Controversy stirred on campus by Japanese-inspired opera production
The controversial play 'The Mikado' is causing a stir on this campus. Source: @uniyorkgands/Instagram

Imagine leaving Japan to study in the US, only to find the controversial Japanese-inspired ‘Mikado’ is being performed by an all non-Asian cast at your campus.

Fort Hays State University (FHSU) Music and Theatre will be performing their version of ‘Mikado,’ a controversial opera which has been criticised for mocking Japanese culture. The intended purpose of the show is to mock British politics in an obscure setting to soften the British criticism.

“The Mikado” was written as a critique of British politics and institutions, set in distant, mysterious and mostly made-up Japan — a place that few in Gilbert and Sullivan’s 19th century British audience knew much about — to mask that criticism with exaggerated, sing-song names and simplistic Orientalist stereotypes,” reported NBC News.

Some students at FSHU are protesting against the running of the play by attaching letters outlining why the show is problematic to flyers, according to Campus Reform.

“The Mikado is racist for many reasons so when I saw the Dr. Joseph Perniciaro picked this for the opera I was appalled. The Mikado is cultural appropriation, it is RACIST, it is ‘yellow-face,’ and it sure as hell shouldn’t be a production that still exists,” says the letter.

“To begin, the opera is about Japanese people… *BUT* … it is being performed here at Fort Hays State University with an all NON-ASIAN CAST,” the tirade continues, declaring that, “All this production is, is an exaggeration of Japanese stereotypes.”

Students at FSHU are not the first to take issue with students performing ‘Mikado’ on campus.

In 2016, Harvard students spoke out about the negative stereotypes the play perpetuates.

“One thing that’s important to note is that the original show is a satire that renders the characters in the show ridiculous in an effort to lampoon Victorian mores,” Kathleen Zhou, a Harvard senior who also serves as the president of the Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert and Sullivan Players, told NBC News.

“However, since the show uses an ‘exotic’ and ‘other’ setting to soften the directness of the satire, the satire can often feel like it’s directed towards Japaneseness, rather than Britishness, which was the original intent,” 

Not all students at FHSU are riled by the production, with many encouraging students to watch the play and support the actors who have worked hard.

“Everyone in Hays needs to go see FHSU’s production of the Mikado tonight! It starts at 7:30 in F/S theatre in Malloy Hall. And to everyone in the cast, break a leg tonight! I love you all and know how hard you’ve worked!” FHSU student Heath Brandyberry tweeted.

FSHU’s promotional trailer describes the show as: “a masterpiece of comic writing with tuneful music added to the story. This show takes place in a mythical town in Japan. This show contains themes of friction between government and human relationships, as well as death, cruelty, and love for comedy’s sake.”

“This cast and crew has put in many hours and long nights into their performance. Dedication played a key role into this production,” the trailer concludes.

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