Author Archives: leahnana

“The Mikado” in Yellowface Is Coming to The Skirball Center of the Performing Arts and We Should Talk About It

HUGE UPDATE: NYGASP has cancelled their upcoming production of the Mikado. Read details on NBC,Telesurv.net,  American Theater Magazine, The New York Times , WQXR, BroadwayWorld or Upworthy.

I’m amazed.I’m amazed by the 20K plus people who saw the alert- and took action in such a passionate, loud, united way that couldn’t be ignored. I am amazed by the group of hard working community members, leaders and artists who were working tirelessly, taking active steps,  and advising Ming and I  (still) in getting and presenting the facts. I am amazed by the activists in Seattle who made us here in NYC realize we have to keep what they started going. That the conversation isn’t over. And honestly- I am amazed by NYGASP and their own decision to listen, consider and reexamine their production. I look forward to November when we continue this conversation at a forum to be announced soon. I especially commend NYGASPs own artistic challenge to find new ways of doing The Mikado that reflects our diverse and changing world and I’m excited to see it. It’s the  advocacy of many generations of Asian American activists and artists who made it possible for me to live in a world where our voices can be heard and some people will actually listen. Thank you for speaking out. Thank you for being heard.

Here is the original post:

I’m biracial. Which means that people from two opposite cultures (Japan and America in my case) have freely been talking to me about race in two languages with no filter before I knew what the words meant. So before you dismiss these thoughts as  “angry” or a product of a creepy “PC Culture” know that it’s an impetuous sense of comfort that drives me to talk and write about these issues in my daily life as they come up because, well, race has been a part of my daily life since I was born.  So when this flyer for The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players production of “The Mikado” at the NYU Skirball Center For The Performing Arts was delivered to my office on a peaceful Monday morning, I felt totally comfortable calling them directly to ask questions.

11261632_10100315738494532_2712016107479992712_n

Here’s how it went.

For the record, I’m not a journalist.

The Guy On The Phone asked specifically not to be quoted (as you’ll see below) and so I feel it’s important to note that though my recollection of the conversation is pretty clear, it’s not an official quote– and most likely some minor nuances and words like “hi,” and “okay,” were omitted or added to the following creative interpretation for blogging purposes. Here goes:

Me: (friendly) Hi. I’m calling about your production of The Mikado.

 Guy On Phone: (friendly) Okay sure!

 Me: (friendly) How many performers of Asian American decent do you have cast in your production?

 Guy On Phone: (friendly, prepared): We’re a company of mostly Caucasian members. There are two performers of Asian decent in our production who-just like the Caucasian actors playing Japanese roles- play characters outside of their ethnicity.  That being said, “The Mikado,” isn’t meant to be performed by any specific race or ethnicity. It is meant to be performed by Gilbert and Sullivan experts, which we are.

 Me: (friendly) Interesting. Thank you.

Click.

I ruminated on this a bit. See, despite being comfortable talking about race, I’m NOT comfortable with the burnt out, draining feeling you get when you’re bombarded with defense mechanisms you weren’t quite prepared for after simply asking a question or calmly pointing out glitches in the familiar “neutral” pallet often referred to as “whitewashing.”  Often timescomments about race even in safe spaces with fellow creative cohorts spark conversations that end in tears, or even worse, blatant dismissal and silencing.

And yet, something propelled me to call this guy back.

Me: (calm, but not exactly friendly) So, in this production of “The Mikado” you’re using yellowface.

 Guy On Phone: (firm) There are two Asian American performers in the cast.

 Me: (calm, but not exactly friendly) And the rest?

 Guy On Phone: (firm, defensive) We’re working with a costume designer to make them look… authentic.

 Me: (calm, but not exactly friendly) What do you mean by authentic?

 Guy On the Phone: We’re working with our designers to uh- well the flyers uh-

 Me: (calm, but not exactly friendly) When you say authentic what do you mean?

Guy On Phone: ……….

Me: Because I’m looking at your flyer now and it’s yellowface.

 Guy On The Phone: Like I said, we’re working with a designer-

Me: Do you mean like, slanty eyes? 

