Overture Center CEO Sandra Gajic apparently lied to a reporter about a decision not to print an essay about Miss Saigon submitted by an Asian American Studies professor in the musical’s playbill, saying printing the essay was “never an option” when email correspondence shows that not only was it an option, but Overture staff had actually prepared the essay for print before reversing course at the direction of the show’s producers.
Asian American Studies Professor Timothy Yu wasn’t even going to make a big deal out of it when Overture Center CEO Sandra Gajic reneged on the promise to print his 1,000-word essay about why Asian Americans find the Broadway musical Miss Saigon problematic in the playbill for the show, which plays Overture Hall for eight performances next week.
The promise came at a February 15 meeting between Overture officials and several leaders in the local Asian American community — and it was more than Yu asked for.
“What we had said in our meeting was we wanted them to distribute some kind of educational material to the audience at performances. We wanted to know if they would do that,” Yu said in an interview Friday. “As I recall, it was their suggestion … that we could write a note for the program and I think we were all like, ‘Oh really? That’s great.’”
He got an email from Overture’s VP of sales and marketing, Lex Poppens, on February 23 letting him know that Overture would need his essay by March 5, and that they had set aside two full pages in the program that would be given to audiences at all Miss Saigon performances. Yu said he turned the essay in on the deadline, and wasn’t sure how it would go over.
In the email, Poppens does acknowledge that the show’s marketing team has “control of what goes where,” but does not indicated that the producers might nix the essay entirely.
“I actually was expecting some pushback because it is strongly worded,” he said. “I mean, I was very critical of the play of course. And I was like, ‘okay, here it goes. Let’s see what they say.’ But they never made a word of comment about the content of the essay.”
In fact, he said Overture officials thanked him for writing it and let him know they would be getting it ready to go to press. But then, a little over a week later, something changed.
“Due to contractual restrictions we have with Broadway Across America, we were unable to put yours (or any other) article into the Playbill,” Gajic wrote to him on March 14.
Broadway Across America is a for-profit company that manages the tours of the Broadway shows that play Overture Center and many other venues across the country.
Yu said he didn’t intend to argue over the essay.
“I’ll be perfectly honest, I just sat on that,” Yu said. “I was like, okay, I’m annoyed, but, you know, okay, fine. That’s cool. I understand. You know, maybe you promised something that you weren’t supposed to promise. That’s cool.”
But then when Overture cancelled a planned panel discussion on Asian American representations in Miss Saigon and other shows because some of the questions planned by moderator Leslie Bow were considered “inflammatory,” Yu decided to post the essay he’d written and let the public know he had been promised two pages in the program before Overture pulled the plug.
The cancellation of the panel has taken center stage, as it prompted a “teach-in” outside Overture Wednesday evening attended by almost 200 people. Overture has since apologized for cancelling and rescheduled for April 24, but the original panelists have all declined to participate.
But Yu’s essay has also been an important part of the story, especially as Overture can’t quite seem to get its story straight.
It turns out that Overture was, in fact, ready and willing to print Yu’s essay just as he’d written it — but the show’s producers, who have ultimate say over the program books, nixed it.
“We offered him the opportunity to write two pages in the program book. And he did submit the pages,” Poppens wrote in an email to Madison365 Friday. “Those pages were inserted into the program book and sent to the show for approval. All program books have to be signed off on by the touring production’s marketing team. In this case, they did not approve the pages and would not approve the book with the pages in it. We are required by contractual obligations with (Broadway Across America) and touring productions to provide a book. No approval; no book; contractual issue. Inserts would have been equally challenging to the show.”
He declined to specify why the show’s marketing team didn’t want to essay in the book.
What’s baffling, though, is why Gajic would lie about this sequence of events to an Isthmus reporter.
According to a story posted to the Isthmus website Thursday, “Overture CEO Sandra Gajic disputes (Yu’s) version of events, contending that her staff told Yu they would ‘see what we can do to make sure his voice was also represented,’ but a program insert was never an option. ‘We can’t put anything in our program books,’ she explains, referring to agreements with the touring company Broadway Across America.”
Clearly, if it was “never an option” to insert anything in the programs, and if Overture were generally not allowed to add material to their program books, they never would have asked for Yu to write the essay, never would have designed the pages for print and never would have submitted the pages to the show’s producers for approval.
Poppens said he was in the room when Gajic spoke to Isthmus, but couldn’t recall her comments.
“I can’t believe they just keep like digging deeper and deeper,” Yu said. “I really, I really don’t understand it. You know, this really wouldn’t be that hard to fix or address. It really wouldn’t be that hard for them to do the right thing and they’re choosing not to and I don’t know why.”
This story has been edited.