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Actors' Equity 'Commends' NYGASP Decision to Cancel THE MIKADO; Offers to Facilitate Dialogue

Earlier today, New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players announced they would be cancelling their planned production of THE MIKADO due to complaints from the Asian American community about the show's offensive stereotyping, as well as NYGASP's casting of caucasian actors in Asian roles.

BroadwayWorld has just received the following statement from the Mary McColl, Executive Director of Actor's Equity Association, weighing in on the situation:

"We commend New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players for listening to the Asian American community and for cancelling their December production of THE MIKADO. The company has conveyed its regrets that it could not adapt to the concerns many have expressed about THE MIKADO and that this is a missed opportunity. This is an important and sensitive issue to many, and Actors' Equity would like to play a role in facilitating a conversation between NYGASP and our Asian American members. We welcome the opportunity to create a safe environment in which this dialogue take place and offer our council room for such a meeting.

"We believe that the use of yellowface and blackface is offensive and that being 'historically correct' is not a defense for co-opting a culture or perpetuating stereotypes. Equity plans to be in the forefront as these issues are discussed and to move our industry forward."

The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players had planned to present THE MIKADO at the NYU Skirball Center for Performing Arts this holiday season. Today, in a post on their official Facebook page, the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players announced the cancellation of THE MIKADO and their intention to replace it with THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE. They explain, "NYGASP never intended to give offense and the company regrets the missed opportunity to responsively adapt this December."

The full announcement follows:

"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 it's 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.

David Wannen
Executive Director
New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players"

When Gilbert and Sullivan's THE MIKADO premiered at The Savoy Theatre in 1885, it was a time when trade had recently opened up between the two island empires of Great Britain and Japan, and Japanese culture quickly became an obsession among the British people. THE MIKADO's setting, the fictional Japanese town of Titipu, may have been an attempt by the composers to hop on the cultural bandwagon of the time.

As BroadwayWorld's Michael Dale wrote in his column titled, "Is It Time to Rewrite THE MIKADO?" (click here to read in full), "It's unlikely that Gilbert had meant THE MIKADO to be taken as a serious attack on insensitive white people appropriating another culture for their own entertainment. He was more concerned with lightheartedly satirizing his countrymen's foibles."

Dale goes on to suggest, "THE MIKADO has one of the funniest librettos ever written in the English language and surprisingly little of it depends on a Japanese setting... For 40 years the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players have made valuable contributions to our city's performing arts scene. Keeping the D'Oyly Carte style of Gilbert & Sullivan alive and vibrant is absolutely a worthy artistic mission and it can be used in every other one of the pair's glorious works. But with THE MIKADO... The time has come to find more effective ways to respect both the material and contemporary realities."

What do you think? Did NYGASP make the right move? How can we create a dialogue between those on both sides of this issue?



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