Guy On Phone: Maybe the flyer doesn’t reflect the-

 Me: (losing my shit) YOU’RE GOING TO GET INTO DEEP SHIT FOR THIS.

 Click.

And then I thought: Wait. Do I even  deserve to be upset? If I were one of these performers, people would probably assume I was a white girl in yellowface makeup. Maybe even one of the actor/singers in this flyer are one of the aforementioned Asian Asian American people The Guy On The Phone claimed were in the cast.  

But still, I felt bad for losing my temper because I’m smarter than that. But mostly because I’m constantly punished for that. In my years working in the New York Theater scene, I’ve learned that any comments  or views I voice about the so-called “difficult” issues must be veiled under the guise of the Liz Lerman Critical Response Process to have  a chance at being digested by the academia infused art culture.  Maybe  if I said, “Excuse me sir, I have a neutral comment about the use of yellowface in your production of The Mikado  would you like to hear about it?” the conversation would be more (buzzword) productive.  And then I laughed, because the political climate is tumultuous on it’s own and there are so many problems bigger than me. Is something as insular as theater- much less the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players- really a priority at this point? But something propelled me to call him back again.

Me: (calmly, friendly) Hey, so who am I speaking with?

 Guy On Phone: (weary) Who am I speaking with?

 Me: (calmly, friendly) Leah. I think. I think want to write about your production of “The Mikado.”

 Guy On Phone: (firm) I don’t want to be quoted. I don’t want to talk about this anymore. I DON’T WANT TO BE QUOTED.

 Me: What’s your name?

 Guy on Phone: (hesitant) Albert Bergeret

 Click.

I looked up Albert Bergeret. He’s the artistic director of the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players which can’t be an easy job. And he sounded terrified.

His bio points that he is an accomplished man. I’m sure a talented man. One who has built an entire body of work and garnered respect in the opera world and beyond.

His Artistic Statement suggests that he is a man who values work that “isn’t mean spirited.”

So I’m sure his defenses are not malicious.

I’m pretty sure his views about The Mikado are just a product of his age, gender, background and training.

I should just let it go.

But then THEN- just then- I remembered the reason I was propelled to keep calling the guy over and over again. THIS SAME THING HAPPENED JUST ONE YEAR AGO IN SEATTLE AND IT MADE NATIONAL HEADLINES.

mikado3_c29dc589b9fe9ed6c94e6d09824a58e8.nbcnews-ux-600-480 mikadodaveross_d0f5fc912a5c285d873831cddb733afa.nbcnews-ux-600-700 mikadoposter_084176b877800e19e7999aab54d44200.nbcnews-ux-600-700

Last summer, Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society production of “The Mikado” cast 40 non-Asian actors in Japanese roles and sparked actual protests, a national debate and a series of widely covered discussions that aimed for change.

You can read Sharon Pian Chan’s incredible initial article on the whole debacle here: http://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/the-yellowface-of-ldquothe-mikadordquo-in-your-face/

And a round up of the action the article, and the Yellowface production sparked here: http://blogs.seattletimes.com/opinionnw/2014/08/19/mikado-yellowface-debate-at-seattle-repertory-theatre-forum/

And also on CNN, MSNBC, NPR and CBC and blogs like Angry Asian Man and Reappropriate.

I reread the articles and let it all sink in.

I recall the smug feeling I got when I initially read  some of those articles as they made their social media rounds a year ago.

The feeling of….Wow, I’m glad I live in NYC where none of this would ever happen.

I was so, so wrong.

The Guy On The Phone- he seemed to have a prepared statement ready when I asked him my questions. He HAD to have heard about this controversy a year ago. And yet...he still decided to go on with it. People still decided to fund it. And actual  subscribers will go to the NYU Skirball Center and watch a cast of white people (minus two) use Opera and expertise as an excuse to traipse around as Japanese caricatures named “Nanki Poo” and “Yum Yum.” 

And then I watched this youTube clip of “The Mikado” by The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players from 2011 and thought, you know what? I’m not even angry. I’m embarrassed.

