Archives for posts with tag: Moises Kaufman

Here I sit in the Colonies, and I have just read The National Arts Council’s letter to Mr. Victor Wong, who is the Executive Director of the Chinese Canadian National Council. Mr. Wong quite obviously wrote to the RSC in light of Artistic Director Gregory Doran casting China with a coat of white paint. And good for him! Bravo! I toast Mr. Wong with a cup full of maple syrup whilst wearing a Mountie hat! Thank you Mr. Wong.

(My Canadian Chinese Cousins will be duly impressed by this. I don’t really know them, we are apparently related through a Great Grandfather with multiple wives and concubines, but what are you going to do? That’s China for you. A First Cousin married a Canadian actually, with my same name, awkward, but she has a fabulous company for Ex-Pat Canadians in Oz called Oh Canada !)

The letter is from Nigel Hugill, I will pull a bit of the text.

Selection of letter posted previously
on FB Group site

What has occurred to the Fairy Princess, sitting here twiddling my toes in the lovely, balmy LA weather, and having just been to The Ovation Awards (LA’s Theater Awards) last evening is, that the Royal Shakespeare Company is very uncomfortable with language.

What’s that you say? But what is theatre if not language? The theatre is language and costumes and sets all designed to tell a story to make you think. There are plays that make you think about a variety of subjects – about love, or sex, or money – plays are designed to make you think. On occasion, there are plays that make you think about issues that you are uncomfortable with.

The Orphan of Zhao is one such play for The Royal Shakespeare Company.

It’s all very “words, words, words, I’m so sick of words” And it is not, actually the words Asian or East Asian or Casting or Diversity or Multi-Cultural – those words they are willing to fling about like ramen in a food fight.

What is getting their goat is one other word, and it is not supercalifragilisticexpealidocious.

The word is….wait for it…apology.

I mean, yes, to apologize is to throw yourself on a sword a bit, Mr. Doran, but it’s not necessarily fatal. AND…I happen to have one right here, as a matter of fact:

In Chinese, a sword is called
a “Dao” – I am going to call this one…Zhao

Just kidding, just kidding – don’t throw yourself on a Chinese sword Mr. Doran, you would be vastly uncomfortable and definitely need a tetanus shot.

What is odd to me about this whole situation, is that the Brits are known world wide for some very particular traits – Beautiful Princesses

Princess Diana, just stunning

Princess Sophia of Hanover,
(she was smokin’ in the 1650’s)

Learned Scholars,

William Shakespeare
well, I suppose he’d prefer no women
a’tall in these shows – isn’t it funny to
look back on all these theatrical prejudices
and laugh….

Sweeney Todd (the legend, not the musical)

NO EAST ASIANS IN CHINA – FETCH MY KNIFE!

and..what is that other one…don’t tell me, don’t tell me….oh yes, ETTIQUETTE!

Isn’t the British standard held up for the rest of us because of their love of protocol? Doesn’t everyone have to have a card to leave on a silver plate with the butler while we wait to gain entrance? Isn’t everyone on baited breath to see if they will be received by the Host should they be having an ‘at home’?

It does not take a village, nor a an upbringing by a starchy, staunch Nanny to know that when you own a dog and it takes a big poo on the street, your obligation is to pick up the poo. (Preferably in a small plastic, recyclable bag which you then deposit forthwith into a receptacle of the trashy variety)

I like to think he is saying “No East Asians in China? That’s LUDICROUS!” Because in my fantasy this lovely English Bulldog ‘gets it’.

But THAT is not what Mr. Nigel Hugill is deciding to do. He has decided that all this kerfuffl-ing is not something he need immediately be concerned with. He is taking it under advisement. He is now off to don a smoking jacket, after checking his stocks on the “Change, and toddle off to his Club to enjoy brandy, cigars, and the company of his Peers.  Poo on the streets? Didn’t bother Mr. Nigel, he just stepped right over it.

Mr. Hugill – the Fairy Princess is not on the British Arts Council, nor has she fluttered her wings across a West End Stage (and this whole thing has really stuck a pin in that one, wouldn’t you say?). However, you need a few smacks with the wand if you think that the British ‘love affair’ with East Asians has, in any way, given you any leeway in this situation. You don’t have a heck of a lot of credit with us, you are in foreclosure for the following reasons:

Exhibit A: The Mikado – yes, originally written to protest British mores, but that’s not the way it’s usually done is it? Nope, usually done in “Yellow Face”

Exhibit B: Jonathan Pryce in MISS SAIGON

Mr. Pryce explaining how he
changes his eyes to play Asian.
The Fairy Princess loves to hate this photo

Yes he did Miss Saigon in Yellow Face, till the Yanks yelled about it – so off went the prosthetic eyes, and off almost came the ENTIRE US Production as Cam Mac jumped up and down and raged about the right of his team to cast someone who was not Asian, as a Eurasian.

