When playwright and actor Ken Narasaki sat in his seat last night to watch the West Coast premiere of DISSONANCE at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank, he did not expect to walk out.
Neither did he expect to write and publicly post about his experience. Although Falcon Theater did apologize to his post on their Facebook page wall, in his open letter, Narasaki stresses the impact of the reaction and opinion of the individual audience member versus the masses. But we cannot help but think, where is the line drawn? In 2012, how are racial epithets allowed to slide by on the stages of a city as culturally and ethnically diverse as Los Angeles?
Read on and tell us what you think. Or if you’ve ever been in a similar situation on either side of the fence, we’d like to hear from you.
I walked out of DISSONANCE last night because of the main character’s “comic” use of the phrase “squinty-eyed bastards” and “Japs”. I have been involved with theater as an actor, writer, director, literary manager and a story analyst for the past 35 years, so I do understand that theater should not be constrained by “political correctness” and I do understand that the character was supposed to be a jerk, and I do understand that you should not be censors because there are things in most interesting plays that could potentially offend any number of people.
I just want to ask you this: Would you have presented the play as is if the character had said “black bastards” and “niggers”? How about “Jew bastards” and “kikes” in the context of a cheap laugh line?
I’m fairly certain that you would not, and I’m fairly certain your audience wouldn’t have laughed as they did last night.
Context is everything and I believe no words should be “taken off the table” because sometimes racial epithets can make important points in illustrating attitudes and illuminating characters. In this case, I saw absolutely no need for these words and believe it is only because the writer and the artistic personnel involved in the production simply discounted how disgusting these words would be to any of your Asian American audiences. Indeed, not every Asian would feel the same sort of horror that I did, but I feel it is important to let you know that it was a surreal experience to sit in what appeared to me to be an all-white audience, to hear those epithets, and to hear the audience LAUGHING. I felt like I’d been tossed back in time to the 1960s when I used to hear words like that on the schoolyard by racist bullies and ignorant classmates who found things like that hilarious. I had to leave because, honestly, I was emotionally sickened by the experience and flabbergasted that it was used so lightly and with so little reason or purpose; it was ugly to me, and a little shocking to realize that my fellow audience members apparently found such racist speech “naughty” or “daring” enough to laugh.
I would also suggest to you that ignoring the impact these kinds of words have on the few minority members in your audience probably have an effect you may not notice: A lot of audience members may wince, but stick it out and in the end, wouldn’t be angry enough to write you a letter, but on the other hand, may never return – in other words, you may be driving away audiences not angry enough to let you know because, after all, it’s not THAT big a deal; on the other hand, they know that your theater is not for them, so you’ve lost them without ever knowing why.
I hope you’ll give this some serious thought and discuss this because I seriously doubt that I will ever return to the Falcon.
Reposted with permission from Ken Narasaki.