The Fairy Princess has an Irish temper. That is one of the beautiful things about being multi-racial – you can call on a lot of different genetics in an effort to explain one’s own firebrand reaction to news items like those coming out of Clarion University.
For those catching up, Clarion’s Drama Teacher, Marylouise Michel wanted to use Playwright Lloyd Suh’s play, JESUS IN INDIA. When she first approached him via his agent, he was told it was for classroom use. Later, after they made the decision to mount the play, they never executed a signed contract. However they went into production anyway.
The Fairy Princess calls this…oh what is the word? Stealing.
They stole his play for production – a living playwright, not someone deceased over 400 years – they stole a living playwright‘s work and then, when he was trying to figure it all out and inquired about casting, he found out that not only did they steal his play, they stole the parts intended for Actors of India or South Asian descent and gave them to non Asian descended people!
Mr. Suh pulled his play from production – as any living playwright would.
Just like playwright David Mamet did when the Milwaukee based Alchemist Theater cast a woman instead of a man in the lead role of OLEANNA. Just as playwright Bruce Norris pulled his play CLYBOURNE PARK from production in Germany. Just as playwright Katori Hall recently objected to the casting of THE MOUNTAINTOP where they cast a Caucasian as Martin Luther King Jr. Just as Stephen Adly Guirgis spoke out against the casting of his play, THE MOTHERF**KER WITH THE HAT by Theaterworks in Hartford, Connecticut with no Hispanic Actors in roles written for them.
Living Playwrights…they have thoughts and ideas about what they have written. They envisioned something in their head and they spent a great deal of time and effort and energy to get it to the page and then the stage – of course, OF COURSE, they would have and SHOULD have input as to how the work is performed.
Even on a college campus, or rather, especially on a college campus!
College is the place where teenagers become adults – they get exposed to things that they did not learn at home, the bi-product is that their minds expand, they open up their thought processes and decide who, as an adult they will be.
That is the idea, anyway.
Clarion University with it’s 9% minority student body was caught stealing a play. That’s what happened. There was no signed contract. The Playwright was unaware that a production was going forward, and when he found out the details, they were not to his liking.
So he shut them down.
AS IS HIS RIGHT.
As did some of the Playwrights mentioned above. Here is the thing though, and here is what TFP is most annoyed about….Clarion’s response.
Here is what should have happened – the Director of the show, Marylouise Michel should have written an apology to the Playwright, the school, and admitted that she overstepped. She should have admitted that in her eagerness to do something that she hoped would get protested by Evangelical Christians, she made many mistakes – beginning with not securing the rights to a full production and ending with the erasure of Indian actors from a play where they are supposed to be.
This is all the fault of one person – Marylouise Michel.
It is her arrogance and disregard for the work of a living playwright that should be called into question. She put her hand in the cookie jar, got caught and then started proclaiming that none of this is her fault, that it is all the fault of that nasty Asian Playwright whose name she will not even type out.
Sorry – that Asian Playwright?
Lloyd Suh is the author of American Hwangap, The Wong Kids in the Secret of the Space Chupacabra Go!, Jesus in India, Great Wall Story, The Children of Vonderly, Masha No Home and others, produced with Ma-Yi, The Play Company, Ensemble Studio Theatre, La Mama ETC, Magic Theatre (SF), Denver Center Theatre Company, East West Players (LA), and internationally at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Manila, and with PCPA in Seoul, Korea. He has received support from the NEA Arena Stage New Play Development program, the Andrew W. Mellon Launching New Plays Into the Repertoire initiative via the Lark Play Development Center, and the New York State Council on the Arts, Jerome Foundation, Theatre Communications Group and Dramatists Guild. His plays have been published by Samuel French, Playscripts, Smith & Kraus, Duke University Press and American Theater magazine. He is an alum of EST’s Youngblood and the Soho Rep Writer Director Lab, and from 2005-2010 served as Artistic Director of Second Generation and Co-Director of the Ma-Yi Writers Lab. He has served since 2011 as the Director of Onsite Programs at the Lark.
The Playwright who currently has running Off Broadway, a NY Times Critic’s Pick?
If David Mamet had pulled his play from her, would she call him “That Jewish Playwright“? Is Bruce Norris now “That White Playwright“? Is Katori Hall “That Black Female Playwright” to Ms. Michel?
Marylouise Michel now refers to an award winning writer as…”that Asian Playwright”
Did Clarion University, the bastion of 6,000 strong chastise Ms. Michel’s for her post which was steeped in privilege and racism? Did they say “you know what – you totally overstepped here, and you are teaching the wrong thing.”
No. They did not.
If any other reputable Drama Department at a University had a faculty member go so far off the rails as to only refer to a living playwright by his ethnic heritage after stealing their play, they would be fired.
