Edgewood College’s Office of Student Inclusion and Involvement (OSII) has cancelled a planned group outing to see Miss Saigon at Overture Center for the Arts this weekend.
In a post on its website Friday, OSII wrote, “Due to the controversial themes of the show, the Office of Student Inclusion and Involvement will cancel the ‘Miss Saigon’ trip on Saturday, April 6th, 2019. This cancellation is due to the ongoing protests taking place throughout the Madison Community. The play romanticizes the Vietnam War and perpetuates common stereotypes about Asian women. We in OSII will not support anything that shows any person of gender, color, nationality, creed, sexual orientation, in a negative portrayal.”
The post then linked to an essay by University of Wisconsin Asian American Studies professor Timothy Yu laying out the issues that Asian American communities have cited with the production for years — namely the hypersexualization of Asian women, villainization of Asian men and the White savior narrative. Overture staff initially said they would print that essay in the playbills for MIss Saigon, but the show’s producers didn’t allow them to.
The show became a topic of controversy locally in the past week when Overture cancelled a planned panel discussion with Asian American intellectuals and leaders intended to discuss some of the issues around the musical, how Overture Center chooses its programming and how Overture engages communities of color. That cancellation prompted a “teach-in” outside the center at the time the panel had originally been scheduled. Overture CEO Sandra Gajic ultimately apologized for cancelling the panel.
Dr. Heather Harbach, Edgewood College Dean of Students, said the college has already paid for the tickets but would absorb the cost.
“This was a free event for our students. No students have paid for tickets. There are no students who are out any money,” she said.
She said she wasn’t sure how many tickets had been purchased, noting that a former employee had made the purchase months ago.
Harbach said the college decided to cancel the trip after hearing about the protests and reading Yu’s essay.
“We just try to find events around Madison that students can go to,” she said, but after hearing more about Miss Saigon, college officials reached out to some students, who expressed discomfort with the show.
“Ultimately our students were the priority,” she said. “We want to support inclusive events both on and off campus. The content was enough for us to say, ‘wait a second, this is probably not something we want to have our students attend.’”