Just to be clear.

This isn’t a complaint.

This isn’t whining.

This isn’t even anger.

And I’ve already thought about all the reasons I’m labeled or dismissed so go ahead and do that if it makes you feel better. I don’t care.

Because this is an embarrassment.

It’s an embarrassment that as supposedly open-minded, eclectic voiced artists, we can’t have real conversations that truly reflect what people talk about with ease on twitter without tears, labeling, shattered friendships and or bruised professional relationships.

Its’ embarrassment that “The Mikado,” as Sharon Pian Chan so eloquently put it in her article, The Yellowface of The Mikado In Your Face,a fossil from an era when America was as homogeneous as milk, planes did not depart daily for other continents and immigrants did not fuel the economy, ” is still, in 2015-2016, planned to be celebrated during the holiday season in the melting pot that is New York City in this tumultuous, complicated, ever changing and current world.

(The current cast of New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players upcoming production of “The Mikado”)

12006162_10153272870027987_2357138383818346386_n

But hey…Seattle artists figured it out. Seattle artists got it right. The Seattle artists talked to each other.

So NYC artists- what’s good? Asian and non-Asian alike? Are we going to settle and accept that having two Asian actors in this production of “The Mikado,” isn’t quite as egregious as none whatsoever and allow the yellowface set in the “fictional” land of Japan to be depicted in our expensive, wonderful city that we work hard to exist and be heard in every single day? Or are we going to live up to the bar previously set by our allies? I don’t think the national spark and debate that the good people of the Emerald City triggered should be forgotten, do you?

Don’t second-guess like me.

Don’t doubt like me.

Don’t over think it like I did. #SayNoToMikado

Demand a conversation.

Contact New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players directly at:

New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players
302 West 91st Street

New York, NY 10024

212-769-1000

Albert Bergeret,Artistic Director/General Manager

212-769-1000

David Wannen,Executive Director

212-769-1000

Joseph Rubin,Manager

212-769-1000
Via their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/nygasp
Via Twitter: https://twitter.com/NYGASP

And contact NYU Skirball Center For The Performing Arts, who say they are dedicated to  groundbreaking international talent, while cultivating audiences through deeper engagement.

ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICES

Executive Director: Michael Harrington ( I spoke with assistant who was very receptive)

michael.harrington@nyu.edu

212.992.8484

You can also contact Amy Coombs at amy.coombs@nyu.edu

Via tiwtter:

@nyuskirball

Via Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/nyuskirball

The Lowest Form Of Writing

 

Copyright © 2013 Leah Nanako Winkler

All rights reserved.

Production History 

THE LOWEST FORM OF WRITING was originally produced by American Nightcap at Intar Theatre in November 2013. It was directed by Matt Dickson. It was performed by:

 

SETH…………………EUGENE YOUNG

MADELINE…………MARTINA POTRATZ

 

The play was subsequently performed at The Bowery Poetry Club as part of BARBORA, curated by Alex Borinsky and Clare Barron in Feburary 2014. It was directed by Matt Dickson and sound design was by Peter Mills Weiss. It was performed by:

 

           SETH……………….PETER MILLS WEISS

MADELINE……….CHRISTINE LEE

 

c6yhg5pI8dnBY8O90cPNCH_EaKEFoZGQLmK9Hrd2QLQPhoto Credit: Illana Stein

THE LOWEST FORM OF WRITING 

by Leah Nanako Winkler

CHARACTERS

 

SETH

MADELINE

 

NOTES:

Madeline means well.

Seth isn’t mad at Madeline during his end monologue.

 

The following text is pre-recorded in the style of an intimate phone conversation. 

I found that it worked well if listened in the dark, or if played while the actors awkwardly faced the audience. 

PRE-RECORDED TEXT

SETH

When we first met? I think I first saw you at a reading of mine. You had seen something I had written.

MADELINE

Oh right- that thing-

SETH 

In retrospect it wasn’t very good but-

MADELINE

What? I thought you killed it!

SETH

You did?

MADELINE

Yeah! It’s what made me want to get to know you. Talent and charm goes a long way on women.