Well. Well. I am actually Eurasian so….you all were half right, or rather half wrong in that case.

But now we are on to Exhibit C – The Orphan of Zhao

I have a lovely friend who is a Broadway Veteran, who happens to be multi-racial, who said to me: “I don’t believe in people saying they don’t see color. How do they drive? What they should say is that they do not react to color, that they choose not to acknowledge it.”

There’s been all this back and forth about who is right and who is wrong and who is responsible for Artistry and so on, and it is time to call it a day. I would rather play with a Corgi and drink Earl Grey and forget this tiff with those of the British Arts Council and it’s minions.

Thus, The Fairy Princess is going to be magnanimous. She is going to ‘break it down’ for Artistic Director Doran and all the Members of the British Arts Council who are happily looking down upon the East Asians from their Ivory Tower of Pomposity. Ready? Here you go:

YOU. NEED. TO. APOLOGIZE.

Take a page from the book of La Jolla Playhouse, they apologized. Seriously, Moises Kaufman apologized.

See, once you do that, everyone can move on.

Digging in your heels and sulking that you were right, does not make it so, it makes you look like Veruca Salt in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Here’s what you say:

Dear (Insert a respectful address, if you can bring yourselves to, won’t you?)

We at the British Arts Council and The Royal Shakespeare Company have heard your complaints. Given the vast amounts of attention that our Casting of The Orphan of Zhao has warranted, we have had time to look at the issue from all sides. While we believe fully in the talent of our current Cast, we do think that we made a mistake.

Casting a play set in feudal China with a majority of Caucasians, was, in fact, the wrong thing to do.  While it was not done with malice, and cannot be undone, you can rest assured that the RSC and the British Arts Council will do everything in their power to make sure that this is never done again.

We value our UK Citizens who have East Asian heritage, both those that are in the Performing Arts and those who are valued Audience members of the RSC. We hope in the future, to go forward, working together, both to expand our  knowledge of world plays and to respect the heritage from which the play came.

Our deepest regrets for any hurt feelings, we never intended that this be the result of what we hope will be a long collaboration with China, bringing their stories to our stages.

Yours truly,

Vastly Superior Public School Attendee blah, blah, blah, multiple letters from her Majesty blah blah

Seriously, just do that. No, go ahead right now and DO THAT.

Why? Because you are a Leader, and Leaders are not afraid to admit mistakes – they are only afraid to repeat them.

I would like to quote Terrence McFarland’s Ovation Award Speech, from the event I attended last night. Terence is an exceptionally thoughtful and erudite man.

Terence McFarland,
Exec. Director
LA Stage Alliance

“I am reminded that we, too, as theater makers, are in service.

Twenty years ago on the Taper stage a group of artists came together and served.
They were a bellwether in the perception shift of a plague and redefined what was possible to accomplish in a single, epic play.

Margaret Mead’s quote seems apt: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

I challenge you, citizens, to embrace the sentiment inherent in Kushner’s infamous line from Angels in America:

“The Great Work Begins.”

And thus, The Fairy Princess challenges The British Arts Council and the RSC to allow the Great Work that they currently DO, to embrace what has been mentioned previously, and allow their future Great Work to include more East Asians.

It is possible to do Great Work when dealing with those whose heritage includes The Great Wall.

The Great Wall of China.
WHERE? CHINA!
YEP, THAT China.

ESPECIALLY if the show is set in CHINA, FEUDAL CHINA!!!!!!!!!

The Fairy Princess would like to talk a moment about Diversity in Casting.

Yes, it seems odd, given that this blog tends to be about Women who love Gay Men who love them back just as much, but one must have outside interests, and I did state at the beginning, that I would perhaps sound off on this issue.

