I cannot remain 'neutral' on this issue - I am shocked and appalled by the RSC, both by the actual casting and the subsequent statements provided by the RSC explaining their decisions. Their misguided and misjudged actions and reasonings have deeply saddened me. The only positive is that this seems to have brought people together to protest this and will, I hope, eventually bring about a change for the better in the UK theatre, TV, radio and film industry.
If you are not aware of the story let me fill you in:
The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) are putting on an adapted production of The Orphan of Zhao. This classic Chinese play was originally written by 13th century Chinese dramatist Ji Junxiang. Incidentally Kaige Chen made a film adaptation in 2010; The Sacrifice. The play is often referred to as 'the Chinese Hamlet'. The RSC version has been adapted by James Fenton and is directed by the RSC’s artistic director Gregory Doran.
The RSC travelled to China to research the play and have kept the setting in China with the original characters.
Hmm, so far so good. This is sounding like something I would be interested in shelling out £50 to go and see (probably still a cheap seat!).
Then the cast list was announced. 17 actors in total. 3 of which are British East Asian.
Hold the phone - just 3? They gave the 3 lead roles to BEA actors? Sorry, what did I just read? The 3 BEA actors cast play dogs and a maid? Not the orphan (cute chubby faced Chinese kid on the poster has changed a lot growing up)? Not the princess?
That £50 is going back in my wallet. I am APPALLED by this casting decision. It's 2012, maybe someone should let the RSC know? The days of East Asian actors being passed over should be OVER. It was 1938 when Anna May Wong was passed over by Louise Rainer for the title role in The Good Earth (see still below).
Has time stood still here in UK theatre land? Even though the RSC state none of the white actors will be taping their eyes, overdoing it with the eyeliner or painting their skin yellow this is still Yellow face!
Thankfully people like Anna Chen, Equity BAME representative Daniel York, Lucy Sheen and Amanda Bear have let the RSC exactly what they think about their casting decision. After all the intellectual debate (I'm not going to engage in it here, others have done it much better than I can) it boils down to the fact that what has happened was a colossal error of judgement which is racism in practice (intentionally or not).
This should be apologised for and corrected. This behaviour is abhorrent and needs to stop NOW. I truly do not understand how anyone can think this casting decision was OK.
There have been some excellent articles written about this and American and Canadian actors have been quick to show their support. In particular I am grateful to Broderick Chow whose blog post introduced me to this brilliant poem Colorblind by Jason Chu: This was in response to the La Jolla playhouse in Los Angeles casting choices for it's China-set musical The Nightingale.
There are several ways in which you can help to let the RSC know what time it is (had to get a Public Enemy reference in!):
1. Write to the RSC to express your feelings about their casting policy for the play. You may also want to question the appropriateness of their responses to questions re the casting. (see www.rsc.org.uk/contact-us.aspx) or make your opinions known on the RSC Facebook page. If you're on Twitter you tweet them: @thersc
2. Write to the Arts Council. The RSC are part funded by the Arts Council, who are funded by us, the tax payer: Barbara.Matthews@artscouncil.org.uk
3. Join the Facebook Groups: Let's Get More British Chinese East Asian actors on TV, film, theatre and radio and British East Asian Actors
4. Write to The Rt Hon Maria Miller MP Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Minister for Women and Equalities. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
6. Tell your friends about this!
Whilst I've been ill for the past 2-3 weeks I have discovered one excellent piece of TV from 10 years ago which has a main character who is British Chinese. His ethnicity is barely mentioned and it does not define his character, a rare occurrence. It also happens to be one of the funniest sit-coms I've ever seen, not sure how I missed in when it was on the BBC. I am speaking of 15 Storeys High starring Sean Lock and Benedict Wong. Truly excellent. Here's a clip (you can watch all 2 series on Netflix). I hope to update on the Orphan of Zhao story on air when my health is better. In the meantime I suggest following Anna Chen's blog if you are not on Facebook.