In a stunning but welcomed reversal, the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Society has announced it is cancelling its planned production of The Mikado.
The announcement of the planned one week run at New York University’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts drew a swift angry reaction from the Asian American community on AsAmNews and other Asian American blog sites.
In his announcement on Facebook,
Executive Director David Wannen wrote:
“New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players announces that the production of The Mikado, planned for December 26, 2015- January 2, 2016, is cancelled. We are pleased to announce that The Pirates of Penzance will run in its place for 6 performances over the same dates.
“NYGASP never intended to give offense and the company regrets the missed opportunity to responsively adapt this December. Our patrons can be sure we will contact them as soon as we are able, and answer any questions they may have.
“We will now look to the future, focusing on how we can affect a production that is imaginative, smart, loyal to Gilbert and Sullivan’s beautiful words, music, and story, and that eliminates elements of performance practice that are offensive.
“Thanks to all for the constructive criticism. We sincerely hope that the living legacy of Gilbert & Sullivan remains a source of joy for many generations to come.”
Reaction in the Asian American theater community was overwhelmingly positive, with a hint of caution.
Leah Nakano Winkler was among the first to blog about the now-cancelled New York production of The Mikado. She is touched by both the reaction and the result.
“I think what transpired over the last three days is a remarkable coming together of theater activists and the community to engage a theater company (The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players – NYGASP) about their practices that many of us consider offensive,” said Ralph Pena, Artistic Director of Ma-Yi Theater. “A lot of people rallied behind the first blog posts of Leah Nanako Winkler, who called attention to the upcoming production of The Mikado at The Skirball Center. The crowd grew and the voices got louder.”
“Hats off to The NYGASP for hearing us, and doing the right thing. Vigilance, activism, and engagement works when all parties are open to the exchange of ideas.”
Playwright, director, producer, theater artist, and musician Rick Shiomi has directed his own version of The Mikado and had this to say.
“The Mikado has been such a bane of our lives that to have that pain recognized
through this cancellation is tremendously appreciated,” he said.
“But I do believe with some adjustments suitable to our 21st century values
in America, we can retrieve the actual joy and artistic value of this
work. I recently directed a revised version of this operetta for Skylark
Opera and Mu Performing Arts and our version, wiping away the
old Asian stereotypes, was very well received. So there is hope but
it will take a new vision for this operetta and others like it.”