To give a brief background on my particular tiara and wings, my heritage is Chinese, Irish, and Welsh and I am a dual citizen of the United States and Australia. I am married to a (straight) man who was born in Korea and came to the USA when he was 8 years old. I have traveled to countries that include Turkey, Greece, Australia, Ireland, Canada, China, Japan and I plan to add Europe in general when my son is a bit older. My point is, I’m well aware of what the world looks like – would that Musical Theater looked the same. Broadway is not where one goes to find much diversity in casting. For example, I, (see me, I’m posting a photo of me as well as a little performance done for the 50th Anniversary of Flower Drum Song )

This is me, Erin Quill

This is me, Erin Quill

am not going to be called in for a lead in some of these shows currently on Broadway, shows like Once, Memphis, War Horse, Book of Mormon, Clybourne Park, End of the Rainbow, Evita, Fela, Porgy & Bess, Ghost the Musical, Harvey, Jersey Boys, Mary Poppins, Nice Work If You Can Get It, One Man Two Guvnors, Streetcar Named Desire, Peter & the Starcatcher…I would make a fierce Elphaba, and who would know what I look like, but to my knowledge there has never been an Asian American Elphaba, and it was only recently they had the first African American Elphaba, Saycon Sengbloh, so…I’m not holding my breath. I could go into Sister Act as a Nun, but it is closing, and I have not been asked…I could go into Mamma Mia as Rosie, but that part is currently being played by Lauren Cohn

That’s Lauren Cohn…on the right…doesn’t look like me, does it?

So with all the opportunities currently available to Asian Americans on Broadway, ahem, imagine how excited I was when I learned that La Jolla Playhouse is going to produce a new musical by Duncan Sheik & Steven Sater, creators of the hit show, Spring Awakening! What? It is going to be directed by acclaimed New York director, Moises Kaufman, who helped create The Laramie Project. Awesome!  It is called The Nightingale, and it is based on a Hans Christian Anderson fable about AN EMPEROR IN CHINA WHO IS CONFINED WITHIN THE WALLS OF THE FORBIDDEN CITY AND THE BIRD THAT CHANGES HIS LIFE.

CHINA!!!! Well, I happen to be CHINESE! Which would mean, in a perfect world, that I should get a call…or other Asian American Musical Theater friends should get a call – because it’s set in China.

Please read that last sentence again –  China. In Feudal China. The play is set in Feudal China. Guess who is playing The Emperor?  Not living legend  Chinese American Actor Extraordinaire, Alvin Ing, the man who holds the record for the MOST Flower Drum Song appearances, EVER. Nope. They went with  This guy:

Jonathan Hammond, The Emperor of China

Now, this story has a Young Emperor, he’s the one who falls in thrall with the Nightingale, and let’s face it, I’m Eurasian, my Daddy is white, so let’s give them a second shot at correctly representing those who might actually rule Feudal China….

Bobby Steggart, Young Emperor of China

Oh…my…ok, WELL…let’s take a look at the casting notice from Tara Rubin’s office. Aha! There is an EMPRESS DOWAGER! Which means that is the ruling Emperor of China’s Mom. What do they look like? Let’s find one – oh HERE’s one…Imperial Empress Dowager, aka Dowager Empress Cixi…

Imperial Dowager Empress Cixi

If I were to think of who might be fabulous as the Empress Dowager, I might call in Jodi Long who was on Broadway as Madame Liang in Flower Drum Song

Jodi Long, Extraordinary Actress

OR perhaps Amy Hill

Amy Hill, Amazing Actress

OR Christine Toy Johnson, who is not LA Based, but who did the National Tour of Flower Drum Song and is a longtime NYC Stage Actress

Christine Toy Johnson, NY Actress and active AEA Committee member

…….but here’s who they went with for the Empress Dowager of China:

Charlayne Woodard, Dowager Empress of China

You are probably sensing my frustration…and if you are not, your name is probably Moises Kaufman. Now, I have read that La Jolla Playhouse is calling the casting of this show “A Rainbow”. Here’s the funny thing about rainbows – the color yellow is rarely in that rainbow when it falls on other shows. Also, diversity has a time and a place – it’s usually an unnamed place in the future, in a multi-racial world, or set in modern times – it’s not in Feudal China. Let’s get one thing straight about Feudal China – diversity was never an issue.

But here – take a look at the article from Broadwayworld. It’s a little perturbing to see that only Kimiko Glenn has been cast in a show set in China, Feudal China – and for those who may not have picked up on it, Kimiko is  a Japanese name – I don’t care, happy she is working, I’m just using it to point out – there are NO CHINESE PEOPLE IN A SHOW SET IN CHINA.

This is not, Folks, like the time a Texas Children’s theater did an All Caucasian Production of HAIRSPRAY and you can claim, as they did, that they had no African Americans around to cast – this is a professional theater with a budget and access to any and every Asian American Actor in the country. It also boasts a Director of International Fame (a New York City based Director) and a Writing Team that have won TONY Awards – all they had to do was say, “Hey, this show is set in China, let’s cast some Asians up in here .”

OR, if you are simply going to use the concept of the fairy tale, just do not set it in China, Feudal China!

