Archives for posts with tag: Telly Leung

The Fairy Princess has not been blogging much, she’s been paying attention to world events that are too sad to reiterate here, though she has, of course, written at length, sadly,  in the past.

Image by Banksy

Image by Banksy

She hopes she never has to write about the slaughtering of young men again, she is hoping America will figure out how to come together and end senseless violence towards one another.

She hopes. Always, there is hope.

She also noted that two television shows starring Asian Americans were cancelled in the last weeks – SELFIE, starring, of course, the fantastic John Cho…

 

And TBS cancelled Sullivan and Son, with the always hilarious Jodi Long….

 

However….in every cloud there is a silver lining, so the saying goes, and here is one – HULU is going to be broadcasting the rest of the season of SELFIE, which means if you fell in love with John Cho as Henry, you are going to get some manner of resolution. And who knows? If the numbers are fantastic, maybe they will pick it up again – stranger things have happened.

Oh COME ON Rex Lee, The Entourage Movie happened!

Oh COME ON Rex Lee, The Entourage Movie happened!

Also, with Pilot season approaching in January, and perhaps sooner, it is likely that those Actors will book another show, The Fairy Princess is hoping the odds will be ever in their favor.

However, as TFP went about her day, she found a letter addressed to Playbill.com ‘s advice column, aka “Hey Johnny”. Every week “Hey Johnny’ is answered by a different person, so TFP is going to retype the letter here in case you have missed it.

Hey Johnny,

I go to a high school with a really great arts program (we do three shows a year) but I’ve noticed a problem. Our (white) director keeps making slightly racist comments towards the Asian students (during Avenue Q he referred to our Christmas Eve as “that Asian girl”). Even though a good number of Asian students auditioned for our next show, he didn’t even let most of them into the ensemble. We’re planning to do Miss Saigon in the spring and he’s been heavily implying that he’s going to cast white student in the leads, because that’s what they did last time they did it. It’s been like this all four years, and it’s really been making me and the other Asian students feel awful, and we’ve been doubting if we have a future in the theatre. I’ve tried to keep positive for us, but even I’ve fallen into a gloom. Please, what should we do?

Signed,

That Asian Kid

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Now, whoever answered that letter, that week, did a wonderful job responding to That Asian Kid, but did not seem to be Asian American. Who cares? Totally fine!  The response was thoughtful and caring, and one does not need to share a skin tone to have empathy or give encouragement or wisdom.

However, The Fairy Princess thought that That Asian Kid  and his classmates could use some words from someone who has ALSO been, ahem, That Asian Kid.

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Dear That Asian Kid,

That Director is out of line. The Fairy Princess could use many other words, but if she was in the room with him, this would be the mildest thing she could come up with:

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Here is what you are going to do, and you have to be brave. You have to be ok with whatever happens, because you are challenging the status quo and that is always, always difficult. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not.

Either way, it is ok, the Asian Americans of “The Broadway” have got your back.

The House of Xmas Eves...

The House of Xmas Eves…these are but of a  few of us

 

1. Gather a brief written (typed and signed) statement from any student, but particularly of course, the Asian American students, who have been addressed by only their race, or who have been recipients of racial toned remarks from this Director. I would imagine if he has said things to the Asian students, he has likely said things to the African American and Latino students as well, so ask around.

2. After you have these statements, you are to ask those who wrote them if they are willing to go to the Principal and present them with you. Some will, some won’t. I agree with “Hey Johnny”, that a multicultural group is best, do what you can. I would encourage you to take someone on the Student Council, and if you can, a member of the PTA to present these circumstances to your Principal. This is too big just for the ‘kids’, you need a Parent with some clout to back you up.

3. When you present to the Principal, tell he or she that should this issue not be dealt with in some manner, you are going to present the same statements at a local town government meeting, where minutes are recorded – so that it is on record that your school is choosing to ignore issues of microagression towards Asian Americans and racial bias.

That is what you are dealing with – microagressions from this Director.

