I went for a walk along South Granville Street last night with my girlfriend, between
Broadway and 15th Ave.
Miss Saigon is playing at the Arts Club's Stanley Theatre. We saw lots
of people walking out the theatre and bumped into some friends who said
they enjoyed it tremendously and it was worth seeing. John Mann (lead
singer of Spirit of the West) apparently steals the show and the
helicopter does fit on stage!
Productions of Miss Saigon have been protested by North American Asian
arts communities for perpetuating stereotypes and for not giving the
lead role of bi-racial character, “The Engineer”, to an Asian actor. As
I watched the audience walk down Granville St, I was amazed that
everybody was caucasian with the exception of one couple where the
woman was Asian. (I should note that my girlfriend is caucasian, and is
very good at putting up with my racial/cultural ramblings).
What would happen if Miss Saigon was staged by all Asians and the story
and cultural stereotypes were reversed. Would Asians flock to the
theatre then? Would Asians relate to the story of an Asian American
soldier falling in love with an exotic foreign woman? Or would the
situation be like what we saw last night in a television documentary on
Nat King Cole. Despite his universal success and acceptance, Cole
was not allowed by television censors to sit on the same bench, touch,
hug or kiss a white woman on camera. Why? It would challenge the status
I have long
thought of staging a production of Bernstein's “West Side Story” and
calling it “East Side Story.” I would set it in
East Vancouver during the late 1970's with the two predominant ethnic
groups of Vancouver at the time: Chinese and Italians. That's
what life was like when I grew up back them. Chinese and Italians
forming gangs, and being wary of their sisters or brothers dating the
other ethnic group. You did not cross over the line.
However in movies now, we are seeing more cross-overs of Asian and
Caucasian actors and storylines in the studios efforts for more $$. Jet
Li and Bob Hoskins in “Unleashed” is just the latest example. Why
doesn't this happen in Vancouver's Theatre scene?
The Vancouver Recital Society and Vancouver Symphony have both
presented Lang Lang, easily one of the world's currently most exciting
pianists. Many people will go see something as long as it is good and a
quality production – no matter what the event's racial or cultural
origin. The problem is often finding out about the event.
Many Asian new immigrants to Vancouver are not yet familiar with all
the histories of Canadas' cultural icons. Japanese immigrants are not
familiar with Japanese-Canadian author Joy Kogawa's “Obasan”, Mainland
Chinese or Taiwanese are not familiar with Wayson Choy's “Jade Peony”
or Denise Chong's “The Concubine's Children”. But they are familar with
the legends, storylines, tradition Western and Asian music that are
featured in Senses, now playing at the Centre in Vancouver for
Senses or Miss Saigon? Both feature women in sexy outfits. Both are
productions that offer music, dance and songs. Miss Saigon is created from the Western perspective and Senses from an
Asian perspective. One is lineal, one is impressionistic. Both
productions would like a cross-over audience, but both seem stymied in
marketing by cultural perceptions and limitations. I wonder how
Vancouver's Vietnamese community feels about the perpetuation of
cultural stereoptypes in Miss Saigon. I did write review for Senses.
Senses features excellent dancers from the Dance Academy of Beijing, as
well as dancer Tang Jiang Li – now famous for her modeling for a book
nude photography, which caused a sensation in China, as this is almost
unheard of. If this had been a Western dancer, would the Vancouver
mainstream media been all over the story? But hardly a peep. Is this
cultural bias or cultural ignorance? Or maybe it is simply that we only
write about that which is in our own experience, and write about what
is beyond our experience.
Miss Saigon VS Senses. An excellent opportunity to examine the
cultural contrasts in how our Vancouver audiences and media respond to
cultural challenges and opportunities.