Let me be clear – I do not have any thoughts on the talents of the Actors hired, I have worked with some of them and they are ALL great – ALL! Actors have no power in terms of Casting, they are brought in, they sing, and they wait. This Diversity Debacle I lay directly at the door of the Creative Team – at ANY point, someone in the process could have stated the obvious, that if no Asian Americans were to be Cast, perhaps the setting should change from China, Feudal China.

So five spanks with the wand to Moises Kaufman, he is the Director, the buck stops with him and…looking at his past castings, doesn’t look like he would ever hire me anyway, as I AM MY OWN ASIAN AMERICAN!

And Moises can Kiss my Fan Tan Fannie!
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

UPDATE: I posted this in comments, but there are a lot of comments, and so I will post it here as well, as not everyone wants to scroll all the way through:

Hi All,

As you know, the initial objection that I had and wrote about on this blog – this post – stirred a lot of people and as the objections grew and were written about, La Jolla Playhouse decided to have a talk back to discuss the casting. Over 19,000 people have read this post, for which I thank them.

There were many articles written on what started as my own annoyance, and I am going to post the links here, in case you want to read them.

I would hope that the people who wrote anonymously and bitterly of the notion that Asian Americans would and should speak up, would pay particular attention to the fact that both the Artistic Director of La Jolla Playhouse and the Director of the play itself, Moises Kaufman, apologized. Also in the audience but not on the panel was the writer, Steven Sater, and the Composer, Duncan Sheik.

I also ask you to consider this – just because you may be a member of your own minority group, it does not give you a co-op experience and permission to use your own minority status to devalue or denigrate this issue. Your experiences are yours, and mine are mine. It does no good and a great deal of harm to decide that because you are a particular ‘kind’ of man/woman that you have the right to decide when and where Asian Americans belong. I take issue with that. Many of the more objectionable comments were prefaced with “Well, as a ____ man, I think…”

It is not cool to use your status to keep ours where it is now, which is barely visible. We are only doing what scores of people have done before us. When my Grandparents, my IRISH Grandparents came here, they were faced with signs that said “Irish Need Not Apply” – this is much the same thing. And Bravo to Moises Kaufman for his comments in Part 2.

Here are 2 small videos from You Tube – it is supposed to be 1-7, but I have only found 1 and 2. In 2, we have ‘our’ apologies:

Part 1: http://youtu.be/NN3ilkvnZ7I
Part 2: http://youtu.be/uz6-uODcSKU

And here is a video I was sent by Pun Bandhu which is the whole talk: http://vimeo.com/46243248

Article from Playbill.com
http://www.playbill.com/news/article/168285-Facing-Criticism-for-Lack-of-Asian-Artists-in-Musical-La-Jolla-Playhouse-Hosts-Panel-Discussion

Article from Huffington Post:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/19/nightingale-asian-american-actors_n_1686270.html

Article from International Business Times, I am quoted twice, not by name, and called a ranting blogger (which struck me as odd, but…the writer apologized for that when I called him on it)
http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/363035/20120714/la-jolla-playhouse-asian-actors-sterotypes-colorblind.htm

Article on Talkback from U-T San Diego:

http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2012/jul/22/forum-on-plays-cast-evokes-harsh-criticism

Article from LA Times on the Talk Back at La Jolla:
http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-heated-exchanges-at-la-jolla-playhouse-over-nightingale-casting-20120722,0,6438118.story

Article from LA Times hearing from Prominent APIs in Theater:
http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-asian-american-nightingale-la-jolla-playhouse-20120718,0,7027101.story

Article from LA Times on Controversy
http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-la-jolla-playhouse-asian-casting-nightingale-20120717,0,2686930.story

Article from LA Times’ Critic’s Notebook, which I emailed a response to, and I will post the response I sent: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-critics-notebook-la-jolla-playhouse-nightingale-20120723,0,4429707.story

Dear Mr. McNulty,
It was with great interest that I read your article about the controversy at La Jolla.It was because I am the person who wrote the original blog that started all this hubbub
It struck enough of a nerve that as of this writing, my blog has has over 19,000 views and it is only 2.5 weeks old.My name is Erin Quill, I was an Original Bway Cast Member of Avenue Q and I have been reviewed in the LA Times for my work in the play, The Mikado Project
http://articles.latimes.com/2007/apr/27/entertainment/et-stage27
, also for my work in the musical, Closer Than Ever,
http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2009/08/theater-review-closer-than-ever-at-gtc-burbank.html which was produced by Lodestone Theater Ensemble.I am a Graduate of Carnegie Mellon University. I am also one of the screenwriters for the feature film, The Mikado Project, avail now on DVD, which was reviewed in The Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/george-heymont/the-mikado-project-troubl_b_851865.html

I only mention this because I am trying to show that I am a legitimate stage Actress whose work has been covered BY the Times and yet, when it was time to cast a show that could have API performers, my phone did not ring. And, should you watch the video of the talk back, you will see that the CD will say that this show did not have a proper audition process, they made calls and offers. My friends who are API performers did not have their phones ring either.

