Thursday, July 12, 2012

The (Yellow-ish) Nightingale

An illustration from "The Nightingale" by Hans Christian Anderson, image by Edmund Dulac

To preface this: my colleague Rob Weinert-Kendt, associate editor of "American Theatre," musician and theater junkie, told me I should write about this, spawning from a debate we had in the office. So here it is, even though I have written on this topic, or something close to it, multiple times before. And also, Rob brought this up on "American Theatre"'s Facebook page. The responses are worth a read.

Today kids, we are going to play a game of "perfect artistic world" (PAW) vs. "real artistic world" (RAW). For example, in a PAW world, anybody who wanted to make art could make it, however they wanted to and make a living off of it. In that world, I would have become a painter and spend my days being a less-impressive version of Georgia O'Keeffe.

In the RAW world, I realized that I did not have enough gumption to lead the life of a starving, thankless artist. So I now work for a non-profit. Which is not that much of a step up but it does have health insurance.

In PAW, I would go to the theater (or watch movies or TV) and see main characters that looked like me. Instead, in RAW, the lead characters are usually white (unless you're in a Tyler Perry movie or in a David Henry Hwang play).

And in a PAW, Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik can write a musical fairytale set in ancient China, and cast a white male as the Chinese emperor, another white male as the young Chinese emperor, a black female as the Chinese queen, and two Asian-American actresses. And no one would mind, because it's an artistic choice and reflects nothing on the state of American theater, which has equal representation of all races on its stage.

But we live in RAW, where that is not true. And out of 11 "Nightingale" cast members, only 2 are Asian or Asian-American. Neither are Chinese though. Steven (who I spoke to for "American Theatre" and who is a very kind and generous with his time) has responded to the hubbub with, because the story is set in “mythic China. We’re not trying to do something that’s completely authentic to its time, because it’s a fairy tale.” 

"The Nightingale" is being presented at La Jolla Playhouse and my new Twitter friend Erin Quill writes a very hilarious, and astute, blog post about it in the aptly titled "Moises Kaufman can kiss my ass," from the POV of an actress.

I'm going to look at this whole thing from the POV of an audience member, and journalist.

Ingres' "The Turkish Baths" which were not based on real Turkish baths

There are multiple offenses here at play.

First, there is the white-appropriation-and exotification-of-Asian-culture thing. "The Nightingale" is a fairytale, written by a white man (Hans Christian Anderson), set in a mythical China. Anderson never traveled to China.

In the 19th century, when the trade routes were finally open from West to East, there were a myriads of paintings made set in a mythical Turkey, Asia, or Pacific Islands, taking strands of the culture and romanticizing and fetishizing it for white consumption. People at the time did not find it wrong. People today, such as historians, call it "Orientalism." It's bad, it's offensive, and it turns the people of a culture into exotic trinkets rather than human beings.

I'm not saying that "The Nightingale" musical is suffering from that type of ignorance, but it is hewing to a very white tradition of Asian appropriation. After all, you wouldn't cast "Porgy and Bess," set in the fictional Catfish Row, with white leads. And that musical was also written by two white guys. But "The Nightingale" isn't the only piece that suffers from a case of exoticism.

Just this year, Mary Zimmerman mounted "The White Snake" (also a fairy tale) for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which is also set in China. While the main eponymous role was played by an Asian actress, a majority of the other roles were not. Instead, it was a multiracial cast. And let's not get started on the Guthrie Theatre's 2012-13 season, which contains all white playwrights and directors. That's just exclusionary.

I understand the sentiment of artistic integrity and wanting to hew to a particular vision, regardless of race. But that assumes that we live in a PAW, where actors of every color have equal access to any and all roles that are not racially specific. In that world, we can play around with time and place by casting anybody we wanted in any role, and it would not matter.

And this is my second point.

Unfortunately, we live in RAW, where actors of color are usually relegated to playing supporting or minor roles (or roles that are racially specific), and Caucasion actors are the ones who receive the most stage time. And when you look around at any theater, it is usually filled with the old and the white. And I know there are Asians and Asian-Americans living in New York City, they just don't go to the Broadway, or even Off-Broadway houses (unless it's Ma-Yi Theater Company, Flea Theater or Asian-American Theatre Company, to name a few).