You should outline your issues in one ‘master letter’, and you should also present in that letter, your concerns about the casting of the upcoming MISS SAIGON.

That should get the ball rolling…to say the least.

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Now, in terms of Casting, what you are dealing with, with this Director is called “White Washing”.

White Washing is very prevalent in our Society, and you are not the first to have suffered from it, and you will not be the last. It sucks. What it means is they take characters or stories that are linked to an ethnic group, and when they Cast the musical or the film or the television show – they cast Caucasian Actors.

That Asian Kid, this is Mickey Rooney as Mr. Miyagi in the movie, Breakfast at Tiffany's - awful, ain't it?

Jonathan Pryce, The Engineer from the Original Bway Cast of MISS SAIGON

Jonathan Pryce, The Engineer from the Original Bway Cast of MISS SAIGON

Actor Lambert Wilson as The King of Siam in a French Production of King & I

Actor Lambert Wilson as The King of Siam in a French Production of King & I

 

However, casting a Caucasian Actress as Kim in MISS SAIGON would be a serious breach of theatrical ethics, as well as horribly bad historical rewriting. The part of Kim is, as everyone knows,  a young woman coming of age in Vietnam.

 

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Even though Cameron MacIntosh did allow Mr. Pryce to play the Engineer (a character that is written as a Eurasian man), he drew the line at casting a Caucasian woman to play the part of Kim. Which gave us our only female Asian TONY Winner, in point of fact. Casting a non-Asian Kim is not acceptable – ever. And over time, casting a Non-Asian Performer as The Engineer has become a theatrical no-no, which is wonderful progress.

Which brings us to “Yellowface“, which is what will happen in your school if Kim is cast as a Caucasian.

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Yellowface is not acceptable in our mainstream and certainly not in a high school production. If your Principal does not understand this, explain to her/him that to Asian Americans, it is the same as blackface.

Yeah, this is totally offensive and I hate posting it, but if you have never seen it, you need a visual. An awful and offensive visual. Apologies.

This is totally offensive  but if you have never seen it, you need a visual. An awful and offensive visual. Apologies.

(The Fairy Princess is choosing not to comment on why a high school would be doing MISS SAIGON, but…

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she has some thoughts about the appropriateness of it.)

The simple truth is that this Director should not even have suggested MISS SAIGON if he felt that he would be unable to cast Kim or The Engineer with Asian American students. Not in this day and age, and if that has been his intention, then he should be released from his duties as an Educator.

Would he cast DREAMGIRLS with a non-African American cast? No. He likely would not dare, and it would be the same thing.

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Meaning that even if you truly love a show, you cannot take an ethnic based story and erase the ethnic faces from that story. It is illogical and ignorant. A point which, btw, you should make both to your Principal and that Director.

Whatever happens with that, TFP wishes you much luck with it, and hopes you have success. You may not, because it is high school, and because no one likes to rock the boat, and they will call you ‘oversensitive’ or accuse you of ‘making it up’ – those things can happen.

But….TFP thinks you may prevail if you all come at it with purpose. (Which is that little thing that lights a fire under your ass)

Finally, That Asian Kid, TFP wants to let you know that you are not the only Asian Kid that has ever had a dream of being on the stage and perhaps eventually, Broadway.

For example, this guy:

BD Wong, TONY Winner

BD Wong, TONY Winner

And this guy:

R.I.P. Kevin Gray

R.I.P. Kevin Gray

And not only did they make it to Broadway, some sang in Six Languages….

Drama Desk Winner, Deborah S. Graig

Drama Desk Winner, Deborah S. Graig

Or became renown solo entertainers and do copious amounts of television roles….

America's Gaysian Sweetheart, Alec Mapa

America’s Gaysian Sweetheart, Alec Mapa

Or work, work, work in every medium….

OBIE Winner and Drama Desk Nominee, Francis Jue

OBIE Winner and Drama Desk Nominee, Francis Jue

Some go from one show to the next…..