While I would never deign to tell a Director or Creative Team who to hire, I will (and did) point out the ridiculousness of their casting choices. Not because the Actors were not fabulous – I fully believe in the talent of the Cast, but because they set the show in China.

China is not a mythical place. China is a real place with a real people. Our history looks a specific way. The titles Emperor and Dowager Empress mean something when said in China.

It is not for other minority groups (I only say that because you brought up your own status) to decide for other groups what is their ‘place’, what they are allowed to comment on. Moises Kaufman himself pointed out that usually in debates of this kind dealing with underrepresentation, that he is the one clamoring, and during the controversy he realized that he was doing the same thing that had been done to the GLBT community to Asian American Performers. He said we were right to protest, and he apologized.

The debate for us was not multi-racial casting. It was not to infringe on a Creative Team’s right to choose the cast they want, but the costumes, the sets, and the names of the characters were all Chinese. That we were asked, that all the audience was asked to please accept 2 Caucasian Emperors of China. Not a ‘mythic land’, it was CHINA.

If this was Porgy and Bess, and the leads were Caucasian, you would not think to write
“underserved communities need to recognize the right of artists to establish their own conventions of representation”

You would be scared to, even with your own minority status that you established.
You would know that using your own status and including the above quoted sentence to African American Artists would be looked upon with dismay, distrust, and anger.Yet you have used them to the Asian American Acting Community.I ask you why. It is met with just as much dismay, distrust and anger as if you said it to someone African American or Latino. Asian Americans are angry. We are angry with the co-opting of our heritage and then being told that while our heritage is useful, our talents are not wanted.We have a right to be heard, and we have a right to not receive a ‘scolding’ from a Critic who is held in high regard.We do not need someone to tell us how to listen to the excuses of why we are not asked to be a part of a world set in OUR world.

In that audience, there was Drama Desk Winner, Deborah S. Craig, there was API Theater Luminary and the man who holds the record for most Flower Drum Songs ever, Alvin Ing. There was Tim Dang, Artistic Director of East West Players – a theater that always ‘somehow’ manages to cast with Asian Americans. Cindy Cheung who was on the panel has been in several Feature Films and Christine Toy Johnson is a staple NY Theater Actress.

There were many more with just as nice a resume and yet a Caucasian lady stood and asked if there was an Asian American Acting Talent Pool. There are API Drama Grads from Yale, CMU, Julliard, NYU, Northwestern – some of the top programs in the country, and yet here is this Caucasian Lady telling us that she ‘doesn’t see color’ and asking why we are complaining that the Emperor of China is Caucasian.

It is because when there IS debate, there is always someone, such as yourself – held in high regard, that expresses the opinion that we should ‘listen‘ or ‘stop making hubbub’. And by doing that, you are ensuring that people who are uncomfortable with APIs protesting have an excuse to dismiss WHAT we are saying – that we want to look onstage, at a production where the setting IS CHINA, and see Asian American faces.

The Nightingale is a fable, and thus, children are being taken to see it – what does it say to Asian American Children when they see that it is acceptable to make the Emperor of China a white man? It tells them they do not count.
I am a long time supporter of the GLBT Community, with fundraising efforts for The Matthew Shepard Foundation, BC/EFA, Desert AIDS Project, the LA Gay and Lesbian Center, The Trevor Project, I sing regularly at Musical Mondays in WeHo…I live and work in the GLBT Community, and yet I would never say “well, I know what it’s like to be a Gay Man”. Because I cannot. Do I know TONS of Gay men? Yes. They are my closest and dearest friends. And Always Will Be– but I cannot know what it IS to be a Gay Man. Just as you cannotknow what it is to be an Asian American Performer.I thank you for your coverage of this issue, but I was dismayed by the end of your article. Truly. And, do I think that there will be more API’s when this show continues? No, I do not. I think they will just move the setting from China and then still cast exactly the way they want.Which is totally fine. Because in a mythic land of Far, Far Away, it can be as multi- cultural as they want it to be – but they cannot have China without Chinese people. They cannot portray China without Asian Americans.

Thank you for your time,

Erin Quill