But not at Clarion – oh no – they hired a Publicist and sent out this bon mot:
HARRISBURG, Pa., Nov. 13, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — The student actors of Clarion University never anticipated they’d be the latest headlines, punished for their race. Clarion University department of visual and performing arts was scheduled to open the off-Broadway musical “Jesus in India” on Nov. 18 until playwright, Lloyd Suh, yanked production rights and “condemned the way it had been cast.”
The small, state college in northern Pennsylvania has spent much of the year preparing for the musical only to learn by casting Caucasian and mixed-race actors in roles intended for South Asian actors, the production is canceled. With a student body of about 5,368 students, only 0.6 percent of students are Asian and no Asians auditioned for the play. The University claims their intent from the start was to honor the integrity of the playwright’s work, and the contract for performance rights did not specify ethnically appropriate casting. Despite the University’s attempt to give Suh a page in the program to explain his casting objections and a stage speech given by a university representative on the cast’s race, Suh rejected any solutions other then removing the non-Asian actors or canceling the production.
“We have no further desire to engage with Mr. Suh, the playwright, as he made his position on race to our theater students crystal clear,” says Dr. Karen Whitney, Clarion University President. “I personally prefer to invest my energy into explaining to the student actors, stage crew and production team members why the hundreds of hours they committed to bringing ‘Jesus in India‘ to our stage and community has been denied since they are the wrong skin color.”
Clarion University students and administrators were left stunned by Suh’s decision, including senior Kiah Harrington-Wymer who was set to play a main character in the musical. As reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Harrington-Wymer spent months preparing for the role, which was to be her senior-year capstone project, and was devastated by the news. Harrington-Wymer is of mixed race and has experienced her fair share of discrimination and claims this hurts just as much as any other time.
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“PUNISHED FOR THEIR RACE”?
Sorry, have to say that again – PUNISHED FOR THEIR RACE?
Caucasian people? Punished for their race? Punished for simply appearing Caucasian in America? In the state of Pennsylvania? In a school that has 543 minority students out of a student body of 6,080?
Dr. Karen Whitney and students…
This is not okay.
In 2016 this is NOT okay.
(Almost 2016, yes)
It is not okay to show the level of disdain to Mr. Suh that has been shown, it is not okay to comfort yourself that you are a persecuted minority of Caucasians (Gad, TFP cannot even type that without gagging).
You are not okay Dr. Karen Whitney – and neither is Marylouise Michel.
The Students are not being punished. The Students are learning a lesson that the rest of the world seems to be learning right along with them which is – Asian Americans – South Asian Americans, East Asian Americans – Asian Americans who live on the Coasts, Asian Americans who live in the Heartland – we are not standing for this anymore.
What Ms. Michel did was PAINT her students to look Indian!
Let TFP break it down for you – if the play had been JESUS IN AFRICA and not INDIA...would you have put the students in Blackface makeup?
TFP bets you damn would not have.
That is the point. The point is – a living playwright gets the respect to add his or her ‘two cents’ – and that respect has been given in the past. There are SO MANY FRIGGIN’ PLAYS WITH CAUCASIAN PROTAGONISTS it, in fact, BOGGLES the mind.
You cannot even COUNT the number of plays where the main players are ‘meant’ to be Caucasian – it would be like trying to deliver letters from children to Santa, beginning with the founding of the US Postal Service!
So stop with the excuses, stop with the righteous indignation – you had a Professor who STOLE A PLAY and she got caught – and instead of chastising her and showing your Student Body that Clarion does not stand for stealing and co-option – YOU BACKED HER UP!!!! YOU BACKED UP AN ARTISTIC THIEF AND THEN TRIED TO BLAME THE PLAYWRIGHT!!!!
You know, TFP is a parent, and yes, of course, as a parent of a minority child in the United States, seeing this situation, she would not send her son to Clarion University.
However, even if she took after her Father, and looked 100% Caucasian, and her son did as well, she would STILL not send him to Clarion University. Because if this is any indication of how Clarion is broadening minds, then that is not a place to attend school, one cannot imagine why any International student would want to attend there either.
Lloyd Suh yanked his play JESUS IN INDIA because you were not serving the play. You were not serving the vision of the play, so you do not get to produce the play. TFP is truly, truly disgusted – you failed as educators in this regard and then you spread your failure around like seeds to plant more hostility towards Asian Americans in the Arts than there already is.
For stealing a play, defaming the playwright in print, social media, and in press releases and blaming him for your idiocy – TFP sentences Dr. Karen Whitney and Ms. Michel fifty wacks of the wand and you know what – go see ALLEGIANCE and see the power of Asian Americans telling a story where they are supposed to be seen.
(And BTW Broadway composers, it’s been a hot minute since BOMBAY DREAMS…let’s get some shows going for the singing and dancing South Asians, of which there are MANY….)