Apology from the Editor Regarding Our Review of ‘The Mikado’ at Young Victorian Theatre Company

I am writing to address the concerns of many who took the time to contact us tonight regarding the review of The Mikado at Young Victorian Theatre Company that DC Metro Theater Arts published earlier today.

After reading the comments of multiple readers who were highly offended by its defense of the original intent of The Mikado, a show widely accepted as an insensitive glorification of 19th century Orientalism, I decided to pull the review. It was a failure on our part that it made it to publication without proper oversight and we recognize that people were hurt by this action. We will be reviewing our editorial processes to ensure that this is not something that occurs again.

There is an important debate going on in the American theater community about how to deal with dated material that was written in a time when the white, male, heterosexual viewpoint was the predominant voice in art and culture (and politics and home life). Theaters regularly produce material that is lauded for its production value but is regressive in its treatment and perspective on marginalized individuals. Just as theaters have an obligation in deciding whether and how to produce such material, critics have a responsibility to review these productions with an awareness of the problematic historical context of the show and a critical eye towards the intent of the current production.

The review published on our site today was insensitive to the legitimate concerns of the Asian American population and to anyone who strives for equal opportunities in performing arts spaces. We are deeply sorry for having published this content and welcome feedback regarding this or any of our reviews.

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Nicole Hertvik
A reformed child actor, Nicole got her B.A. in English Literature before wandering the globe for a decade, writing and teaching English in Prague, San Francisco, Buenos Aires, and Paris. She eventually landed in NYC where she received a Master’s Degree in International Affairs from Columbia University and dabbled in theater as an actor, script reader and dramaturg. Thrilled by the strong and diverse theater community she discovered in DC, Nicole wakes up every morning excited to contribute to DC Metro Theater Arts. Nicole is currently working on a master's degree in journalism at Georgetown University. Email: nicole@dcmetrotheaterarts.com, Instagram: @nicolehertvik, Twitter: @nicolehertvik, Facebook: Nicole Hertvik.

21 COMMENTS

  1. Honestly I’m appalled by this apology and the removal of the original review. It was a well written and well thought out argument that fully deserved to be published. You should be ashamed of yourselves for giving into what essentially amounts to an attempt to bully people into censorship. Shame.

  2. Furthermore whether people disagree with the show or not the actors and artistic staff are hard working and good people who deserve to have the work acknowledged. I think journalism is about presenting all sides, allowing a dialogue, maybe rather than pulling the review you should invite a member of the Baltimore Asian American community to write an op-ed in counter. That would be a much more intelligent and appropriate response in my opinion

  3. As someone who read the article before it was pulled, I find this absolutely absurd. There was nothing offensive in the piece whatsoever. On the contrary, I thought it was a very well put statement of the “other side of the argument”. This is censorship, which has no place in the arts. And on top of that, this is America. By law everyone has the right to voice their own opinions. Of course I believe in respect, and doing our best to respect the opinions of everyone, but that is not accomplished by shutting down those we disagree with. This should be a conversation, and that is not what is happening. I very strongly request that you put the article back up and perhaps invite someone to come see the show on one of it’s final 3 performances to write a piece showing the other side. As it stands I see this as cowardly and I am extremely disappointed to see this kind of behavior in the arts community.

  4. So, you took down a review because people were offended by it liking Mikado? You issue this review stating that it was offensive and I have no way of reading this review to see if it actually was because you took it down. You took away my ability to judge for myself and to make the conscious choice to agree or disagree.
    Intellectual honesty is a thing. I suggest your magazine learn how to apply it.

  5. Thank you for fighting the good fight! I have also seen posts on Facebook from those involved with the production calling for others to comment negatively on this post – so take these comments with a grain of salt.

    Hot take: The Mikado is offensive, and this production is no exception. No production of The Mikado is an exception. The history of the material as well as the material itself is unacceptable, and to have white people in kimono onstage to material directly fetishizing and making fun of Asian Americans is offensive.

