults please smoke?)
2. I grew up in Hawaii, and we don’t have a big pool of talent in Hawaii, so everyone just plays everything, and no one cares (Cuz it is Hawaii and you were in high school, we are in NYC)
3. I’m from Japan, and yes, in Japan we do All Asian Casts, but we are not in Japan, we are in New York, and here, this would not be right to do. (Smartest Gal in the Room in her 20’s)
4. NAAP is my home, but I have a problem knowing if I can audition for this (You really don’t, you just wanted us all to look at you in case that helps you get the gig)
This went on for a while, and then a young blonde lady spoke, she seemed in her 20’s as well, and she said that this production would not bother her at all. She felt that this show would not be taking a job from her. She felt that, as an Artist, isn’t the point to be controversial?
After a few of these, “well, I don’t see why we can’t” comments, a lovely young man named Jonathan Flemings spoke,
Jonathan Flemings @JBlake212
and he quoted the show, the very first line, as originally written, and asked if Kevin (didn’t catch the last name) would say it. Kevin did not want to respond, so TFP interjected, (after he started listing his various heritages) “Are you going to say the N-word!”
Kevin stated that no, he would not use the N-word, and TFP bitchily responded, “Then you can’t do Show Boat”.
TFP can definitely be bitchy, but she does not see that as a detriment.
Anyway, by the end of the event, these things were said by Steven Eng:
1. It is too late to change the show (But they have not finished casting, so it is not, actually)
2. They are going forward with the show. (Cuz they paid for the rights & won’t admit it’s a mistake)
3. They ‘may’ talk to Tommy Tune about releasing some of his directorial vision (Which is the closest they are going to come to admitting this is a big mistake)
4. This will not be a traditional treatment of Show Boat. (Cuz APIs will be playing African Americans)
A question was then asked if the Creative Team was going to reach out to the Black Community to perhaps get a “Consultant’ to help them with issues in the script that, well, they would have absolutely no knowledge of as they are not, in fact, African American, and they said “maybe”.
TFP later learned that they approached a gentleman whose face appears on this blog posting to fill this position.
TFP has no confidence that this production will go well, despite the best of intentions by the Creative Team. She felt that the lack of real conversation, the refusal to actual listen to the voices of the Asian American Broadway Acting Community, who were present, who asked, repeatedly for them to NOT do this show, is indicative of an actual artistic problem with the vision and execution of this piece as they intend to do it.
She did speak to some of the younger folks present afterwards, who, oddly, said that they were big fans of her blog – which is curious because they still seemed eager to do Show Boat, so she wonders really if they read it, per se.
Anyway, advice is free, and that is what she gave them in passing, which she will now share here –
If you are set on this course, if you are going to be in NAAP’s Show Boat don’t put your name on the program, and do not list it on your resume. People of the Theater are all connected, in ways you cannot realize yet, and if you proudly display “Queenie” in Show Boat on your resume, people will call you on it.
They may ask how you, as an Actress prepared to be an African American post Civil War in the Deep South – and that is putting it mildly.
So go ahead…but be prepared…
Connie Wong in A CHORUS LINE will probably now be cast as an African American.
We can say nothing.
All Latino FLOWER DRUM SONG? Go right ahead. All Caucasian HERE LIES LOVE? Well sure, it’s only based on real people and events….that doesn’t matter anymore, does it?
The King and I – Susan Graham (Anna Leonowens) / Lambert Wilson (The King) © Marie-Noëlle Robert – Théâtre du Châtelet – SEE HOW STUPID THIS LOOKS?
Because we are soooooo post-racial.
Production Still: Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan’s Production of THE MIKADO
None of us see color anymore, which means of course that we obviously should not be licensed to drive.
In other words….back to the…
In Closing, TFP wants to say to the NY African American Acting Community specifically and to the larger community – no API Actor who has been on Broadway or who is currently on Broadway that she has spoken to, texted, or who emailed her in the last few days is in favor of this production.
We all see the danger and the insult in this – and there is nothing we can do. We have tried repeatedly to amend this situation, but we cannot, and we apologize, this is a rude awakening that our Asian American Acting Community as such, does not exist.
You cannot be a Community if no one is listening, can you?
However, if people would still like to try and change this situation…and why not?
Why not write to the licensing company and share your thoughts?
R&H Theatricals Amateur Theatres
Ph: (800) 400-8160
Fax: (212) 268-1245
R&H Theatricals Professional Theatres
Ph: (212) 541-6600
Fax: (212) 568-6155
Because of course, while this is a super super bad concept to begin with, they were given permission…but you know….maybe someone will think about it and say…
In which case they could start working on the “All API Version of Grand Hotel” right away….