Mr & Mrs. Ferdinand Marcos as played by Jose Llana & Ruthie Ann Miles - Ruthie Ann is the new Lady Thiang in the King and I revival starring Ken Watanabe

Mr & Mrs. Ferdinand Marcos as played by Jose Llana & Ruthie Ann Miles – Ruthie Ann is the new Lady Thiang in the King and I revival starring Ken Watanabe

Some were the headliners in their show and went West to try out Hollywoodland

Manu Narayan, star of Bombay Dreams, pictured in award winning production of Glengarry Glenn Ross

Manu Narayan, star of Bombay Dreams, pictured in award winning production of Glengarry Glenn Ross

Some have not been to Broadway yet, but are on their way…

Actress Vanessa Hudgens is currently starring in GIGI, the musical, which has announced it's intention to go to Broadway

Actress Vanessa Hudgens is currently starring in GIGI, the musical, which has announced it’s intention to go to Broadway

Or working on new musicals they hope will head to Broadway

The Cast of Allegiance from The Old Globe - they had hella nominations, y'all

The Cast of Allegiance from The Old Globe – they had hella nominations, y’all

Or got started in musicals and made it to Portland….

Reggie Lee from NBC's GRIMM, who has also been in a ton of feature films

Reggie Lee from NBC’s GRIMM, who has also been in a ton of feature films

Or started on Broadway and then got eaten by Hannibal

Hettienne Park was 'discovered' by Creator of Hannibal, Bryan Fuller, in a play on Broadway

Hettienne Park was ‘discovered’ by Creator of Hannibal, Bryan Fuller, in a play on Broadway

Some are singing their tushes off in the Broadway show IF/Then

IF/Then Cast Members Marc DelaCruz, Pearl Sun, and Charles Hagerty

IF/Then Cast Members Marc DelaCruz, Pearl Sun, and Charles Hagerty

Some have had long, extensive Broadway careers like Joseph Anthony Foronda….

Joseph Anthony Foronda as The Engineer , Ken Shim as Tam, and Jacqueline Nguyen in MISS SAIGON at La Mirada

Joseph Anthony Foronda as The Engineer , Ken Shim as Tam, and Jacqueline Nguyen in MISS SAIGON at La Mirada

And Alvin Ing…

 

Like Lainie Sakakura, who also choreographs….

 

And of course, you would know this guy from GLEE…

 

Some are in new Broadway Shows like Raymond J. Lee….

The Flying Elvises from HONEYMOON IN VEGAS

The Flying Elvises from HONEYMOON IN VEGAS

Or cool shows that have ‘buzz’

That is Orville Mendoza with the cast of FOUND

That is Orville Mendoza with the cast of FOUND

The Fairy Princess’s point is, oh dear That Asian Kid, is that we have all felt, at one point or another, just as you are feeling now, frustrated, indignant, and powerless because someone somewhere has referred to us only by ethnicity, or categorized us only by ethnicity, or tried to limit what we could do because of our ethnicity – and, That Asian Kid….they failed.

We are ok.

Yes, there could and should be more of us working, particularly in television which is supposed to ‘reflect the American scene’, but there has been progress, and we are OK.

Asian Americans are not being silent about casting and representation.

We protest when things are wrong –

Yes, that is Tamlyn Tomita rallying at East West Players

Yes, that is Tamlyn Tomita rallying at East West Players

We are voices of change.

Cindy Cheung & Christine Toy Johnson at La Jolla's talkback...they look so pissed off I feel like I need to go practice piano and bring home an A plus.  TIGER ACTRESSES! RRROOOOWWRRR

Cindy Cheung & Christine Toy Johnson
at La Jolla’s talkback…

We give speeches…

 

Those of us who are ‘coming before you’ are working on a lot of stuff.

Actor/Producer Pun Bandhu at the RepresentAsian Conference

Actor/Producer Pun Bandhu at the RepresentAsian Conference

So you worry about school.

We got this.

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Do NOT give up because of this Director, That Asian Kid,  he is ONE guy and eventually, high school ends, and you graduate. You get to leave. And when you go to college, you can study whatever you want.

Happy Dance!