If the system was equal, then there would be more productions of "God of Carnage" or "August: Osage County" or "Wit" or any play that does not make references to the characters being of any race, with actors of color in the lead roles. But the system is not equal. I rarely see anyone on that stage who looks like me, which is why it is an affront when roles that should go to Asian or Asian-American actors (and there are so so few) goes to someone else on a technicality.

Or to quote Erin Quill:

I have read that La Jolla Playhouse is calling the casting of this show “A Rainbow”. Here’s the funny thing about rainbows – the color yellow is rarely in that rainbow when it falls on other shows. Also, diversity has a time and a place – it’s usually an unnamed place in the future, in a multi-racial world, or set in modern times – it’s not in Feudal China.

RAW is a world where playwrights, casting directors, artistic directors have an obligation to actors and to audience. They have an obligation to give any opportunity they can to any actor and playwright of every color. And they have an obligation to equally represent the demographic of the region they are operating in, within the works on stage. And last time I checked, La Jolla was chock full of Asian and Asian-Americans (I'm from Southern California and I've been to UC San Diego).

It's no coincidence that playwrights of color are usually the ones who actively fill their plays with color. When I was at Humana, Idris Goodwin, who is African-American, populated his play, "How We Got On," with African-American and Latino characters. If I want to see people who look like me on stage, I go see a Qui Nguyen play.

Until the system is a completely equal playing field, where any actors of color have equal and complete access to every role on the American stage that is not racially specific, and playwrights of color had equal opportunity to produce their plays, then we all need to be a little more conscientious of race, and who we choose to put on the stage (or screen) for the audience to see.

Because a playwright may not see color in their characters, but the audience members do.

ETA: Since the fact-checking system on the blogosphere is very lax, aka how much time I have to check myself, I have made an error in the essay above. I wrote that Oregon Shakespeare Festival's production of "White Snake" was not diverse enough, judging from the names and headshots available on their website. But mistakes happen and these days, I have a hard time gauging ethnicity as well. Julie Felise Dubiner, company member at OSF, was kind enough to correct me:

In actuality the majority of the White Snake cast members who built this show with Mary Zimmerman are in fact Asian American, six of 11 (including the two leads and the love interest/husband) and two are African American. Three are white. The design team is also a diverse team. It is a beautiful show that sadly has closed here, but is being produced at Berkeley Rep next year. OSF has made inclusion a priority at our theater - it is central to our mission. I am very proud to work at a place that is changing the world.

Thank you Julie for correcting me and to OSF for continuing to fight for diversity. But I did want to make a point that La Jolla is not the only theater that has done something racially insensitive. This is an industry-wide oversight, not just the action of one theater.


  1. Very well said, much better than I did - and you didn't tell anyone to kiss your ass- Bravo!
    -Erin Quill

  2. Very nice! I am encouraging SD friends to attend and raise the issue about both this and their other should-be-an-Asian-lead piece, "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots."

    My only addition to your wonderfully written piece is that almost all of those white actors, playwrights and directors you mention are men (again pointing to the Guthrie's egregious hiring this season). If folks are going to claim "rainbow" then look to Broadway's recent "Streetcar" as an example. Only when RAW and PAW meet up and cohabit we can look at casting non-Asians for all the leads in this Chinese-set play

    1. oops attend the discussion after the show on Sun 22 July. Sorry for leaving that out.

  3. Thank you for this beautifully articulated article. I have shared it with many people since it was shared with me, and I hope it is shared even more widely.

    As a company member at OSF, I did just want to let you know that in actuality the majority of the White Snake cast members who built this show with Mary Zimmerman are in fact Asian American, six of 11 (including the two leads and the love interest/husband) and two are African American. Three are white. The design team is also a diverse team. It is a beautiful show that sadly has closed here, but is being produced at Berkeley Rep next year. OSF has made inclusion a priority at our theater - it is central to our mission. I am very proud to work at a place that is changing the world.

