ST. PAUL, Minn. (July 15, 2015) — On April 22, 2015, the Don’t Buy Miss Saigon Coalition received a letter of apology from the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts regarding the Ordway’s history in relationship to the musical Miss Saigon.
In this letter addressed to a Coalition member, Ordway President and CEO Patricia Mitchell states, “I am deeply sorry and take responsibility for the failure of institutional memory which communicates to you and others that your passionately held concerns and beliefs have been completely disregarded.”
This letter follows the Coalition’s protest of the Ordway’s production of Miss Saigon in 2013. Since then, the Coalition and members of the Asian American community have held meetings with the Ordway over our concerns with Miss Saigon. This letter is the second official Ordway response to the Coalition—on October 29, 2014, Ordway President and CEO Patricia Mitchell wrote the Coalition “that the Ordway will not present MISS SAIGON as long as I remain President of the Ordway.”
The Coalition wishes to highlight that this apology represents a victory for Asian American activism, and we share this achievement with our allies and supporters. The Coalition also recognizes that these letters represent a positive step forward in the Ordway’s relationship with the Asian American community. In the letter, the Ordway clearly acknowledges and apologizes for the negative impact Miss Saigon has caused for members of our community, and demonstrates a willingness to building racial justice within the arts.
Download the Ordway’s apology letter HERE
Despite these letters, the Coalition feels there are issues which remain unresolved regarding the Ordway’s presentation of Miss Saigon for a third time.
Most importantly, given Patricia Mitchell’s retirement announcement on May 28, 2015, the statement that Miss Saigon will not be presented at the Ordway under her leadership becomes moot. The Ordway fails to state that regardless of leadership, it will not bring Miss Saigon back to the Twin Cities. This was one of the Coalition’s original requests that remains unresolved.
Beyond this, the Ordway’s letter does not acknowledge several other facts. We offer the following not to prolong a disagreement, but to highlight several key points we believe are fundamental to understanding, and therefore resolving, this conflict. The Ordway does not acknowledge that there were protests by the Asian American community and its allies at the first two presentations of Miss Saigon. The Ordway as an institution should have been aware of this.
The letter does not acknowledge that the Ordway convened two Asian American advisory committees, one before the first presentation of Miss Saigon and one before the second. In each case, both advisory committees strongly urged that the Ordway should not present this musical. The Ordway chose to disregard the advice of both committees.
The Ordway’s surprise at the Asian American community’s antipathy towards Miss Saigon is not simply a failure of the Ordway’s institutional memory. Instead, the Ordway was clearly unaware both of the history of Asian American activism and Asian American theater, and thus, ignorant of the Asian American community.
The protests over Miss Saigon across the country in the early 1990s are now regarded as a seminal moment in Asian American activism. Those acquainted with Asian American theater history would know that Miss Saigon has, from the start, been regarded as racist, sexist, colonialist, and insulting to Asian Americans. Thus, when the Ordway states that it was not prepared for the vehemence of the negative reaction by Asian Americans in response to the third local production of Miss Saigon, the Ordway not only fails to grasp its own institutional memory, but is also admitting that it was unaware of a larger national Asian American history in arts and activism.
The Don’t Buy Miss Saigon Coalition applauds the Ordway’s intent to foster institutional memory and its commitment to genuinely engage Asian American community in future programming. We are optimistic that the Ordway will demonstrate leadership around this issue by making a commitment that they will not produce Miss Saigon in the future, regardless of administrative leadership.
In the meantime, we are meeting with community supporters to envision how we can best work to build racial justice and equity, locally and nationally.
For further details on the Coalition’s views of Miss Saigon and a background on this controversy, those interested can consult the Don’t Buy Miss Saigon webpage: http://www.dontbuymiss-saigon.