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Finally, as someone who was in AVENUE Q, to clarify – the point of  “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” is not to identify everyone by their ethnicity, it’s really to show that whatever prejudices we have, we are all the same underneath.

SM Beverly Jenkins, our Original Mistress of the Puppets - Singer/Songwriter Phoebe Kreutz, John Tartaglia, Erin Quill, and Carmen Ruby Floyd - all part of the Original Broadway Company

SM Beverly Jenkins, our Original Mistress of the Puppets – Singer/Songwriter Phoebe Kreutz, John Tartaglia, Erin Quill, and Carmen Ruby Floyd – all part of the Original Broadway Company

The point of the show is ‘when you help others, you are really helping yourself”, whether it is opening a school for Monsters, or speaking up when something is as far out of line as this situation seems to be from your letter.

The Fairy Princess wishes you and your fellow students much luck in surviving the rest of high school, she was not particularly fond of high school when she went through it herself, but as we say at the Q…

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Break a leg, That Asian Kid – and if he still gives you a problem, tell him to

KISS YOUR FAN TAN FANNIE…

 

The Fairy Princess is delighted to note that her speech for LA Stage Day is up and avail on the world wide Interweb, and she thanks Terence McFarland and his crew for having her. Because they were so focused on getting a clear image of The Fairy Princess, the power point photos did not make it to the video – so sometimes there are laughs or sighs or whatnot that did not make it there…

Therefore The Fairy Princess is now going to post the text of her speech WITH inserted photos and you can choose to either watch the speech first HERE, and then re-read it with photos, or you can just read it, and choose for yourself if you think it’s funny.

“I told Alec Mapa…(Oh, he’s on SHOWVILLE on AMC – Thursdays at 10pm – watch!)

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that I was asked to speak today on Diversity, and he said to me,

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“What are you going to say after you yell “Kill Whitey”?

My name is Erin Quill

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I am a graduate of Carnegie Mellon, an Original Broadway Cast Member of a show that won a Tony with dirty puppets, and I also told famed Director, Moises Kaufman that he could kiss my ass almost a year ago today .

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Over 25,000 people read that post within a few weeks, and the resulting uproar caused La Jolla Playhouse to have a ‘talkback’ on the subject,

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which prompted East West Players to have a conference on the subject,

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which lead to Chicago’s Silk Road Theater Company also having a conference on the subject. After which, I wrote about what was happening in London at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Orphan of Zhao helping out the East Asians in England – which led to a conference, and then I wrote about the Brownface makeup

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in the Broadway Revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which lead to a closed door meeting. Oh I wasn’t invited to any of them, so I am very grateful to be here at LA Stage Day.

Some might say I am blogging my way to unemployment, I say…..

Call me Tiger Blogger.

I wanted to talk a bit about theatrical ethnic cleansing, because it has been a shocking year for Asians in theater and everyone seems to be tip toeing around it. Well, I don’t got time for that, so call me Hurricane Erin, and buckle up – cuz I have got a Little List.

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Let’s start at the very beginning because Julie Andrews said to, and I always do what she says….this is where you acknowledge that there are no Asians in the production, but it doesn’t really matter that there are Caucasians in heavy makeup portraying them

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…I call this ‘neglectful’ racism, or, in the words of a country singer, “accidental racism’….because you are going to now tell us, you didn’t KNOW you were being offensive, because everyone has done The Mikado THAT WAY forever, and thus…it’s just tradition.

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Ummm, excuse me, are you trying to convince me that Tevye is going to come out and do the bottle dance now? I was born and raised in New York? Fugeddaboutdit!

I know that YELLOWFACE is fun – I totally get it. Asian people have great hair, we have gorgeous eyes, kimonos are comfortable and who doesn’t love their way around some noodles – I get it – we are blessed. Our women are gorgeous and our men can kill you wearing a cloth belt and their bare hands.

We’re a sexy bunch – but that is no excuse to culturally skin us and wear us like a coat.

Or let me put it another way – eyeliner is not supposed to extend all the way to your ear!