    Julie Felise Dubiner
    Associate Director - American Revolutions

    1. Hi Julie,

      Thank you for responding and I'm so glad the piece resonated with you. And my apologies to you and OSF for the error. For certain actors, it is hard to tell ethnicity from headshot and name so thank you for correcting me. I'll make a corrections on the post.


  4. Thank you for your thoughtful piece. I'm sure you've said it over and over, but for those of us just catching up on this topic... we're grateful.

  5. Yes, thank you for stating your position on this MUCH better than Erin Quill's inflammatory blog posting. She has a way of riling up a pitch fork crowd rather than encouraging a debate.

    As an audience member (and non-actor) who has actually seen this production of The Nightingale, I really wish those of you who are slamming it from 3000 miles away would actually come and witness it for yourself instead of jumping on the racism bandwagon or at least leave open the option that perhaps you are wrong for judging something you have not even seen.

    It is beautifully done. At first, the casting choices seem a little odd, but you move past that after about the first 10 minutes and you realize that it really doesn't matter what race the actors are as they play the parts. In fact, the casting of Nikki Castillo (an Asian) as the title character among the black and white cast makes her character and her performance shine even brighter. She brings a magic to that role that is a little difficult to describe.

    Something that those of you who have not seen it would not know about. You're too hung up on the race of everyone to even give it a chance.

    But instead of insisting that Asians play Asians, why don't you start insisting that others take existing mostly white plays and fill them with all actors of color? Also, Erin's blog insinuates that only Chinese people would be appropriate in this play. Isn't that typecasting? Do you not want to think that you could play any other roles? I get your distinction between PAW and RAW but why are you fighting so hard to maintain RAW instead of working towards PAW? You even say that actors of color are usually relegated to playing racially specific roles, but isn't that what you're asking for here? For Asians to be placed in a racially specific role?

    I would also like to point out that everyone slamming this production on the Playhouse's Facebook page have not once said they would be attending the discussion on the 22nd. This is probably due to the fact that again, everyone putting it down hasn't seen it nor will they ever because most of them seem to be in NYC.

    Also, I need to correct one thing. While UC San Diego is chock-full of Asians, La Jolla most certainly is not. The U.S. census bureau states that La Jolla is 82.5% white.

    1. Thank you for stating your position so clearly.

      I have no doubt "The Nightingale" is beautiful and well acted, considering La Jolla Playhouse's budget. But that is not the point of my essay. I am criticizing the inequality of the field at large, of which "The Nightingale" is a sympton.

      The point I was trying to make is: there are so few roles out there for Asian and Asian-American actors, that casting a white male in a role that should be played by a Chinese man is tantamount to yellow face. Asian actors should be in those roles because right now, in the American theater, they are not considered for any other role. If you want hard data on that, just look up

      And I've already advocated for Asian actors being considered for non-racially-specific roles (I am amused you call them "mostly white plays," as if those plays belong to white people, as opposed to belonging to Americans). You can read it above or in this essay:

      As for UC San Diego, last time I checked, it was in La Jolla. So unless you don't count those Asian students as part of La Jolla's theater-going population, then please, continue to advocate for white faces on stage.

      As for me, I'm going to advocate for more faces of Asians on stage, because we are all Americans and we deserve to be equally seen on stage.

      P.S. Thank you for suggesting I go see "The Nightingale" before criticizing its cast. But I do not need to go to SoCal to see a white man playing a lead role that could easily be played by a colored actor. I see it every week in NYC.

    2. Oh, and meant to write "symptom" instead of "sympton." Friday... Logging off now...

  6. Thank you, Diep, for your very thoughtful and articulate piece. My cynicism still kicks in and I have the sense that La Jolla Playhouse's marketing team is leveraging all this casting controversy to sell more tickets. I should know, I've worked in marketing and have seen the slimy side of "spin."

    I have no doubt the show is beautiful. I have no doubt the show is well acted. This is not about the writing or the acting. It's about the casting decisions the production team made that failed to truly consider America's very shameful but real history of discrimination and inequality.

