By Laura Ohata
Northwest Asian Weekly
Last weekend, a mini Mikado starring tweens and teens, took the stage at The Bathhouse on Green Lake. The Seattle Public Theater (SPT) Youth Program produced the comic opera with a modern update on the Victorian Era original, completed in 1885.
In contrast to the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s adult version of The Mikado, performed by 40 white actors playing the parts of 40 Japanese citizens, the SPT Youth Program mini Mikado starred a multi-ethnic cast. The leading man, Vivek Shah, played Nanki-Poo, son of the emperor, while actors of various racial backgrounds filled the cast and chorus. Similarly, the actors in the SPT Youth Program played the physicality of their parts without exaggerated interpretations of Japanese body language.
Rather than fluttering fans for props, kids texted messages on cell phones. Instead of kimonos tied with obis, the actors wore brightly-colored clothing inspired by street-styles of the Harajuku neighborhood of Tokyo. Instead of raven-black wigs pinned with decorative “kanzashi,” the actors wore spiked orange, purple or platinum wigs. In other words, this was the animé convention version of The Mikado, with cultural references just as relevant to kids in the United States as they are in Japan, and in particular, relevant to the kids performing on the stage.
Although the updates make The Mikado more palatable, it is still riddled with offensive character names, such as Yum-Yum, Nanky-poo, and Pish-tush. The setting, in the fictitious city of Titipu, is an equally ridiculous place. Yet, most of the offensive content was removed. As such, what is to be gained by staging The Mikado with a bunch of children?
“I like the energy. The kids were having a ball,” says Zoe Alexis Scott, managing director of the Seattle Public Theater. “The youth program is non-auditioned. Any child from anywhere who wants to be a part of Seattle Public Theater can join.” Scott adds that tuition assistance is provided to children in need. “Our mission is to serve the community and I think we do. The kids get to come in and perform on a professional stage, and frequently on a professional set. It has meaning for them to work with professional teaching artists, and to come to the main stage shows and see what professional designers and actors are up to as a part of their education.” Yet this education goes beyond drama. The Seattle Opera partners with Seattle Public Theater to teach the kids how to sing. While The Mikado isn’t perfect, the animé-inspired makeover is more accessible to teens, and allows them to explore drama and opera in a way they appreciate and understand. (end)
Upcoming Seattle Public Theater Youth Program Shows:
The Taming of the Shrew: August 8, 9, 10
As You like It: August 15, 16, 17, 22, 23
Almost, Maine (BE): August 15, 16, 17
The Spear Carriers: August 22
For more details, visit seattlepublictheater.org.
Laura Ohata can be reached at email@example.com.