I have an upcoming Hyphen article on attending the post-show panel at the La Jolla playhouse regarding the casting controversy of its The Nightingale.
I also have a pre-event blog post on the matter.
Artistic vision and integrity were tossed out in favor of rationalizations for the casting of non-Asians in a piece that not only has its roots in a work about China, but utilizes Chinese names, scenery, costumes, and history as well.
But the excuse most propagated before the Playhouse apologized was the notion that the production is in the development stage.
Having an All-Asian cast early on in the workshopping process didn’t work for writer Steven Sater. During the panel, Sater said Asians in an Asian setting didn’t fit with the story he wants to tell about humanity’s capacity to overcome all with love. Perhaps love and humanity aren’t something he identifies with Asians. And so the show’s artistic team decided to excise the actors. Cheaper than chucking the production designs, I suppose.
They’re experimenting, they all protest. So let us be racist because it’s all a test is what they seem to be saying. We’re just playing around with ideas.
What happened 22 years ago with Miss Saigon is not easily forgotten in the API community. I’m not white so I don’t know firsthand how the Caucasian community view it. I think The Nightingale casting mishap goes beyond the problems with Miss Saigon in some ways. The Nightingale cast is comprised of six white males. African American females displace Asians in the leading roles. Two Asian females comprise the rest of the cast.
What it feels to me that La Jolla is basically saying is that
1. Asians are not important enough to tell even their own stories
2. The Miss Saigon concerns of 22 years ago were inconsequential
3. Asians don’t resonate with them or audiences
4. We’ll use the location but let’s get rid of the riff-raff
5. Caucasians are better
I don’t care whether something is in the development process or playing before God. These are unacceptable thoughts, visions, and ideas at any time.
If you’re racist and don’t like Asians just say it. Don’t behind the shield of art or the act of working things out in your head. I’d rather one say they hate me — so I can smack them upside their head.
[Update: More on La Jolla Playhouse’s apology here.]