  7. Just a point of clarification - the census bureau counts student populations in their count of a particular city. UCSD is in La Jolla and therefore the Asian students were counted as being part of the La Jolla population. Your own words state that a playwright must "equally represent the demographic of the region they are operating in" so on that point, this goal has been accomplished here.

    And I use the term "mostly white" because we are discussing race here and race transcends borders. The specific content in question is actually written by a Danish author and thus does not necessarily belong to Americans. Last time I checked, America was not the only country with white people. If that was the case, Shakespeare would be rolling in his grave at the use of his works around the globe.

    I don't disagree that there are not many roles for people of color. I get that. But you can't have it both ways. We can't work towards the ultimate goal of anyone being able to play any role without giving up some things. White people can't monopolize white roles, and people of color can't monopolize people of color roles. And I'm not asking you to give up the roles currently there, I'm asking you to focus that energy towards getting the white roles and really effecting change instead of only playing the roles that your skin dictates.

  8. How mighty white of you, Brad.

  9. Anonymous, your comment makes no sense and is completely meaningless without some specifics as to what you are referring to.

  10. Dear Mr. Abernathy,

    "Focus the energy towards getting the white roles and really effecting change instead of only playing the roles that your skin dictates" is one of the more offensive things I have ever read, it is condescending, arrogant, and you are entirely missing the point.

    No Actor casts themselves. They have Agents who represent them, Casting Directors put out what is called A Breakdown describing what the Director wants for that role. Your Agent can (and mine, thankfully does) submit me for any role which she believes suits my talents, regardless of color. Do I always get an appointment to come in for that role? NO. Why?

    Because the Director and Casting Director, regardless of who 'could' walk in the door, has ALREADY determined the ethnicity of who will be seen. We, as Actors, cannot change what is already determined. You need a Director and Casting Director to say, in a breakdown or on a phone call with your Agent, "Yes, we will see him/her for that role" You need a Director and Casting Director who are open for that.

    Actors of color have done their jobs as long as they have studied, worked hard to make themselves the best that they can be, and show up at each audition prepared to do what was requested and at the same time be open to have changes thrown at them at the last minute, for which they have about 20 seconds to process.

    Hans Christian Anderson WAS Danish, yes. But he chose to set the fable in China, an ACTUAL PLACE. Had he chosen or had the Creative Team chosen to set it in "A Land, far, far away" this would not have been a discussion. HCA wanted the fable set in China, a real place. Why? Maybe he saw a painting he liked, maybe he read a book about it - but he chose a real place and a real people. That was what he wanted.

    To try and justify the ethnic cleansing of China, in the name of Theater is offensive. You are deliberately missing and misrepresenting the point of both my blog, and Diep's. And, honestly, your verbiage leaves much to be desired.

    China is an actual place, it's not a mythic place. The Emperor's of China and the Dowager Empresses of China were Chinese - I am not saying that the roles cannot be played by people of other Asian backgrounds, I am saying that it is offensive to have the rulers of China, an ACTUAL PLACE be played by non Asians.

    It is what we call "Yellowface". No one in America does "Blackface" anymore, why? It's offensive. Same thing.

    The fact that La Jolla is a wealthy suburb of San Diego and is mainly Caucasian does not justify this Casting Decision.

    I have spent time in La Jolla - my sister ran the Music Festival there a few summers ago, and I have been to the Playhouse several times. Were there only White people there? Nope. People come from all over attend La Jolla, and THAT is also why this matters.

    There are several API Actors who ARE going to attend the talk back, but yes, some of us are in New York or on tour, and are unable to make it - which does not preclude us from having a voice. After all, we are members of the AEA Union and members of the Broadway Community.

  11. Continued from Above:

    None of your 'arguments' justify the Casting decision. You are scrambling to justify your being uncomfortable with Asian Americans speaking up and speaking out.

    The show is set in China. Period. If the show was set in Africa, and it was played by Caucasians, would it fly? No. If the show was set in Mexico, would it be reasonable to have a show put up without Latinos? No.

    If the Creative Team wanted a multi-cultural cast without controversy, all they had to do was remove the word CHINA from the setting.

    Actors of Color do not limit ourselves, we do not need to when we have people such as yourself to tell us where our limits are, in your humble opinion.