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No matter how much makeup you put on, no matter what kind of cheong sam you choose to wear….it’s not going to work, you are still not going to wake up and be Tamlyn Tomita….

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– I get that you are frustrated by this. I mean everyone wants to change something about themselves – I mean, I would like to be 5 foot ten and have Scarlett O’Hara’s pre-partum waist line, but that is not going to happen either. We all have to be ok with that.

There I go being too polite, damn those genes – OK– White People – and let me say now, I am White myself – just like serial killers, most movie stars, and Sarah Palin – you are now officially on notice that YELLOWFACE or BROWNFACE is not sexy, smart OR fun – it’s wrong.

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It’s offensive

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It’s culturally irresponsible…

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and you look like idiots.

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ROWR….TIGER BLOGGER!

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So now that I have taken YELLOWFACE off the table, permanently, how can we change? Well where does most theater begin?

Casting…this is where the excuses start – this is where you tell us that you would love to cast us, but there are just none of us available, which is why The Emperor of China was played by a blue eyed blonde

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According to Equity, there are 763 members identifying themselves as Asian American as of 2012. There are only 3% of the Broadway roles available going to Asian Americans, according to a study by AAPAC, so someone was available.

Unless every regional theater in the country simultaneously decided to do Miss Saigon, King and I, South Pacific, Bombay Dreams and Flower Drum Song all at once in a mass extravaganza titled The “Praise to Buddha Oscar Hammerstein had the Yellow Fever” Cherry Blossom Festival.

You can’t find us? You’re not looking. 763 Equity Members identifying as Asian American – that’s right, I brought in math, booyah!

Oh, that 3% of Broadway drops to 2% when it goes to Non Profit world – but you know, that is NY and this is LA, however we don’t even have a study like that for LA because….no one cares about Asian presence on the Los Angeles stages…and that is a blot on the great Theater City that Los Angeles is. Why are you not utilizing us? You can’t say training – we have grads here from Julliard, Yale, Carnegie Mellon, Northwestern, NYU, etc, etc, etc…so no, you can’t say training.

You COULD say it’s because you do not even think about it. It’s neglect. It’s choosing to not see us. We live in LOS ANGELES! One of the most diverse cities in the United States – don’t be lazy.

What if your play or musical is set somewhere in America, but you do not choose to have Asian people in it – you don’t call for them in the breakdowns, even if you see them, you don’t cast them simply because….“if I have Asians in it, people won’t understand because they were not in the country at that time

Just because there is not a TONG or a TRIAD or a BROTHEL in Chinatown reference in your play does not mean we do not fit in America.

Folks – You do not have to keep trying to ‘explain’ our presence in this country – we have been here since the 1800’s. No, we didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, but Gold Mountain has surely landed on us. Oooh, You know what happens when a Chinese person throws dynamite? A transcontinental railroad, that’s what.

Ok, so here I am yelling about Diversity and you are all ‘blah, blah, blah what can it matter anyway?”

After the big blowup on The Nightingale, La Jolla Playhouse cast it’s next big show, Glengarry Glenn Ross with a multi-ethnic, multi-aged cast – that dirty talking real estate office looked like any and every real estate office in this country today.

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The Old Globe chose to do the new Asian American musical, Allegiance. It broke box office records.

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Both shows were nominated in several categories for San Diego Critic Circle Awards – and the individuals nominated for their performances included the names Manu Narayan, Lea Salonga, Michael K. Lee, Stafford Arima … Currently the disco musical about Imelda Marcos HERE LIES LOVE is selling out at NY Public Theater

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and has been extended and also picked up several Drama Desk nominations – .I think you get my point, Diversity is Awards and Dollars that make you holler, Honey Boo Boo child…..

The one, the only Honey Boo Boo

The one, the only Honey Boo Boo

Here is a thought – Put in the breakdowns that you are looking for Asian Americans in your cast, see what happens. You don’t have to hire us, but invite us to the party. Do the outreach because we have so long been pushed aside, we don’t believe you when you use the word ‘multi-cultural’ casting.