SETH

Are you saying I’m not attractive?

MADELINE

I mean. Not conventionally.

SETH

What?!

MADELINE

I like the way you look! I do!

SETH

Well if we’re being honest I didn’t think much of you at first either. I Just thought, oh , there is a girl.

(pause)
I’m a person who locks the door to my heart.

MADELINE

(laughing)

The door…to your heart?

SETH

I have a hard time letting people in!!! It’s a metaphor!

MADELINE

Go on.

SETH

But the more I started hanging out with you- the more you started telling me about your life- the more I started to like you.

MADELINE

Don’t over-think it.

SETH

I don’t wanna over-think it.
But I like you. Like a lot.
Like, I fantasize about you.

MADELINE

Like what kind of fantasy? Like….sexual or?

SETH

Emotional.
An emotional fantasy. About belonging.

MADELINE

Oh.

SETH

It’s raining in this emotional fantasy-

MADELINE

-Um I’m not sure I wanna hear-

SETH

Sort of in sparkly slow motion in the movies where two lovers profess their love toward each other before kissing except I’m alone. And I’m crying. And I’m not wearing shoes.  And I can feel the sidewalk cement on my feet and I’m looking down at the ground to see where they move me. Left foot right foot left foot right foot and it goes on like this for a while and my hair is soaked.

MADELINE

Do you look good?

SETH

Like a model.
And I’m still crying.
And I’m walking, right?
And I see your apartment.
And I knock on your door.

MADELINE

Do I answer?

SETH

Yes.

MADELINE

Do we fuck?

SETH

No.

(pause)

You just look at me. Like, REALLY look at me. And I crumble. And you hold me there, in your arms  while you whisper “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay it’s okay its okay its okay its okay it’s okay it’s okay”

(pause)

And maybe for the first time in my life…I feel truly…okay.

(pause)

When can I see you again?

MADELINE

Tomorrow morning.

NEXT MORNING. 

SETH and MADELINE meet. 

MADELINE

So.Hey.

 

SETH

(he really likes her)

Heeey.

MADELINE

I have something I need to tell you.

 

SETH

Tell me! Tell me anything!

 

MADELINE

 I’m a maneater.

SETH

You eat..

You eat men?

 

MADELINE

Yes. With my charm teeth. And skin warmth.

 

SETH

What does that mean?

 

MADELINE

It means I enjoy engulfing men into my being with my seductive juices before vomiting them out lonely into the cruel, cold world.

 

SETH

And uh- what does that mean?

 

MADELINE

It means you’re like a….you’re like a sprightly Asian Zoey Deschanel who is male. And I thought you would taste good so I ate you and now the meal is done.

SETH

Huh?

MADELINE

I can’t be in a relationship with you Seth. Not now and not ever.

 

SETH

Oh.

 

MADELINE

Yeah.

 

SETH

I um.

(pause)

I wish you would have told me this months ago, before we did all that…stuff.

 MADELINE

What do you mean by “stuff”?

SETH

You know. Like…when you….when you…

MADELINE

Sat on your face and I accidentally peed a little in your mouth?

SETH

No, I mean when-

MADELINE

-we played rape fantasy where I was the raper and you were the victim and you cried because you felt so safe to be able to play games with me?

SETH

No, I mean yeah but-

MADELINE

Are you talking about having sex anally?

(pause)

Okay Seth, here’s the thing. I know it was your first time and I said it was mine, but it actually wasn’t. I have anal sex all the time. Like. ALL. THE TIME. I love it. Genuinely. I do. All the time.

SETH

All the—You mean- you just give your butt away to people?!?!

MADELINE

No, people give themselves away to my butt.

SETH

How could you say that? My penis is very important to me. I don’t just stick it in random orifices!

MADELINE

I’m not sorry.

(pause)

Okay bye. Gotta go!

SETH

Wait!

MADELINE

What?

SETH

Is this…is this for real?

MADELINE

Absolutely.

SETH

-But but! We’ve been spending so many days together! And laughing together! And …and eating snow cones!  I thought we were happy!

