The theatre department is currently under fire once again for planning on producing the play “The Good Person of Szechuan” by German playwright Bertolt Brecht this upcoming Winter Term. The play takes place in China and its main character is a Chinese female sex worker. The department is planning on setting the play in Europe instead.
Several students have spoken out about the play’s racist depictions of Asian women and the theatre department’s whitewashing. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be uncommon for the department.
We as an editorial board stand with the students calling for the Winter Term play to be changed or cancelled.
The theatre department is a very white department—like many departments at Knox—and it needs to acknowledge that they are coming from a place of privilege and prejudice. They need to listen to their students when they voice their concerns about not only the plays the department produces, but interactions with insensitive faculty and problematic syllabi.
Students of color have time and time again expressed their concerns about the department’s tendency to stereotype, tokenize and demean minority groups. This treatment of students must stop and can only be stopped by the professors taking the time to actively listen to their students.
Judging by the number of posts on Facebook standing in solidarity with the students who are demanding the play be changed, it wouldn’t upset many people if the play were to be cancelled or replaced.
However, the situation cannot be solved by simply changing or cancelling the show. The department needs to reflect on their choices in recent years, such as putting on the outdated play, “The Island of Slaves,” in Fall Term 2015. They need to reflect on the dialogues that happened last winter about the Gremlin Collective’s show on accountability in theatre. They need to make sure the plays they choose to produce and the way they talk to their students are respectful, productive and progressive.
To prevent future problems such as this play, and to be proactive in upholding values of true diversity, the theatre department—and other departments at Knox—need to engage in planned periods and workshops of interactive dialogues with their students.
Students should not feel as if they are being silenced or do not have a space to speak within their own department. They should be encouraged to share their opinions and feel that they are being treated as if they are valid. To try to convince students of color that a play they feel is racist is in fact not racist is silencing their opinions.
If the theatre department wants to show they are listening to their students and care about them, they will cancel the show and engage in more dialogues with students, especially student of color, in the future about how they can improve.