NYGASP "The Mikado" - Was it diverse enough?
OnStage New York Columnist
I have so many feelings regarding this show, especially because of the yellowfacing that usually takes place with this classic Gilbert and Sullivan piece. White people playing Japanese people. If you don't understand why that is wrong then we are going to have a problem, and you better watch your back. I have ninja stars.
In short, it boils down to this. Until there is equal representation in the arts then white people should not be allowed to play Asian or any other ethnicity that is not white. It is not "acting", it is racist and a superiority complex. If I, an ethnic actor, do not get to play "white" it is not fair, morally right, for a "white" actor to play a role of color. We have so little opportunity as people of color (POC), and even less as Asian Americans. I know some will argue that in "The Mikado", white men aren't playing Asian but British people dressing up in kimono. I'm sorry, but no. That is racial appropriation and yellowface. It still is fucked up, and as my friend Rebecca pointed out, draws upon the history of yellowface.
If you pay attention to the theatre world here in NYC, especially to diversity (and lack thereof) you already know the backstory to New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players (NYGSP) and the drama that ensued when they first were going to put this production on roughly a year ago.
Essentially, thanks to the outrage of the Asian American acting community, we put a stop to the whitewashing of this production.
NYGASP regrouped and brought on the amazing Kelvin Moon Loh to assist them in making sure The Mikado would not be racist. Then they had auditions to hire a few more Asians.
Did they succeed? I am giving them a hesitant yes... there is only so much one can do with the given literature and not having a full cast of Asian Americans. Which is why NYGSP came up with an opening to "explain" why the Mikado only had a sprinkling of Asian performers and mostly white cast. Think Wizard of Oz... "I don't think we are in Kansas anymore..."
The performers were fantastic. The singing beautiful... I just kept wishing for more diversity. There wasn't one Asian male playing a lead, let alone a Black, Hispanic, etc. Maybe I am overly sensitive to this, but I have been forced to be.
This type of casting is something you see time and time again, where the females are "ethnic" and the males are "white". To be perfectly frank this falls into the fetishizing of women of color. I am sure NYGSP did not purposely do this, but as a female of color this is what I notice because it happens over and over and over in the entertainment industry.
All in all, I really did enjoy this production of the Mikado. They made it work for their group of players. Could they have done better? Yes.
I hope NYGASP now sees how diversity and inclusion is an awesome thing and totally works! I hope they run with this and turn their theatre company into a group of performers that reflects the city in which they perform. Otherwise, they need to rethink their name and get rid of the New York before the Gilbert and Sullivan Players. Because New York is diverse and a melting pot of beautiful talented people. Their company should reflect that.
Photo: Julieta Cervantes