MADELINE

We were! But  my love and sexuality is a vast, endless river and it has to keep rolling on.

 

SETH

Rolling on  how?

 

MADELINE

 Last night I went to a gang bang party.

 

SETH

What’s a gang bang party.

 

MADELINE

Exactly what it sounds like.

 

SETH

Is that…is that what you’re into? Because I can be into that too! I can!  If that’s what it takes to be with you! I mean, it’ll take a while because I’m afraid of STDS and I hate sharing but I can learn if you teach me! You’re like the best person I’ve ever met!

MADELINE

I wasn’t the one being gang banged, Seth. It was a friend of mine. And I was there for moral support.

SETH

How do you morally support someone who is being gang banged?

 

MADELINE

By watching.

My friend is a  maneater just like me. We man-eat together often. And being gang banged has been a deep sexual fantasy for him since he was fourteen. So together he and I concocted a safe environment to manifest this destiny.

SETH

I guess …I guess that’s pretty healthy.

 

MADELINE

I know.

And as I watched my friend writhe around nude under a pile of men and women and their fluids I saw this… joy on his face.  Joy and freedom. And when he  started spreading these emotions around the room like the semen that sprayed him,  I  had to look away because the beauty was just too much. So I looked out of the window at the faint moonlight. And saw a dead pigeon resting on the fire escape. Seth, that pigeon reminded me of you and I took that as a  sign that we needed to break up. You’re getting too close to me. And that’s not healthy for you, or for me.

 

SETH

I can’t believe you weren’t more upfront about your darkness.

 

MADELINE

I get that a lot. But if I were upfront about being a maneater, I wouldn’t get good quality guy meat to knaw on  and I enjoy quality just like everyone else.

 

SETH

So. You just don’t…you don’t believe in love?

 

MADELINE

I think I just  I fall in love too much. With multiple people. For short periods of time.

 

SETH

But you told me you talked about me to your mother!

 

MADELINE

I did talk about you to my mother.

 

SETH

That makes me think you love me but are afraid. Come here!

 

MADELINE

HAHAHAH. No.

 I’m not afraid of anything, Seth.

I’m really brave.

And I only talked about you to my mother when we were having dinner one night and she asked me what I was doing later and I said I’m meeting up with a guy.

And she said, is it serious?

And I said no way.

And she said what’s his name?

And I said, it doesn’t matter.

SETH

But I feel like I got to know your mother so well through your stories and words. Why did you talk to me so much about your life if you didn’t want anything serious?

 

MADELINE

Because I like talking about myself and you’re a good listener.

 

SETH

But you told me I was beautiful!
And …and you held my hand for encouragement when I was telling you about my dreams of becoming an Award Winning novelist! You said you wanted to have me over for thanksgiving at your family’s home!!! You said I could bring over my special mashed potatoes and that my special mashed potatoes sounded delicious!

 

MADELINE

Yeah. I was drunk when I said that.

 

SETH

So you just…you’re okay with me being alone? On a Holiday?

 MADELINE

Yeah.

(pause)

I feel sad for you because  you’re not okay with that.

SETH

Oh my god.

MADELINE

Don’t worry Seth. Someday you’ll look back on all this and laugh.

 

SETH

BUT I FEEL LIKE CRYING.

 

MADELINE

Tomorrow, you’ll wake up and feel much better.And you’ll look up at the ceiling when you open your eyes. And you’ll feel different. New somehow. And that is the gift I give you today.

SETH

You sound like a…you sound like a crazy person!

 MADELINE

And you’ll wonder if you even liked me as much as you thought you did.Because it’s difficult to see clearly when you’re stuck on someone. But tomorrow, you will be free.

SETH

Don’t try to hijack my feelings! They’re MY feelings.

MADELINE

And suddenly, you’ll remember that holding me was like holding a skinless baby bunny. Because like most animals I don’t like being held. And I was very uncomfortable in your arms. And you wont be able to believe how you blind you were towards my disdain for this unnatural state.

 

SETH

YOU’RE GOING TO DIE ALONE. IF YOU’RE NOT GONNA BE WITH ME YOU’RE GONNA DIE ALONE!

