The Fairy Princess was doing just fine and recovering from a wicked cold – she was just fine -until she was asked to audition for this:
An “All Asian American Version of Show Boat”?
You mean…this Show Boat?
You mean…this Show Boat?
Seriously, this Show Boat?
Do you mean to tell us that during BLACK HISTORY MONTH, an Asian American Theater company has chosen to do SHOW BOAT, the quintessential musical about the racial divides in this country post Civil War in the Deep South, and they want to remove African Americans from the show, even though this show reflects their story within America?
During BLACK HISTORY MONTH?
TFP was asked to audition for the part of Queenie. If you look in that second video, you will note that the part of Queenie is supposed to be played by an African American woman, in the video and in the Broadway revival by Hal Prince, it was played by Gretha Boston.
Who won a TONY.
Congratulations Ms. Boston.
TFP turned down the audition to play Queenie, because TFP does not believe that it would be right for an Asian American woman to play an African American one.
She believes doing that is more like…well….
In fact, after a quick poll of her Broadway friends, she cannot find one – Asian American or African American who thinks that this is a ‘good’ idea – and she has had to charge her phone three times since this was announced, she has had so many texts and emails about it.
The only people who seem to think that this is a good idea are the Director:
The Executive Artistic Director….
And the Casting Director
Those are the only ones who seem to be ‘down’ with this All Asian American Show Boat.
The idea of which makes TFP want to do THIS:
Now, to be perfectly honest, when TFP first saw this announcement, and then when her Agent called with an appointment for it, she was sick to her stomach – because National Asian American Project does do good work. They are active in the community, they promote Asian American composers, performers, and education, and community outreach to children. They are known for doing All Asian American versions of shows, musicals, specifically, and those do need to be done.
Here is why – the dearth of Asian Americans on stage in the New York Theater community and elsewhere does limit the amount of stage time necessary to work on ones craft, and if Asian American performers are to maintain their skills at the highest level, it is necessary to perform in all kinds of shows, and “All API” productions do give performers that stage time that they may not get elsewhere.
One should not be always limited to performing roles in the few shows that are ‘designated’ Asian American (aka: King and I, Flower Drum Song, Miss Saigon, Pacific Overtures). Of course APIs should sing Sondheim and Kern, and Jason Robert Brown, and Tom Kitt, and any other composer in the Musical Theater canon.
TFP understands that this mission of access and showcasing Asian American performers that NAAP and other organizations do is necessary, and is a huge ‘lift’ to the community. In the past they have chosen all sorts of shows that can be done as “All Asian American’ where race is, truly, not a factor – Oliver!, Hello Dolly! Carousel…. the list goes on.
However, this time, TFP thinks that they have not chosen wisely and it made her…
and she would ask them, nay, beg them, to change their (Tommy) tune, and pick another show for a few reasons.
1. This show is a show about the great racial divides within the Deep South – divides that are, without question, Black and White.
It does not matter that Asian Americans were in the United States at this time, we were not ‘toting that barge‘ or ‘lifting that bale‘. Asian Americans were not recovering from being ripped from their homeland and bound in chains due to the color of their skin.
It is not ‘our’ story to tell. Ever. Nor is Ragtime, or Hairspray, or Memphis, or The Color Purple and so forth and so on.
BECAUSE IT IS NOT!
SHOW BOAT has historical context. It was written that way as a novel, and it was written that way as a musical.
2. AAPAC, and TFP and individuals, have spent the last several years, arguing to the greater theatrical community, that when they are casting stories that have historical context where APIs would be intrinsically necessary, to please cast Asian American Performers.
This show will undo all the work that everyone has put forward in raising the ability of people to see that yes, Asians should play Asian. Because, they will say, “Well, if APIs think they can play Black – why can’t we play Asian? Why can’t anyone play Asian?“
Which will be the correct response.
And then away will go Asians playing Asians….it will take us years and years to rebuild our platform, if it is ever able to be rebuilt.
3. This is co-option of the Black Experience.
We freak out when there is a Caucasian playing The King – what do you think African Americans are going to think when every role that is designated as a person of Black ancestry is eliminated from a show that is written about their struggle?
4. Non- Traditional Casting is not to take Minority Actors and have them play other minority experiences. Non-Traditional Casting is supposed to open the door to talent that has previously not been heard from and give them a chance to play roles where race does not matter.
RACE MATTERS IN SHOW BOAT.
SHOW BOAT IS A SHOW THAT IS DEFINED BY RACE.
SHOW BOAT IS A SHOW WHERE RACE IS THE REASON THE ACTION MOVES FORWARD.
TFP did not want to write this piece.
She respects the work of NAAP and all that they have been working for. She respects Ms. Baayork Lee, Steven Eng, and Zoie Lam, and yes, Tommy Tune – but she believes this show will do a grave injustice to Asian American performers.
She had to write this piece because….she has held other theater companies accountable for doing the exact same thing.
She thought long and hard about not writing this piece, but she felt to do that, simply because she is a member of the group who is making a mistake, would be wrong. It would be unjust.
There should be equality in blogging about Diversity.
No one is ‘off limits’.
She has worked diligently to raise the profile of Asian Americans in theater and give people a sense of the absurd, so that they too, would question why The King in King and I would be Caucasian, when it could so easily and beautifully look like this:
But she must equally question an “All Asian American Show Boat’, when, so beautifully, NAAP could do another show that would perhaps, utilize the talents of Tommy Tune to greater advantage.
Why not an API Grand Hotel?
Why not an API My One And Only?
Closer Than Ever, Last Five Years, Lady In the Dark, Wicked, Guys and Dolls, Anyone Can Whistle, Barnum, Grease, Bells Are Ringing, Bye Bye Birdie, Call Me Madam, Children of Eden, Company, Crazy for You, Follies, The Full Monty, Godspell, Grey Gardens, Gypsy, High Society, Kiss Me Kate, La Cage Aux Folles, A Light In The Piazza, Next To Normal, RENT, Man of La Mancha, Into The Woods, Nice Work If You Can Get It, The Producers, Rock Of Ages, The Secret Garden, Sweet Charity, Tick Tick Boom!, Threepenny Opera, Urinetown, You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown, Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Pajama Game…
TFP could go on…and on…and on….oh hey – why not BABY?
Why not ANYTHING but SHOW BOAT?
What do you think, RuPaul, about no African Americans in a show that is about African Americans and their experiences in this country to be announced during BLACK HISTORY MONTH?
Look, TFP is writing this and it could be heard like this by NAAP –
But she hopes it’s not.
What she hopes is, upon the reading of this, you will take the time to send NAAP an email at: info@NAAProject.org and let them know what YOU think of Asian Americans playing roles that represent a journey of African Americans which has historical context.
She wants you, if you are reading this – and not only if you are Asian American, but if you are concerned about Co-opting African American history and erasing African Americans from it, to SAY SOMETHING.
She thinks that if we all SAY SOMETHING, that things will change.
PLEASE go to their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/NAAProject.org
Or write them a letter expressing your feelings at:
National Asian Artists Project
10 West 66th street, 23C
New York, NY 10023
TFP’s hope is that greater minds than hers will come together, realize that this is a mistake, and choose another show which will not divide our Theatrical Community, and announce that they have decided to make a change.
She also realizes that she is taking a step here that may not be forgiven, it is ok.
We do not all have to like one another.
But we do have to listen to one another and build together.
For choosing to do a show which co-opts the African American experience in a grossly misguided way, ignoring historic racial divides which was included in both the original novel and the musical as written, The Fairy Princess sentences NAAP to 50 whacks with the wand.
Come on, Folks –
CHANGE. THE. SHOW.