    • Hi Dawn, the Mikado doesn’t make fun if Asian Americans, if you had any knowledge of the actual content if the show you would know that. Yes it presents and outdated and by modern day standards very offensive portrayal of specifically Japanese people, but at the time was about the total exposure Gilbert and Sullivan had to Japanese culture. Additionally the show is not intended to mock Japanese culture but very clearly is a satire of British politics and class structures. But I’m sure you know all that because you definitely have seen the Mikado and also have definitely read a copy of the script.

      • Surprise! I’ve been in The Mikado. Twice. It was fun at the time but in later years I realized how problematic it was. You literally say it doesn’t make fun of Asian Americans and then in your next line point out there is, by modern day standards, AKA our standards, a “very offensive portrayal of specifically Japanese people” in this show. Okay. It may mock British structures at the time but at the expense of Asian Americans. Think before you speak. Check your privilege.

    • Dawn, I do not believe anyone is asking people to respond negatively, simply to advocate for there being no place for censorship in the arts.

      I wish an actual conversation could be had about the issue but when all I see is people putting down those of us who have opposing view points, it’s extremely disheartening as both an artist and a human being. ALL views should be heard. That is my argument. You acting like your opinion is fact is part of what prevents a productive conversation from occurring.

  6. Yeah, I have seen Jason Mulligan all over facebook this week actively arguing with POC, speaking down to them and telling them their POV and experiences are incorrect. Now he’s trying to start a fire by asking people to come here and leave negative comments. Thank you for this apology and for taking the opinions and concerns of minority performers in this area seriously.

  7. This is pretty shameful. You have no business being a magazine if this is your editorial policy.

  8. Hi Sarah, I’ve told nobody their experiences are incorrect, but those experiences do not give them the right to call for artistic censorship and silencing other voices. I have encouraged you and members of the Asian American community to engage in an open dialogue which requires allowing both sides to speak. And if you don’t want people who disagree with you to engage then don’t make posts public on Facebook. Did you see the production, have you ever seen a production of the Mikado? I’m going to assume no. Again maybe you should have actually reached out to the opera company, but you didn’t.

    • Jason, we did engage in open dialogue – you attacked us. Also, making a post public on your personal FB page doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone will have immediate access to it, especially people you don’t know. Unless you have mutual friends, you have to ACTIVELY search for those posts. Seeing as the individual we are mentioning in this thread was not your FB friend and had no mutual connections with you, I am left to believe that you were looking for a fight once someone put it on your radar that people were speaking very scathingly about Young Vic’s production of The Mikado. And seeing as you are 1) friends with one of the leading actresses in this production and 2) involved with The Young Vic, its quite clear where your biases come from.

      Also, we did reach out to the opera community. We have friends who are in the Baltimore opera community who have been absolutely appalled by both The Sun interview AND this review, including people who have worked with Young Vic and also who were involved with this production of The Mikado. Personally, I was a competitive musician my whole life until college and was a vocal major with focus in opera for the first two years of my collegiate career; part of my curriculum included singing songs from The Mikado (which I hated as much then as I do now) and also studying its historical context.

      But please keep engaging in dialogue as all perspectives are truly welcome and help us understand all sides of this argument more.

  9. I honestly find this appalling. Sarah and Dawn, you’re inviting censorship in journalism. CENSORING historical oppression isn’t how we’re going to fix it in today’s society. A man who does not know his history is bound to repeat it. We need to reclaim history – acknowledge the truth of it and its shortcomings – so that we can improve for the better. There is a black artist by the name of Paul Rucker who creates Africanized versions of Ku Klux Klan robes to both acknowledge the horrid, nightmarish practices of the group while also reclaiming the identity of the robes in favor of equality for black people. Let’s see more of THIS today to harbor change, and not the straight up obfuscation of the ugly parts of history. Erasing these things from history doesn’t actually solve problems. We need to keep dialogue and discussion open, and have hard conversations with people who disagree with us, in order to affect any change. I agree that society should be all inclusive, and we should be sensitive to all parties. But closing our eyes and shouting lalala until it goes away isn’t how we do that. We all have the right to be informed. Every single one of us. I would love an op-ed of the opposite opinion in counter to the original review, so that I can make my OWN judgments, as every person should have the right to. Is that not what the first amendment is about?