 

MADELINE

Good.Everyone dies alone, unless people die with them and  people only die WITH YOU in like, car accidents or plane crashes or natural disaster situations. And those things are horrible.

 

SETH

You’re  horrible! And you’re getting old!

 

MADELINE

So what?The older I get, the smarter I am and the stronger I will be and THAT is beautiful.  I will ALWAYS be at my peak. I live for myself.

 

SETH

What about kids?
Don’t you wanna have like a baby that comes out of your body?
I would like  my sperm to turn into a boy. Or a girl. I would like to have a family some day. I thought I could have that with you!

MADELINE

I don’t need a boyfriend to have a kid if I want one. I just need money. Which I can make. By myself.  Also, I find your desperation for family circles to be off-putting. Are you like an orphan or something?

 

SETH

Yes.

 

MADELINE

Oh.That’s…cool!

 SETH

I’ve told you this before when I was pouring my heart out to you but I guess you don’t remember.

 

MADELINE

Yeah.

 SETH

I am  a GREAT  listener.

 

MADELINE

Yeah.I know.

SETH

And I care. I CARE about women.

 

MADELINE

You do.

SETH

I  LOVE women and I  RESPECT women.

 

MADELINE

I respect women too. I am a woman. Angels are women. Jesus dressed like a woman.

SETH

So why are you punishing me for being a good guy?

 

MADELINE

I’m not punishing you,  Seth. I’m just a maneater.

 

SETH

Well.

I’m a person.

Madeline.

I’m a person!!!!

I’m a person!

I’m a person!

I’m a person!

I’m a person!

I’m a person!

I’m a person!

I’m a person!

I’m a person!

I’m a person!

I’m a person!

I’m a person!

I’m a person!

I’m a person!

I’m a person!

I’m a person!

I’m a person!

I’m a person!

I’m a person!

I’m a person!

I’m a person!

I’m a person!

I’m a person!

‘I’m a person!!!!

I’m a person!!!

I’m a person.

 Something shifts.

MADELINE and SETH are no longer in real-time and maybe not even the same place. 

MADELINE

You know how sometimes you can just feel things ending.

And you don’t want to listen to this feeling of ending but you know its true.

I felt this with you the last time you slept in my bed

Neither one of us said  it would be the last time

And we had  a perfectly good night engulfed in each others arms

Skin touching

Breaths colliding

Fingers laced together

But that morning I woke up before you and I saw you sleeping there with your angel face

And I felt it ending.

So I kissed your lashes and your lips with more feeling than I usually do

And I thought it was the best kiss we’d ever shared.

Because it was honest and it was  goodbye.

And you opened your eyes and looked at me with gratitude as if to say thank you. I wont see you again for a while but thank you.

And then I kissed your feet.

And we said “have a good day!”

And I walked out the door.

I’m a person too, Seth

Goodbye

 

SETH

That night I went home and listened to some music like everyone does.

And I thought about including you into my next great American novel but I didn’t.

Because once, you said that stories about personal dating experiences is the lowest form of writing .

And I clung on to every word you said to me.

(pause)

Did you know that one night, I dreamt that I visited your family’s rustic home on the countryside?

When I walked through the wooden doors you were there smiling back at me with your mother who was making  this delicious chicken pot pie with her bare hands and I inhaled the air around me and  relished as this comforting smell of home went through my nostrils and filled my heart and warmed my ribcage and traveled around and down into my pelvis.  And then you walked over to me, hair down and arms out, and hugged me and I hugged you back so hard with this heated passion that the part of you that was pressed the hardest against me, the part of you that  I silenced the most, the part of you that is your mouth,  melted into my throat and screamed as it free fell  down my esophagus and I couldn’t breathe right or live right because you were there vibrating within me until you finally reached my stomach, and when you reached my stomach your lips fell silent until they parted, and puckered, and I felt your kiss from the  inside out.

And the kiss lived there for a while.

And I carried  this kiss around with me for a while.

Until one day, I pooped it out.

And I haven’t thought of you often since then.

END