Let’s talk about the Art for just a second…why do people go to the theater? Yes, beyond being entertained? They go to see themselves. Well, they go to see themselves suffer, choose foolish love, and sing ballads, but what they are connecting to is reflections of themselves. That is the power of theater. Theater is affirmation.

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Why would Asian American audiences, which have the highest disposable income of any group in America – why would they go to theater If they cannot even go to a play set in China or Japan and see Asian America performers? As theater artists, we need them IN the building. We need butts in seats. If people see themselves, they will buy a ticket – and if Asian people see their relatives in shows – they will buy all the damn tickets! And probably cater opening! Trust!

Finally, let’s address our biggest issue in the last year – exclusion from plays and musicals where the shows were set in China –- I am speaking about La Jolla Playhouse, to the Royal Shakespeare Company, The Roundabout, and anyone who has ever staged The Mikado

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– except Eric Idle, his was great.

Here is the thing about CHINA –– there are Chinese people in it. Oh and Japan has people – people who need people…people who are in fact, Japanese people. Same goes for Thailand and Korea and India and Sri Lanka.

If you can go to a map – and PLEASE, please go TO a map

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– if you can go to a map and see where your show is set, you should know enough to not erase our faces from our history! We can help!

You cannot erase us because you didn’t like that in your last workshop, your Asian American cast told you that a song about a Geisha in a play set in China was inaccurate. images-7

You cannot grab all the beautiful costumes and colors and fabrics of India, and leave out South Asians who can tell you that the colors you picked for the saris are those of mourning.

And you definitely cannot go TO China, grab their oldest play, their best loved work, their “Hamlet’, keep the Chinese names, costumes and then cast everyone except British East Asians, because you say in a repertory season of ‘classic’ plays, no one would ‘buy into’ their faces in a Brecht piece.

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When you do that not only do you lose all artistic integrity, but everyone who leaves your show has turned into FogHorn LegHorn….

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“What, I say What, What, What was that?”

Diversity, the rallying cry of Diversity is supposed to make us all smarter. It is supposed to make us look at our world and see each other. it is not a stick to beat us with when you would rather Caucasian faces in an Asian story.

And to have it done out of neglect, out of indifference, by several members of a community who we have stood alongside in their fight for recognition, for marriage equality, for health care?

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That was not just a slap in the face, that was a Joan Collins/Linda Evans tumble into the fish pond bitch slap! Grab me some shoulder pads, because I was PISSED OFF!

This is the theater! We don’t do that to each other.

There are positive things happening for Asian Americans in theater – ACT in San Francisco is staging The Orphan of Zhao

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ACT just finished another original production with an Asian American creative team and cast- Stuck Elevator.

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New workshops are going forward for Allegiance

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and Heading East, but you don’t want other folks to get all the awards, do you? What are you going to do?

I asked my API pals who are Actors what were their best and worse moments – best was hands down, being on stage, doing the thing they do best and love – their worst moments were always, always when people had an idea of ‘what’ they were, but no idea ‘who’ they were. We had all been told at certain points to ‘act more Asian’ , “be more submissive’ , ‘be less bold’, ‘change their base to gray so they would look less yellow, less Asian’ and it was never, ever from another Asian American.

Because you never tell people how to act more like people, do you? We’re just people.

My dear friend who is long gone now, Anderson Jones,

used to say to me, when we would have these conversations – conversations about invisibility, about non –representation, he would say, “IF THEY KNEW BETTER, THEY WOULD DO BETTER”

My wish for Los Angeles theater is simple – now that you KNOW, I challenge you to be more inclusive. It will make us all better.”

NOTE: The Fairy Princess did not stick to her text – she did ‘improv’ in certain moments, and therefore did not want to ‘let it stand’ in regards to The Nightingale, that the Actress pictured, was the only Asian American in the production – there were 2 out of 12 in that production. One played a Spoiled Princess and the other was a bird.

Erin Quill - The Fairy Princess

Erin Quill – The Fairy Princess

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!
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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