    I invite you to watch the Ted Talk of Paul Rucker below to invite dialogue and discussion.

    Paul Rucker: The symbols of systemic racism — and how to take away their power
    https://go.ted.com/C2mR

  10. I was the Theatre Editor for an online culture magazine for years, and we never took down controversial reviews. We might publish a letter to the editor, or counter review written by a reader, but our editorial policy was to stand by our writers and let the comment board serve as an outlet. Even when information contained was wrong, we posted corrections, but we never ever considered taking down a review. Ever.

    As press, you have a responsibility to uphold and defend the First Amendment protections, as well as the opinions of your critics. What a shameful thing you’ve done.

  11. I intended to voice my opinion on the review itself and discovered after posting my comment that it was closed to public opinions. To be honest, I found THAT to be incredibly infuriating as it left the door closed to those of us who wanted to express exactly what about the published piece was so offensive and why. That was the reason why I messaged DC Metro Theater Arts directly; I wanted to voice to them my opinion and what in the article I found to be frustrating and deeply offensive as a member of the minority community front and center of this debate. I wholeheartedly agree that, had there been a public comment board included on the original review, the discussion happening on this wall could have happened there instead. I also agree that it wouldn’t have been a bad thing to keep the review up and publish an op-ed opposing its content in response as open dialogue should be encouraged and welcomed.

    I do sincerely believe that this is an important discussion to have and am more or less frustrated that it has not happened within our theater community until now. This is due partly because the Asian and Asian-American communities in Baltimore are very small in number and the APA individuals within the theater and opera communities have also been few and far between. But that is changing and there are more of us now than there have been in the past who are, not only active within the theater community, but also willing to speak our minds. Those of us who have had the audacity to do so recently have been accused of being arrogant for assuming that we speak for all or even some despite the fact that we actually exist within this minority community and hear what others within it actually have to say. It’s frustrating that those standing outside our APA community hear the opinions of the few who support this piece and use that to validate their own vitriol and empower themselves to tell us to be quiet. I fail to understand how, despite the fact that it is OUR identity being represented and OUR opinions that have been shut down regarding this particular piece and the topic of representation as a whole for decades, WE are the ones who are bullying you.

    However, there are a lot of incredibly valid arguments being made in this comment thread which include censorship, art and how to deal with offensive, dated material. These are all topics that should be addressed and I, personally, would love to talk more about these topics within our theater and arts communities.

    Fallon, I find the comment you made about Paul Rucker and the work he does particulary interesting. Coincidentally enough, I posted a similar question on my private FB wall just last week regarding confederate statues and whether there was a way to “amend” them as another black artist by the name of Titus Kaphar (who did a TED talk on the topic) says. A friend of mine who is black made it very clear that he found my question/inquiry hurtful and I will admit that I was incredibly defensive at first, especially because my intent was to learn not to argue or offend. After extended conversations with him and other friends – minority and otherwise – and a lot of time to process what had happened, I realized that he had every right to be offended, even if offending him was not my intention. I cannot assume to understand where a person’s feelings come from, but they are valid even if there are others within their same community who do not agree. I know all too well that I have no right to tell someone that they shouldn’t feel a certain way when an artist’s or artists’ work(s) offends them. There is cause for that offense and their response.
    Oftentimes that cause is painful – I cannot always understand that, even as a minority myself. But I can listen, especially as someone who comes from a marginalized community whose opinions and concerns often go unheard or dismissed.

    It’s easy to take the work of minority artists like Paul Rucker or Titus Kaphar and say “Look! They’re okay with this symbol or structure because they’re changing it to mean something more positive, so that’s what we should ALL do and appreciate.” But that sort of response undermines the valid opinions of the individuals who are hurt by those symbols, their history and who wish to see them removed. And in regards to The Mikado, it’s easy to take the approval from one Asian American organization or a handful of artists and say “Then this must be okay”. But that undermines the opinions of those of us who have valid reasons to be offended by the operetta and its content. It also ignores various other contexts regarding this work and its contemporary audience, for instance – the racial tensions that exist within the Asian and Asian American communities as well as the differences in perspectives between Asians and Asian Americans regarding appropriation and representation. There are reasons why specifically Asian AMERICANS (not necessarily Asians) are offended by this piece and I sincerely question whether or not the public at large understands that.

