06 April 2010

Children's Theatre Co wants to remove yellow egg from face

A few weeks ago, the Children's Theatre Company caused a little controversy with their plans to cast Caucasian actors in Chinese roles in their upcoming production of Disney's Mulan Junior. On one hand, there is a high-demand for Asian-American actors in the Twin Cities theatre universe this spring. On the other hand, would any theatre company be willing to go black-face if they had trouble finding Black actors for a production?

Fortunately, CTC partnered with Mu Performing Arts on Monday night to host a panel discussion on the matter. Since that was opening day and I'm a good, baseball-loving American, I couldn't make it (kidding), but the panel's moderator Marianne Combs has some notes on the conversation posted on her MPR State of the Arts blog. Additionally, the good people at Twin Cities Theater Connection have full audio of the event. It's about two hours long and worth the listen if you've got the time. There were a number of productive ideas brought up, particularly better communication throughout the theatre community. (When is that not a good idea?)

When I was a senior in high school, I was in John Patrick's The Teahouse of the August Moon as Sakini, a Japanese translator employed by the U.S. Army during post-WWII reconstruction. In small town Charles City High School, we had very few Asian students. Our director brought in a Japanese-American member of the community to teach us pronunciation of the Japanese lines and other cultural details about dress and social norms. That being said, I still cringe when I come across a picture of myself in yellow-face and think about the stereotypical accent I used. Ugh. We should've stuck to Neil Simon....

Incidentally, a film version of The Teahouse of the August Moon was released in 1956. Who played Sakini? Marlon Brando. Apparently they couldn't find a Japanese-American actor in all of Hollywood.

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