TFP is not a journalist, she writes about Diversity in Entertainment – but she joins the world in mourning the losses in Beruit and Paris.
She mourns the loss of all peoples who have been affected by violence from terrorism. Refugees reasons for fleeing from this violence in their homelands makes a great deal of sense, and with this latest horrific round, let us hope that the world reacts with both ‘appropriate measures’ and compassion in equal parts.
However, a man who has been at the receiving end of xenophobia, Mr. George Takei, has said it best –
She remembers after 9/11 people being told to resume what it is they did, in order that we not give into the fear and inadvertently ‘give’ the terrorists what they want, which is an end to our way of live, of living cautiously so not to offend and antagonize them – and so…she is going to publish this blog – this post was written prior to the attacks, but on the same day.
TFP did not publish when this happened, but because cultural misunderstanding is a pillar of what she writes about, she is going to publish, because there are things that need to continue to be said.
Here is the blog as written, prior to the attacks.
The Fairy Princess thought she was able to relax a bit, as she saw ALLEGIANCE on Broadway and how it was received by the general public – that is coming in it’s own post later, it is a lot to process – and she was all….
Then she did the stupidest thing you can do when you are feeling good – she checked her computer and thought…
First, playwright Lloyd Suh felt he had to withdraw his play JESUS IN INDIA from performance, because those producing the play at Clarion University in Pennsylvania had chosen to cast Caucasians as Indian descended people.
This is the playwright’s statement as taken from a blog by Howard Sherman:
FULL STATEMENT FROM LLOYD SUH
Regarding the cancellation of my play JESUS IN INDIA at Clarion University, I hope the following statement clarifies my entire position.
My first contact with Clarion was in January, when Marilouise Michel requested a copy of the play and invited me to work on it with her students. Due to other commitments, I was unable to participate, but I did express willingness to let them use the play for classroom purposes without me.
I didn’t hear anything again until late May, when I was informed they were experimenting with the piece as a musical. It is highly atypical to do such work without direct collaboration from the author, so I asked for more information. In particular, if their exploration was simply for private, in-class use, I was happy to let them do whatever they desired. Although I could not participate directly, I was certainly curious what they might discover. However, if their intention was a full production with a public audience, I asked specifically whether they would be able to honor the general ethnicity of the characters.
I did not hear anything else from anyone at Clarion again until October 30, well into the rehearsal process.
I was not informed that a production was taking place.
I was not informed about any casting activities.
I was not informed about any license agreement granting rights to perform the play. It has since been confirmed to me that while negotiations towards an agreement did occur through my agent, no agreement was ever executed, meaning Clarion’s right to perform the play was, in fact, never granted.
Instead, on October 30, I was asked whether I would be able to Skype with the actors. Usually my response would be of course. However, because I had no idea a production was even taking place, my reaction was What?
So I searched online to find out what was happening, and saw photos that seemed to show two of the Indian characters portrayed by Caucasian actors, in total disregard for my earlier query. My agent immediately wrote to Ms. Michel for clarification. Her response on November 2 acknowledged receipt of our previous question on casting, but in her words:
“When you asked, I hadn’t cast the show, and then I forgot.”
On November 9, after confirming that a fully executed license agreement did not exist, I sent an email to Ms. Michel insisting that she either recast, or cancel the production. I absolutely understand that this has caused anger, confusion and disappointment among the actors and crew that had been hard at work on the piece. I do not take that lightly. The students are victims, and the timing of this mess has raised many questions. But the timing was never in my control.
I could not allow the play to be performed with white actors in non-white roles before a public audience. This is not a unique position. It is not strange or radical. It is common industry practice that productions of copyrighted plays adhere to the requirements of the text. In addition, as a writer of color in a field where representation and visibility are ongoing struggles, I feel a responsibility to provide opportunities for artists of color to be seen, and to protect that work from distortion in the public eye. The practice of using white actors to portray non-white characters has deep roots in ugly racist traditions. It sends a message, intended or not, that is exclusionary at best, dehumanizing at worst.
This includes university theater programs, which are a crucial part of the way professional theater is born. We are witnessing a moment on multiple college campuses where racial tensions are undeniable and extremely dangerous. I cannot grant university programs an allowance on these matters that I would never grant a professional theater.
Much has been made of an interview I gave years ago in which I used the word “universal” to describe the play. But universal does not and should not mean white, or the privilege of ignoring race. I wish it were not so difficult to accept that an actor of color, playing a character of color, could convey something universal. To understand that white actors should not be the default option for any role. To recognize that people of color are not simply replaceable.
