I just finished Pirates of Penzance with a community theatre, and the director is planning on doing The Mikado next summer. This theatre usually has a predominately white cast, so I'm not sure how offensive it would be for us to do this show. I'm assuming you are more familiar with G&S than I (the only show I know is Pirates, for obvious reasons) so I was wondering if you knew how The Mikado is usually done, at least from a race/casting perspective?
Oh god. This is the question that no Gilbert & Sullivan fan ever wants to be asked. I’ll do my best, but I remand this to the community here, especially those with experience actually putting on shows, for better advice. (@nygasp I’m looking at you in particular).
I’m also going to say right off that bat that I am speaking from a position of priviledge and am no way qualified to judge what is offensive to other people. This is a complicated issue and I don’t really have access to its full complexity, so (a) I hope I don’t offend anyone right now, and (b) if anyone else here has better insight please correct me.
With those caveats, I do not believe the Mikado is racist, at least not against the Japanese. (There are two incredibly racist lines in it and you bowdlerize the heck out of them.) There are people who are going to be offended whatever you do. There are people who aren’t going to be offended by anything you do. You want to care about the people in the middle.
The Mikado is Victorian satire. At the time it was written, England was just learning about Japan for the first time, and the English were obsessed with it. The Japanese flavor things - costumes, movements, sets, look, even some of the music - was as accurate as they were able to make it at the time. With the exception of the silly names, but Gilbert could never resist silly names (there’s a character in Thespis named Stupidas, for instance). But the show was never about making fun of the Japanese - it was about using Japanisma to make fun of the English. Whether that matters now, of course, is not a question I am qualified to answer. But in the show as it is written the Japanese flavor stuff is (by and large) all played very straight - where a production company can run into trouble is adding racist humor. In general, Gilbert and Sullivan is funnier the straighter it is played. Let the script carry itself, don’t add a lot of “pork-pie.” Especially if you’re going to be doing it in a problematic way.
The Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan society recently fell under a lot of criticism for their production of the Mikado, which the reviews described as being in yellow-face. I didn’t look into it deeply enough to know how justified the criticisms were, but I do know that that company has a very good reputation (I adored their Yeomen of the Guard). There is a difference between yellow-face and that very white Japanese style makeup - while the first is obviously offensive I don’t personally see how the second could be. There was also a comment about giving the characters buck teeth, which is obviously not okay. Again, I do not know the facts, because I didn’t bother to look into them. I know the film series production (don’t remember the name of the series off the top of my head) played Pish Tush as Tojo, which also seems super problematic.
There is a production called “the White Mikado” which starred Eric Idle where they removed the Japanese flavor entirely, specifically I believe to avoid this problem, and also to see if it could be done. I think the Japanese flavor stuff is beautiful and a big draw of the show, but then I really enjoy the spectacle of opera. So that’s always an option, and that production is worth looking at.
The most recent production I’ve seen was the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players when they came through Columbus two years ago, which I thought was just fantastic. They kept all the Japanese flavor, but kind of played up the fact that these were white people pretending to be Japanese. The actor who played the Mikado, in particular, was the same gentleman who had played the Pirate Kind the previous summer, and it was very easy to believe that he was actually the same character. He kept doing things like this:
Mikado: [reading the execution notice] myeep nyoop tyoo-
Katisha: [turns notice upside down]
Mikado: Oh dear God it’s in Japanese!
or later on, when they’re all making excuses:
Pitti Sing: It wasn’t written on his forehead you know
Ko Ko: It might have been written on his pocket handkerchief. [beat]. But the Japanese don’t use pocket handkerchiefs!
Everyone: [horrified silence]
Mikado: [sudden explosion of laughter] OH I GET IT! IT’S A JOKE ABOUT THE JAPANESE!
Mikado: [pulls out huge pocket handkerchief]
Everyone: [even more horrified silence]
I thought this was the most hilarious thing ever, and I now have it headcanoned that (in this production at least) the Mikado really is just the Pirate King who somehow managed to become emperor of Japan and everyone is just too polite to call attention to it.
I personally have not seen the Mikado done with any attempt at race appropriate casting. I did find myself thinking in the NYGASP production that the actually asian cast members looked really weird, possibly because they called attention to the disconnect between the very eastern flavor and the very western everything else. In the same way that hearing American accents in Gilbert & Sullivan is always slightly strange, even though I am American.
At the end of the day, the Mikado is an opera first and Japanese second. And it is, in my opinion, an excellent show. The actors you have are the actors you have - deploy them as well as you possibly can. And remember that it all comes down to how you choose to play things. Don’t add racist humor. Don’t put your actors in yellow-face. And it is totally acceptable to play it as specifically making fun of English conceptions about the Japanese, since, that is by and large what it is in fact about. But being aware of all of this stuff is the first step to doing it well.
As Gilbert himself says in the excellent movie Topsy Turvey:
"This is not grand opera! It is merely low burlesque, intended to amuse."
"This is not low burlesque, it is an entirely original japanese opera!"
And again, I’m just a fan. I’ve never been in a production and I’m only familiar with a handful. Please please please - everyone else here weigh in on this. I am the actual worst person to try to answer this question. But I do hope this helps.
Can you help me translating ''Anna mun kaikki kestää?'' :D Thanks for the help!
It’s roughly translated that “Help me to get through all of this” or “give me strength”.
It’s a phrase you say when you come up with something extremely stupid or frustrating or anything you don’t like. It’s not something you say this when you’re really deeply miserable or depressed and are begging for help, no. It’s something you say when you can’t handle the stupidity of the specific situation.
For example, you’re shopping with your friend, you’ve been through millions of shops and you’re extremely tired and frustrated and your friend wants to go there, and there, and oh, there’s an interesting shop too. In that situation you could say “Anna mun kaikki kestää”.
If you’ve ever reblogged a post I made and put my tags in the actual contents of the post to share with others, please know that I have probably spent at least 20 minutes siting at my computer, heart-eyes-ing at the very concept of your existence.
Mouse /literally/ only you could come out with that
And today on Ailsa’s relationship:
- arguing vehemently about Ebony Daggers vs Nordic
- whining that Nordic don’t start spawning for another 20 levels
- “I’ll make you a cup of tea if you go somewhere and find me an Ebony dagger”
- “Do you think Draugrs masturbate?”
- consequently spending ten minutes discussing whether Draugrs are mummies or zombies
"it’s like freud always said," says the ‘psychologist’ character in the movie, making everyone in the audience who knows anything at all about psychology flinch involuntarily
Oh, you’re not going to die. Oh, no. I’m not gonna make it that easy.
love and support and celebrate fat girls who don’t have a booty or like in general fat girls with the fat in places that never get celebrated p l e a s e for the love of everything that is good in this world
like let’s not pretend curvy is a synonym for fat curvy is literally just this one specific socially acceptable way to be fat and I am getting increasingly frustrated about it
I don’t like my current emotions make them go away