The Troubling Issue of Mikado

 For those who don’t know, Mikado is an opera about Japan, its people, and culture, and is traditionally performed in yellowface. This issue discussed in this event was the fact that in 2010, this opera was performed at Muhlenberg during the summer semester, and issues of racism and crude comments were made. To reflect on this, the only Asian American student in the cast was present to discuss the event, the issues brought up about the performance, and how it affected him. Furthermore, there was another professor present, that discussed the history of the opera, and how it was performed over the ages. Its context, the history of yellowface by both black and white performers, and the shocking praise the opera typically receives when performed.

             When explaining how the performance of Mikado affected the Asian American actor, he brought up a point about the emotional labor he was forced to do during this show.  To explain emotional labor- is when someone is forced to manage or suppress their feelings in order to keep a job. Being the only student of color in the cast, the actor mentioned his discomfort not only having to be in this production, to begin with but then being singled out as different. Being outnumbered, naturally, he was forced to suppress his feelings about the performance, the racism of the cast, and the issues of the portrayal of Asian people. in short, the actor was ma to suppress his feelings and not mention his feelings about the show or the racist comments made, for fear of not getting cast for more roles; in effect making him go through the emotional labor of practically being blackmailed into staying silent about the insensitive things being done.

 Trying to look on the positive side, and think about how this issue could’ve been resolved, or could be avoided now. While it may never be completely resolved at the time for the obvious reason given the cast’s apart opinions and the script, the issue could definitely have been aided in a few ways. Based on the description of what the actor of color was required to do when performing emotional labor during Mikado, it seems that knowledge and sensitivity to racial issues and even microaggressions would be somewhere to start. Whether this teacher who made these racist comments did it intentionally or not, one would hope that with adequate training, the issues like this one where students feel like need to perform emotional labor due to the natural power imbalance of the situation at hand could be mitigated. Related to that notion, this conversation about this topic seems like something that should be had in the environment of theater either in a required class freshman year or even again during each production. Because I’m sure there are many people who might go through emotional labor without even knowing it; having this conversation that could not only inform them of it but also bring up the topic of how to deal with citations where they feel compelled to have to perform this would also hopefully help student both in there time on this campus and off.

Yellow face popular in Mikado ads
yellow face from a modern performance of the opera

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.