It was not my intention to debate this matter in public. I attempted to settle the issue privately, but Clarion’s insistence on involving the press and releasing my personal communication has made this statement imperative. I am now grateful for that opportunity, as I hope this clears the air on my intentions, and the circumstances under which this cancellation has taken place.
TFP did not feel she had to write anything about this situation, as Mr. Suh and Mr. Sherman had done an excellent job in conveying the motivations and reasons for this situation to be halted. Then she read some of the comments.
The Fairy Princess copies this statement from the blog by Howard Sherman (excellent post by Mr. Sherman) only to lend her support to Mr. Suh and reiterate her belief that he was right to do this. She says this as a person who attended University in Pennsylvania. (TFP holds a degree in performance from Carnegie Mellon University.)
For those who, yes, she read some horrible comments’ chose to turn blame or judgement on Mr. Suh – let’s get one thing straight – he is in the ‘right’ in this matter.
The person to blame is the one that chose this play and then chose to ignore the intended casting. That person is Marylouise Michel. This whole situation is her fault entirely. All the tears, all the outrage can be laid at her door. She is absolutely the person to whom this whole debacle is owed, and no excuse from her absolves her of being the cause of this mess.
Some have said they feel that the play should go on because the students have ‘worked so hard’, and to that, TFP says
What have the students worked hard at? They have ‘worked hard’ at portraying people of Indian descent.
They have ‘worked hard’ at believing themselves capable of rendering a complete performance of people of a different heritage simply because they want to. This is not a message that any University should be endorsing- that Caucasians can speak for or can successfully portray the stories or the experiences of a person of Indian descent. In our expanding world, it is exactly the wrong message to send.
Here is another lesson for those students – it is one TFP tells again, and again:
Now the students are learning a bigger lesson about cultural co-option and why it is not appropriate. Yes, some accounts say that there was crying, but again, the bigger lesson for them is that erasing minorities from stories that they are intended to be in, is not okay.
There was no need for this situation, there are literally hundreds of plays where the protagonist is of Caucasian heritage – some of the most famous plays in the history of theater are there at their disposal, plays which minorities have to fight to be ‘allowed’ to do….
which makes this whole situation one of the stupidest it has ever been TFP‘s misfortune to hear about.
If one wanted to study Mr. Suh’s plays because he is a brilliant playwright and deserves classroom time, that is all well and good and appreciated. However taking his play without actual permission and whitewashing it because you like it so much is not flattering, it is not teaching anything valid, and in fact, it is the antithesis of what his work is actually about.
The next story, which ‘broke’ the same day, was from Canada, where a playwright at Dartmouth believed that he should cast Caucasians as Chinese people because he could not find any Chinese heritaged people to audition even after outreach to the local Chinese community. He wrote it and he really wanted the play to ‘go up’, even though it required extensive cultural borrowing from Chinese Opera. The play was called BLACK DRAGON MOUNTAIN
and it was written and produced by Roy Ellis, who was inspired by his time in China.
Mr. Ellis said that he always intended to cast Chinese people, but it just…well…he could not find any and basically – he did not want to wait. So here is what they came up with.
There was local disagreement, and the play was ultimately cancelled, which was probably for the best in this situation.
Here is the thing – yes, it is wonderful to travel and write about your experiences and try to honor the countries that you have spent time in – no one disagrees with that. However if you ‘borrow’ certain cultural touchstones so specifically and incorporate them in a work, then you should feel obligated to stand by that and choose, as Mr. Suh did, to not have the play performed without people of the background that you intended when you wrote it, in those roles.
Mr. Ellis is choosing to not do this play again, and to put it in a drawer and leave it there.
TFP would challenge him to try a bit harder – if you think the work is valid enough that you raised money and produced it, then you should make the extra effort and see if you can find appropriate actors. Perhaps, if the city in which it is being produced does not have local Chinese Canadian talent in great supply, you should consider traveling to a close city that does, and ‘produce’ a reading of your play to see if it holds up?
Or…did you….could it have been you just wanted to use the trappings of the Chinese experience without actual Chinese people to tell you that you are wrong?
No one wants to stop writers from writing for people of Chinese descent – we just want them to include us in the portrayal of that story.
What is so egregious in both above situations, is that it is so easy to make better choices – the ridiculousness of the outrage upon ‘being caught’ is short sighted. To turn around and accuse Asians of being thin-skinned or too awash in political correctness is a defense mechanism because…y’all know this was stupid.
For whitewashing Asian peoples out of India and China, TFP sentences both Marylouise Michel and Roy Ellis 50 smacks of the wand, and suggests they start traveling extensively to broaden their awareness.
Also, and it’s been a while since she has used this closing – both of them can
KISS MY FAN TAN FANNIE!