    In regards to this review itself, the author posted his original piece publicly on his FB page, if you wish to read it.
    https://www.facebook.com/bill.kamberger/posts/10215663031385758?hc_location=ufi

    There was a particular statement in that review that I found to be incredibly hurtful and insensitive and I quoted it in my direct complaint with DC Metro Theater Arts: “Among the many tragedies of racism, a tiny but not-insignificant one is that its victims have never been allowed, by either society or their own consciences, simply to enjoy the music.”

    It was a passive aggressive way of telling us to “get over it”. It implied that I – as an Asian American individual – am incapable of enjoying music that I legitimately find to be offensive, albeit racist in the 21st century, because the society which surrounds me (as a “victim of racism”) has dictated to me that I should feel offended by it. It implied that I have somehow lost my ability to think freely as a “victim of racism” because my conscience weighs too heavily with too much of a moral compass and that I should tone down my political correctness and just “enjoy the music” for once and just shut up.

    I also found the comments regarding his grandmother to be, again, quite passive aggressive. My grandparents survived World War II as well. In fact, I have family that was tortured and murdered by the Japanese during their invasion of the Philippines – including a great uncle who was beheaded, another who watched a man get skinned alive at the age of seven and a great great grandfather who was tied to a tree, tortured for days and eventually murdered. And yet I, as a Filipino Asian-American, am still able to separate my family history and animosity toward the Japanese and the terrible things that happened to us in their hands and call out cultural appropriation in the 21st century as it happens. I am able to do this because I know that the two histories – what happened in World War II and the content of The Mikado – are two very separate things and it is absolutely inappropriate to negate arguments against one by using the other.

    I was a competitive musician my whole life (insert stereotypical Asian musician comment here) before I decided to become an actor. I majored in music for two years undergrad and had to sing songs from The Mikado at the age of nineteen; during that time, I also studied its historical content – including Orientalism and the British Empire, specifically its representation in 19th century British art and music. I hated it as much then as I do today and it still infuriates me ten years later that producers and directors find ways to defend their short-sighted productions of this piece with equally ignorant comments and interviews.

  12. Cori-
    Thank you SO MUCH for your thoughtful and considerate reply!!!! You made a ton of valid, well thought out points that I commend you for. You’re absolutely correct when you said none of us has the right to tell others how to feel – everyone is
    entitled to their opinion and their emotions. Everyone. I hadn’t considered the same point you made about others being offended by the works of artists like Rucker and Kaphar, and you’re absolutely correct to bring my attention to that. And without dialogues like the ones we’re having now, I wouldn’t have even considered it that way. That’s why these uncomfortable conversations are so important to have. While I in no way intended to say that Paul Rucker was speaking as a black man for the ENTIRE black community, I can appreciate how it came off as such. I simply wanted to illustrate my point that, from a humanist perspective, if we try to completely erase our origins, then we’re doomed to repeat our tragic mistakes.

    Thank you for your candid response to how this show makes you feel, as well as the review previously posted here. I’ve grown up exposed to a lot of Gilbert & Sullivan and your perspective is refreshing. I have to agree, i found the same parts of the review passive aggressive towards minorities, and I say that as a white, Jewish female. I can only imagine how it made you feel. And that’s the thing about being human; we can’t ever deign to know what someone else is feeling, but universally we ALL feel these emotions. Sadness, grief, exclusion. I think we all need to be open to dialogues about the issues with shows like these, and maybe approach ways to, in the future, preserve art while also transforming it into something reflective of the morals of society today; all inclusive. Accepting. Wholly representative.