    I never asked anyone to rally. I never asked for over 15,000 people to read about what is going on at La Jolla, and comment, overwhemlingly, that they think it is wrong. I merely wrote, on my personal blog, what I felt. If people choose to contact La Jolla Playhouse, that is their right and privilege, I only speak for myself.

    I have a degree from Carnegie Mellon University. I am highly versed in Musical Theater, both the history and the repertoire. I would never turn down an appointment for anything in my vocal range - it is that I am not given appointments because whoever is Casting or Directing cannot 'see' me in the part.

    I have written screenplays that have turned into feature films, I have been on Television, and I have been on Broadway. I sing cabaret. I toured doing traditional Irish music. I sing in Gay Nightclubs. I have an Irish music CD on iTunes.

    I have raised money via my talents for The Matthew Shepard Foundation, Desert AIDS Project, Broadway Cares, for victims of 9/11 etc, etc - I am a member of SAG/AFTRA and AEA and have held committee positions on various boards.

    I am a proud Asian American. I am a proud Irish American. I will continue to speak up, I will continue to write what I think. Please do not talk down to me or tell me which place in the pantheon of the theater you think I belong to.

    Your comments were largely accusations however you actually surprised me with your arrogance and I felt I did have to respond.

    I agree with you on one thing, I thought Diep wrote a wonderful article, and you demean her contribution to the discussion by using it as a jumping off point for your vitriol and xenophobia.

  12. I don't understand how you're missing that we both want the same thing. I want to see anyone able to play any character without their race being a consideration. I don't see how you think I'm trying to limit anyone or tell them what they can and can't do. Asians should be able to play any race, Blacks should be able to play any race, Hispanics should be able to play any race, etc.

    Thank you for explaining the casting process as I am not a part of it and see there are many layers to it. So I ask, where is the breakdown? Where does the change need to happen? Is it with the actors, the agents, the casting directors, etc. or even the audience?

    You've provided a valid defense for the actors. Can the agents do more? Can they put more pressure on the casting director's for considerations and fight for you? Is that how you reach the directors if they are the ultimate problem? Can the audience be doing more?

    I'm not trying to assign blame, merely asking questions to start a discussion.

    I understand your position on the setting of this play and maybe my defense of it is too strong so I won't continue to challenge that.

    I wasn't trying to demean Diep in any way and intended to just correct some factual information. Her contribution is important and I wanted to praise her on the creation (I'm assuming) of the terms PAW/RAW and have reused them already, crediting them to this blog when I did. It's such a perfect way to describe what I see as the two real sides to this and putting into words a goal that needs to be achieved, that of the perfect artistic world. And I guess I am just confused when someone seems to be accepting that the RAW can not be changed. It is a tiring fight to make change, but we can't give up.

    I didn't intend to insult anyone and I apologize for that as I do argue strongly. My verbiage may misrepresent myself and that's something for me to improve on.

    1. Brad,

      I think we are all fighting for the same goals but disagree on how best to reach it. Though I do not appreciate you coming into this blog, my personal blog, with an insult to Erin, whose blog post was the one who started this conversation and who was stating her position in a very real and passionate way. Because truthfully, and I have spoken to Moises Kaufman before and right now, he can kiss my ass too.

      To be mature right now, Erin and I are not saying that Asian-Americans should only play Asians. That is not the end goal we are after. We, and many others, are making the point that UNTIL Asian-Americans and other actors of color receive equal representation on the stage, then all roles specifically written for them SHOULD go to them, in the name of giving Asian-American actors work in a field where there is already a lack of representation.

      We are not the only racial group going through this. Just this past season, TheatreWorks in Connecticut cast white actors to play Latino characters in "The Motherf**ker with the Hat."

      There is a very recent (not even 100 years old) history of minority oppression in this country, and a history of Yellowface and Blackfast. La Jolla's casting decision, of having Chinese people played by actors of other races, directly references that kind of oppression and mistreatment, something that is still very much felt today. I don't mean to offend but you cannot comprehend what it's like to not be seen for a role because of the color of your skin, and not seeing people on stage who look l

      ike you, unless you have lived with it your whole life. Growing up in Southern California, I wanted to be white because those were the faces I was presented with, those were the faces that were beautiful and I was told I should relate to them. That kind of homogeneity does a fucked-up number on your sense of personal identity.

