This national conversation on yellowface may have its focal point in Seattle, but the issue extends far beyond that city. For, as defenders of Seattle’s yellowface production of this operetta have pointed out, “The Mikado” is one of the most popular and widely performed productions out of the Gilbert & Sullivan repertoire.
Today, hundreds of productions of “The Mikado” are performed annually in the United States; many recreate the same yellowface that characterized the operetta’s original 1885 run at the Savoy Theatre in London. But the show’s enduring popularity as contemporary and unchallenged yellowface does not negate its racism.
Thankfully, the debate first sparked by Seattle’s yellowface production Mikado have inspired others to speak out against yellowface racism elsewhere in the country. Last month, Opera Providence (located in Providence, Rhode Island) opened a three-night production of “The Mikado” that ran from August 8 – 10, and which also featured actors in yellowface.
Several Rhode Island residents courageously organized a street protest and a petition against Opera Providence’s yellowface staging, even though they faced threats and retribution from Opera Providence for exercising their First Amendment rights including an alleged death threat against protesters uttered by an actor during the on-stage production. I had a chance to interview two of the protest organizers, James McShane (@james_mcshane) and Sakiko Mori (@mrsoioi), about what inspired them to take a stand; the full interview appears after the jump.
Apparently, a conversation on race in the arts is overdue, at least for those who forget the first rule of yellowface and brownface. I still assert that yellowface and brownface is one of those “obviously racist” aggressions that really doesn’t warrant additional exposition; but, hey, everyone can benefit from a little dialogue, right?
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.
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 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.