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CC Hosts Discussion on Asian Representation on Stage

From left, Ryan Bañagale, George Preston, and Nadia Guessous participate in the panel discussion “Responding to Representation: Staging Asia and Asian America.” Photo by Nina Riggio ’17

A coincidental scheduling of two shows, “The Mikado” by Gilbert and Sullivan and “Yellow Face” by David Henry Hwang, which inadvertently are rehearsing across the hall from each other and performing the same weekend on the Colorado College campus, resulted in a panel discussion titled “Responding to Representation: Staging Asia and Asian America.”

The discussion, moderated by Angela Seals of the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region (COPPeR), featured panelists Steven LaCosse, managing director of Fletcher Opera School of Music at University of North Carolina School of the Arts and stage director for Opera Theatre of the Rockies upcoming production of “The Mikado”; George Preston, former opera singer, board member of Opera Theatre of the Rockies, and general manager of 88.7 FM KCME, a classical music station; and CC faculty members John Williams, director of Asian Studies and associate professor of history; Ryan Bañagale, assistant professor of music; and Nadia Guessous, assistant professor of Feminist and Gender Studies.

In setting the stage for the discussion, held May 3 in the Cornerstone Arts Center, Seals noted that the panel was “a meaningful moment in theatre and in the arts for our local community, as we are joining a national conversation – even debate – in America that has been swirling around “The Mikado” and other works for several years.

“I want you to know that your peers in the arts have both begun and received this conversation with a zest, professionalism, and openness that reflects well on our community,” Seals said.

The panel discussion, attended by members of both the Colorado Springs and Colorado College communities, was sparked by an open letter to Opera Theatre of the Rockies written by CC Assistant Professor of Theatre and Dance Idris Goodwin, who is directing the CC production of “Yellow Face.”

The play, the title of which refers to the practice of white actors using makeup to appear Asian (just as white performers did to appear African American), is a biting satirical comedy that explores questions of Asian American identity politics and representation on stage.

The irony of rehearsal logistics resulted in a 90-minute conversation about the role and responsibility of those in the performing arts, the legacy of cultural appropriation, the realities of finding accomplished actors – regardless of ethnicity – with a voice that can fill a 700- seat room without a microphone, and the disheartening fatigue of continually challenging the homogeneity of Asian representations.

There are three performances of the Colorado College production of "Yellow Face" in the Norberg Theatre in the Cornerstone Arts Center, 825 N. Cascade Ave. Performances will be held at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Friday, May 11-12, and at 3 p.m. Saturday, May 13. Tickets are $5 for the general public (free with a CC ID) and available at the Worner Desk or at the door.

There are two performances of "The Mikado" in the Kathryn Mohrman Theatre in Armstrong Hall, 14 E. Cache La Poudre St. Performances will be held at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, May 13, and at 3 p.m., Sunday, May 14. Tickets are $25-$40 ($10 with student ID) and available online.