    But i must agree with you that, by taking down the original article, these discussions being had on this forum at present are harder to have. As you stated earlier, everyone is entitled to their feelings; including the press. Including the man who wrote that review. If we wish to change the opinions expressed in that review, let us not start by censoring those with the opinions. Let us sit down together and come from a place of empathy. To have the hard conversations, and maybe, just maybe, find our base humanity at the root of it all.

  13. To both Cori and Fallon,
    THANK YOU!

    To everyone,
    THIS is exactly what we need to be doing!! Having thoughtful, respectful conversations that allow all parties to think in ways that perhaps never even occurred to them. This is the only way these types of issues will ever be resolved. Not by yelling at each other or shutting down the opinions of others because you disagree or decide that one is right and the other is wrong. This cannot be “us vs. them” but as a arts community it just needs to be “us” all of us, having these hard conversations and finding solutions, or at least some kind of middle ground to move forward together as a united force in this broken world.
    We all have different life experiences and opinions and that is great! That is what makes us as artists and humans amazing and interesting! Let us not waste energy trying to tear each other apart, but rather work together to create positive, constructive discourse that will hopefully only lead to more thoughtful, beautiful art.

    • Hi Alissa,

      I definitely agree with you. These conversations need to happen and they need to happen in a respectful manner.
      But I also just want to add that “middle ground” for marginalized communities often does not lead to positive and constructive change. Oftentimes, when members of the majority community offer to find a “middle ground” with us, our full concerns and offenses are not truly acknowledged and no real change occurs. In our histories, it often turns into a ploy – “Let’s check off this box to say that we allowed the minorities to talk and their advocates to voice their support so no one can blame us for not trying in the end”. A lot of times what happens is that we are offered an opportunity to “talk” but then given no real reciprocity.

      I want to have respectful conversations, but I also want to know that people who say they are willing to have a conversation with us are really making an effort to actually listen and work toward real change in how our arts community produces and talks about art and deals with issues like representation and appropriation. From my perspective as someone on this end of the discussion – an immigrant, Asian-American woman of color – the discourse evolves into “us vs. them” because when we do choose to speak up we are attacked, silenced, trolled on the internet, criticized for not being nice enough in our own criticisms and passive aggressively told “to get over it”. From my and other minority perspectives, we are not trying to tear apart art or the community that produces it as a whole, but rather be apart of a conversation we are rarely invited to in whatever way we can. To be honest, there is never a right way for us to communicate our offense nor do we ever have a “safe space” to do so. Personally, these actions by DCMTA have been the first opportunity I have ever been presented with to really speak my mind on any public forum without being viciously attacked.

      If free speech truly is free speech, then those who argue against the censorship of reviews such as this or productions like The Young Vic’s Mikado really have no place to attack or silence those of us who are speaking up in opposition of these incredibly offensive and subversive views. [To be clear, not to say that you are the one doing so, but I just want communicate that as it has been happening to a lot of us in the APA community these last few days, pretty much since The Sun Interview came out. This review has added salt to wound.]

  14. Producing work that uses orientalism as a device is wrong. It upholds white supremacy in art and propagates erasure of minority voices. I am shocked that DCMTA, who I partnered with to give its readers a glimpse of our backstage lives in Studio Theatre’s production of VIETGONE, would even consider sending someone to cover this show let alone publish a review that is so insensitive and offensively justifies orientalism. My previous experience with DCMTA was wonderful, so I have to express my surprise and disappointment when I read this review.

    That being said, I deeply appreciate Nicole’s efforts in assuming accountability for her missteps and, more importantly, for making space for AAPI voices to be heard regarding the matter. AAPI theatremakers experience erasure regularly. Our cultures, our races are under-represented on stage and screen, so to have our cultures blatantly used as costumes or plot devices adds insult to injury. My hope is that this review, this dialogue, will inspire audiences to demand truthful, representative stories instead of white interpretations of Asian cultures; that allies of the AAPI artist community can hear us, listen, and dig in to help progress through this antiquated and unnecessary practice; and that those who haven’t considered the AAPI perspective on these issues can reevaluate their opinions after hearing from those actually affected by cultural appropriation and orientalism.

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