      As a viewer and journalist, I can easily relate to someone who is not Asian, but I would appreciate seeing a familiar face sometimes. And I would want young Asian Americans to not have to experience the sense of alienation that I did.

      It may be benign to you but it is a very recent, very painful history and life for us. And that is partially why La Jolla's casting decision, and other decisions like it, comes across as racially insensitive.

      Equality needs to come from minority actors being accepted into roles traditionally casted with white actors, NOT the other way around, because of that history. Do it any other way, and you have a controversy.

      So what can be done? I heard Oskar Eustis of the Public Theater in NYC say earlier this year that it is up to the playwrights and the directors to specify that they want to see Asian and Asian-American actors. In the world of the theater, they have the final say on casting decisions.

      If change is to happen, that's where it needs to happen from. And posts like mine and Erin's are to bring these frustrations to the attention of those who are in the position to make a difference. We can only create noise and awareness, they need to create change.

      As for La Jolla and representation, you seemed to have overestimated in your numbers since according to the 2010 Census ( Caucasions make up 58% while Asians make up 13%. And that's not including anyone who is mixed-race. The town may have a white majority, but it's not Connecticut. I'm sure the white citizens of La Jolla, having been sufficiently (over)represented with "Hands on a Hardbody" and "Blood and Gifts" (not to mention last season's programming) would not mind giving the stage to Asians for one show. I think the Asian-Americans of La Jolla would appreciate seeing their faces on stage, I know I would.

  13. “RAW is a world where playwrights, casting directors, artistic directors have an obligation to actors and to audience. They have an obligation to give any opportunity they can to any actor and playwright of every color. And they have an obligation to equally represent the demographic of the region they are operating in, within the works on stage.”

    Ever since the casting controversy of “Miss Saigon” in 1990 — where Actors Equity vetoed the visa application of Welsh actor Jonathan Pryce to play the musical’s Vietnamese male lead in its Broadway premiere, and an anti-Equity media firestorm ensued — the casting of ethnically Asian actors in roles written as ethnically Asian has been near and dear to my heart ( “Miss Saigon” left two different legacies. Because of the negative press and negative reactions from many members (and all of the objecting members quoted in the press were white), Equity lost badly in the court of public opinion and was forced to back down, allowing Pryce to play this rare Asian male lead on Broadway (“Miss Saigon’s” creative team labeled the character “Eurasian,” but no mention is made of the character’s European heritage in the musical’s original libretto, which was later revised for Broadway). Nevertheless, in the wake of the controversy, I noticed a concerted effort among Hollywood studios to cast Asian roles with Asian actors. For example, would Disney have cast predominantly Asian voice actors — actors who aren’t seen by the viewers — for the Chinese roles in “Mulan” if it hadn’t been for the “Miss Saigon” controversy? Would the “Harold and Kumar” movies have come about?

    But the other side of this legacy is no formal acknowledgement that racial discrimination in casting exists. “Miss Saigon” seemed to resolve that casting is the sole discretion of a work’s creative team, and that any outside criticism is to be dismissed. “Miss Saigon” left no formal structure to address issues of racial discrimination in casting. It only left the idea that any racial diversity in casting is to be a voluntary decision on the part of the creative team. In other words, the controversy didn’t formalize any “obligation” on the part of the creators “to give any opportunity they can to any actor and playwright of every color.”

    The question that the “Miss Saigon” controversy should have instigated among the public was: “How do we reconcile free-speech rights with equal-opportunity rights when the two come into conflict?” But the only immediate reaction that the controversy provoked was what “reverse racists” Equity and its minority members were being. While the casting of “Mulan” and the “Harold and Kumar” movies are one positive result of “Miss Saigon,” the La Jolla Playhouse’s dismissive reaction to criticism of its casting of “The Nightingale” is another result.

