It’s Time to Reinvent “The Mikado” Without the Racism

Promotional image of "The Mikado" from an earlier performance by NYGASP.
Promotional image of “The Mikado” from an earlier performance by NYGASP.

Having learned nothing apparently from last year’s “Mikado” fiasco in Seattle,  the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players (NYGASP)a more than 30-year-old professional repertory company devoted to staging performances of Gilbert & Sullivan works — announced this year that “The Mikado” would be included in their 2015-2016 season. Written in 1885, “The Mikado”‘s opening run was one of the longest of its time, and is considered one of the most popular works in the Gilbert & Sullivan repertoire. “The Mikado” is also highly offensive: intended to satirize British politics, the play is set in an Orientalist fantasy of Japan, and is typically staged by White actors in costumes and makeup designed to make them appear Asian; or, more colloquially, in “yellowface“.

The NYGASP’s show is no exception: judging by images from its 2010 and 2013 performances (see featured image above), NYGASP’s performance is replete with non-Asian actors donning black wigs, kimonos, and face paint.  This year, NYGASP’s version of “The Mikado”  is scheduled to appear at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at NYU December 26-January 2.

Continue reading “It’s Time to Reinvent “The Mikado” Without the Racism”

Seattle Rep issues statement, will host townhall on race & art regarding yellowface #Mikado

Actors from the Seattle's Gilbert & Sullivan Society revival of "The Mikado". Photo credit: Greg Wood / Getty Images.
(corrected) Actors performing “The Mikado”. Photo credit: Greg Wood / Getty Images.

Much of the Asian American community is in an uproar over this year’s production of “The Mikado” by the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society, which features unabashed yellowface. Yesterday, I published a wonderful guest-post by LA-based activist Sean Miura (@seanmiura) about the production.

Both the Gilbert & Sullivan Society and the theater where “The Mikado” is playing — the stages of the Seattle Repertory Theater — have found themselves thrust into the spotlight. Today, in response to the controversy, the Seattle Repertory Theatre issued a public statement clarifying their relationship to the production. The Seattle Rep writes that they have no relationship with the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society, and that the Bagley Wright Stage where “The Mikado” will run this month is rented to the Society by way of a contract between the Rep and the City of Seattle. Thus, the Seattle Rep clarifies that they did not authorize the Society’s yellowface production of “The Mikado”.

The Rep also commits to hosting a community townhall on race, art and cultural representation that can address some of the issues raised.

Full text of the press statement after the jump.

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Undoing “Mikado”: Japan is not an imaginary place, and I am not a metaphor

seattle-g-s-mikado

The Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s production of comic-opera “The Mikado” has caused controversy due to the nature of the show and the production’s use of White actors to play Japanese characters.  LA-based community organizer Sean Miura (@seanmiura) reflects on his experience with the “The Mikado” and the society’s response to the backlash.

I hold a special place in my heart for the people of Seattle.

Seattle is the city where my great grandmother settled after leaving Japan, going on to raise four daughters as a single mom.  Seattle is where my great uncle crossed the Bainbridge Island pier to board boats to buses to trains to concentration camps in the wake of Pearl Harbor hysteria.  Seattle is where my mother moved after law school, became chapter president of the local JACL, fought for redress and reparations, and fought to right the conviction of a man who resisted being imprisoned in a World War II concentration camp.  Seattle is where my mom met my dad.  Seattle is where I was born.

Seattle is not where I grew up, but Seattle was the closest I had to an Asian American community with the International District, Uwajimaya food court lunches, and the salmon my uncle Tike would catch fresh in the mornings.  My mom drove me, 10 years old at the time, from our home in Vancouver to see David Henry Hwang’s “Golden Child” at the Seattle Reparatory Theater, the first time I saw Asian Americans telling our own stories live.

I saw The Mikado a couple years later.

Continue reading “Undoing “Mikado”: Japan is not an imaginary place, and I am not a metaphor”