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Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.

Topic: arts

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August 19, 2014 at 7:03 AM

Mikado, yellowface debate at Seattle Repertory Theatre forum

Corrected version

Should historic works created during different times with different sensibilities be shelved? Should the work be altered? Can the work be done if proper context is provided? How often do you see representations of people who look like you on a regular basis? (No. Yes. Yes. Almost never.)

These were just a few of the questions asked at a Monday night forum on theater and race sparked by a recent Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society production of “The Mikado” that cast 40 non-Asian actors in Japanese roles. The event, “Artistic Freedom and Artistic Responsibility,” featured a panel of theater artists and was organized by the Seattle Repertory Theatre, the City of Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture, the city’s Office for Civil Rights and King County’s cultural-services agency 4Culture. In addition to the panelists, the discussion drew in discussion from audience members who had submitted comments in advance.

Seattle Channel plans to broadcast the video. Many artists in other cities who could not attend the event watched a livestream and discussed it on Twitter with the hashtag #SeattleAFAR. Here is video from Howlround.

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I first wrote about the problematic production in a Seattle Times column four weeks ago, “The yellowface of ‘The Mikado’ in your face.” The column sparked a national debate — community groups like the JACL spoke out against the show, protesters demonstrated outside most of the shows, national outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, NPR and CBC covered it, and influential bloggers like Angry Asian Man and Reappropriate wrote about it. Read, watch and listen to all the coverage at ” ‘The Mikado,’ yellowface: All the coverage.”

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Comments | Topics: arts, asian americans, race

August 19, 2014 at 6:02 AM

‘The Mikado,’ yellowface: All the coverage

The controversy about a Seattle “Mikado” production began with my July 14 Seattle Times column, “The yellowface of ‘The Mikado’ in your face.” My Opinion Northwest blog post about the experience of watching the show: ” ‘The Mikado,’ yellowface and seeing the Seattle show” If you spot other writing worth sharing, please let me know at…

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Comments | Topics: arts, asian americans, race

July 29, 2014 at 6:17 AM

MSNBC coverage of ‘The Mikado’ and stereotypes on stage

If you missed it on Sunday, MSNBC aired a news segment about the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s production of “The Mikado” and the controversy about its use of yellowface, using non-Asian actors to portray all 40 Asian roles.

The MSNBC segment is worth watching if you were not able to attend a show before it ended its run on July 26.  Anchor Richard Lui covered the story from Seattle, capturing footage of the performance and the protest outside the Bagley Wright Theatre before the show began. He interviewed producer Mike Storie and a member of the Japanese American Citizens League.

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The controversy began after my July 14 column, “The yellowface of ‘The Mikado’ in your face.” I later blogged about the experience of watching the show in an Opinion Northwest post. Our letters to the editor blog Northwest Voices published perspectives from many readers.

If this makes you go, “Hmmmmm,” and you want to dive deeper into the topic, here is more reading than you could possibly handle in a single sitting, sparked by the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s production of “The Mikado.” If you spot other writing worth sharing, please let me know at schan@seattletimes.com or let me know on Twitter @sharonpianchan

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Comments | Topics: arts, asian americans, mikado

July 25, 2014 at 6:16 AM

‘The Mikado,’ yellowface and seeing the Seattle show

Mikado Seattle

Actress Alexa Jarvis in the role of Yum-Yum in the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s “The Mikado” (Photo by Ray Welch / Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society)

After seeing the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s production of “The Mikado” on Sunday, it’s clear why so many people enjoy this opera. Anyone who likes a Disney musical would appreciate the pretty melodies. The slapstick comedy drew lots of laughs. The acting, singing and production were all high quality.

But this production of “The Mikado” is still racial caricature. It is still a show where an all-white cast (including 2 Latinos) plays 40 Japanese roles.  Every snap of the fan was a slap in the face.

When people of other races don costumes and makeup to play the role of an Asian person, that’s yellowface. Racial caricature — even when done with the purest of artistic motives and sincere love of other cultures — is still racial caricature.

It is difficult to spend three hours watching people of another race mimic its idea of what your own race is supposedly like. It’s an emotionally wrenching, viscerally exhausting experience. If you don’t feel that discomfort, consider yourself privileged.

The show makes sense as satire about Victorian British Society. It makes zero sense why this satire about the British is set in Japan. If it’s not about Japan, then why does it need to be set there at all?

If librettist W.S. Gilbert intended, when he wrote “The Mikado” in the late 1800s, to set an opera in a place no one knew, then it’s now time to reset this opera in the “Game of Thrones” kingdom of Westeros, in the inscrutable offices of the NSA or the Marvel kingdom of Thor. It’s not just the racial caricatures that are disappointing. The production lacks innovation. It reflects little of the creative, cutting-edge theater for which Seattle is known. It’s an embarrassing anachronism in a global city in a trade-dependent state on the Pacific Rim.

This conversation began with my July 14 column, “The yellowface of ‘The Mikado’ in your face.”

 

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Comments | Topics: arts, asian americans, mikado