    1. Rob in LA,

      So much WORD to what you wrote. What I find interesting to the comparisons between "Miss Saigon" and "The Nightingale" is the fact that one is commercial theater while the other one is non-profit. While there is an argument that commercial theater is not beholden to racial equality (or at least less beholden), not-for-profit theater exits to serve its communities. Therefore, if the faces within the community are not represented on stage, then has the theater failed its mission?

      La Jolla's mission is to "advance theatre as an art form and as a vital social, moral and political platform by providing unfettered creative opportunities for the leading artists of today and tomorrow." And I think we can all agree that diversity is an area that needs much advancing in American theater.

      Just food for thought. Thank you for responding!

    2. Since writing the above comment, I have learned about the discussion of “The Nightingale’s” casting that the Playhouse will be hosting after its July 22 matinee. It appears that the Playhouse's reaction to the controversy wasn’t as dismissive as I thought. A tip of the hat to artistic director Christopher Ashley. Now, let’s see how well the discussion goes.

  14. Hi Diep,

    Thank you for your blog post. Excellent thinking and writing. ( And thanks to Erin, as well, if she's reading this, for your excellent thinking and writing as well)

    I felt compelled to respond because i guess i'll never cease to be astonished by white privelege and how it seems to inevitably shift responsibility and blame to people of color. I love how the frame of "RAW vs. PAW" gets transformed into, "hey, why don't you take your complaining to 'Whitey McWhiteland" theater and demand to be cast in Neil Simon plays."

    if anyone is offended by my last sentence, please take a moment to consider how it might feel to be Asian American.

    For me, a perfect world is not one where the story being told by the presence of race on stage is ignored.

    For Asian Pacific Islander Americans, there is a legacy of misrepresentation and cultural appropriation on stage and in other media. Some of this coincided and worked in concert with harsh discrimination and sometimes deadly real world consequences.

    We want to participate in our story telling and our representation.

    For those who would say, "hey, this is mythical china!! it's what Hans Christian Anderson wrote and he didn't know anything about China. it's just chinoiserie, which was all the rage in 1844. the setting has nothing to do with the story!"

    In what mythical China are there little to no Asians?

    Just because Hans Christian Anderson didn't know anything about China or the race politics of modern America, doesn't mean the producers of, "The Nightingale" shouldn't either. Or that the audience members won't.

    Race and culture are intertwined, and when you extract the Asians and are left with "cultural Asian trappings", that's cultural appropriation. Or, "chinoiserie".

    Setting may not matter to everyone equally ("Hey, I'm white and I can go anywhere and do anything! I can be anybody! Yay!"), but setting is part of the storytelling. And is has meaning and gives context to the storytelling whether you intend it or not.

    So the question becomes, "who gets to tell our story?"

    I'll be there on Sunday, 22nd for the panel discussion.

    (on a side note: my concern is also that if I see one more story written and produced by white people about a white guy and a "little asian girl", I might fucking vomit.)

    1. Hi Greg!

      So great of you to drop in, I saw via Twitter that you're going on the local SD radio station and talking about this. Thank you for representing! And for responding.

      "Race and culture are intertwined, and when you extract the Asians and are left with "cultural Asian trappings", that's cultural appropriation. Or, "chinoiserie"."

      It's Chinoiserie and it's also Orientalism, because it removes the voices of the indigenous people and what you're left is one White man's version of the Far East. That's part of my problem with "The Nightingale" and Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik's half-assed explanations come across as tone-deaf as a result.

      Be sure to live-Tweet the panel discussion this weekend for those of us on the East Coast that can't attend but want to chime in.

      P.S. And yes, the "little Asian girl" always seems to be the one to teach the White Male about the meaning of life. I don't mind the positive representation but I would appreciate more representations of Asian women that didn't fetishize us. Can't believe I'm still gripping about this in 2012.

  15. Yo, straight up, thank you for writing this.

  16. Oh one more thing - I'm Chinese-American and I live in NYC and I get out to the theater as much as I humanly can. Doesn't matter which theater company. The best thing I've seen this year was at The Secret Theater in Long Island City. Just wanted to say that.

    1. I should check out some Queens theater, considering I live in Astoria. Thanks for the tip!