Hi friends. I told you if ever a director had the artistic vision to deliver THE MIKADO in a non-racist way, I’d be open and willing to see it. Seattle Public Theater Youth and Seattle Opera’s presentation of THE MIKADO was right on the money.
Directors Kelly Kitchens and Barbara Lynne Jamison re-imagined the piece setting the operetta in “a fresh, 21st century perspective.” In a fictional world of manga-style anime and pop culture, it made the piece relevant to both the young people on stage, and the not-as-young in the audience—down to every detail. Costume designer Molly O’Conner dressed the diverse, multi-ethnic cast in hip-hop, hipster, harajuku street fashion with wild colors and neon anime wigs. The children came out singing “We are citizens of this town” in strong, confident strides, with anime-action physicality and choreography by Debbie Pierce. Fans were replaced by cell phones, samurai sword replaced by light-saber, Pish-Tush rocked a wig of long pig-tails in cotton-candy pink that would make Katy Perry proud.
A fortune cookie once told me, “An important word of advice may come from a child.” In the past few weeks, one particular racist production of THE MIKADO put on by another company who-must-not-be-named because they do not deserve any more press, has brought many in our community—myself included—much hurt, anger, and sadness. It even made national news. Watching SPT’s production made right what this other company so unjustly threatened in me: Hope.
I was so proud sitting in the packed audience of SPT, rooting for these young actors, laughing as they effectively played out their comedic action, and even stealing a few acting tricks from them (no, I will not reveal what it is I’ve stolen, you’re just going to have to see the show for yourself). Yes, you see? It is possible to produce THE MIKADO in a non-racist way that’s fun, responsible, enjoyable, that doesn’t offend or mock one particular group of people, and relevant to our society today.
To the other theatre company who-must-not-be-named, you just got your butts kicked by a bunch of talented fourth to eighth-graders. How do you like them apples? SPT Youth probably didn’t have a budget of $300,000 either. Their show is free to the public.
Over the past few weeks, with fighting in Gaza, Ebola outbreak in West Africa, planes falling out of the sky, it seems like the world is coming to an end. These young performers offered a boost of hope and watching them was a healing experience. They reminded me what this world can be—a diverse, multi-ethnic community of superheroes where even the supposed villain Katisha gains empathy and is treated with kindness at the end.
Thank you so much, Shana Bestock, for inviting me to this production. I am so grateful for all the work that you and SPT do for our youth and our community. To the directors, the production team, the young actors and their parents, and the dude playing keyboard up at the hot booth: Thank you for modeling for us what positive and constructive influences theatre can have to our society by exercising Artistic Freedom AND Artistic Responsibility (#SeattleAFAR). If this is the way our American Theatre is heading, then there is hope yet.
SPT Youth’s manga anime MIKADO runs this weekend only with two more performances left: Saturday, August 2nd at 7pm; Sunday, August 3rd at 2pm.
Go see this! And write about it! Tell your friends!
Photos courtesy of Shana Bestock and SeattlePublicTheater.org