Denise– This is an intelligent, well-thought out, brilliant dissection of so many of the problems raised by the Ordway’s production of Miss Saigon. It’s so comforting to hear these truths articulated in this way. I do have a request that you write about the personal stories you left out and put them in another piece. I think it would be valuable for people to hear them. What gets people to reconsider an issue or even make someone more committed depends upon the person. Some respond to verbal arguments, but to others it may be visuals like Ricardo Levins Morales’ satiric Miss Saigon With the Wind poster. At the MPR meeting, a funder, whom I knew understood and agreed with the critique of Miss Saigon, responded afterwards to all the individual stories told by the different Asian Americans at the meeting, “This meeting changed me as a human being.”
One further comment: To me the issue of censorship is a shibboleth. First, in the vast majority of cases, censorship in general takes place when a more powerful entity or group censors a less powerful group or individual. To say that the Don’t Buy Miss Saigon Coalition has anywhere near the power or resources of the Ordway is, of course, ridiculous. Nor does the Coalition have anywhere near the power of Cameron MacIntosh, Claude Michel-Schonberg or Alain Boublil. These three have so much money they could build a new theater in St. Paul and put on their own production if they wanted to. These three are not three Chinese dissidents facing an oppressive massively powerful government. These three are probably the most powerful trio in the world of theater.
Secondly, every arts institution draws a line and chooses what it will present and not present. The Ordway has never produced Frank Chin’s Chickencoop Chinamen, the first Asian American play to be produced in a New York mainstream production. Is the Ordway censoring Frank Chin? Would the Ordway produce a musical based on W.D. Griffin’s The Birth of a Nation? Probably not (though if such a production could make money, maybe they would). So the Ordway draws a line–based on any number of criteria, box office, artistic merit, what their audience requests, etc. Therefore the Coalition is asking the Ordway to draw a line at the racism, sexism, and poor and inaccurate art that is Miss Saigon. That’s not censorship. That’s choice.
Thirdly, here’s what I don’t hear from the Ordway or its defenders: I don’t hear anything about the ways that actors in such institutions like the Ordway or the Guthrie might be inhibited from speaking their minds because of any possible repercussions or the ways that artists in the Coalition who speak out on issues like this do face consequences with various arts institutions. But these instances of silencing happen to individuals who do not possess the power or resources to cry censorship; it happens to individuals who know that if they do make such a charge, there will be serious career repercussions.
The very fact that the Ordway can feel free to cry censorship without any fear of reprisal actually shows how little validity such a cry actually possesses. The Ordway can get an editorial by a former mayor of St. Paul about how the Ordway should not be censored into the St. Paul Pioneer Press and it is not revealed that the former mayor is on the Ordway Board. That doesn’t seem to me the act of a tiny powerless entity but one which possesses major connections and power and who knows they will never actually be censored.