In a written statement issued late Thursday, Overture Center for the Arts CEO Sandra Gajic apologized for cancelling a panel discussion scheduled for Wednesday night to discuss representations of Asian Americans in the Broadway musical Miss Saigon, which is set to play Overture Hall next week.
As we reported yesterday, the panel was to include several professors of Asian American Studies, Cultural Studies and Media Studies, but was cancelled early yesterday morning because some of the questions prepared by moderator Leslie Bow were thought to be “inflammatory.” Overture officials said the panel would be postponed to a later date, after the controversial musical had already completed its Overture run.
In response, the panelists themselves hosted a “teach-in” outside the performing arts center where nearly 200 people gathered to listen to objections to Miss Saigon itself as well as what many saw as Overture’s silencing of Asian American voices.
“First and foremost, we apologize for postponing last night’s event,” Gajic wrote in the statement. “That was a mistake and sent the wrong message. It was never our intent to shut down dialogue but rather ensure that the environment we were creating actually fostered a productive discussion.”
The apology wasn’t unqualified, however; Gajic took the opportunity to reiterate what led her to cancel the event.
“As the date of this week’s event drew closer and we had the chance to see the preparatory work from the panelists, we were concerned that it was becoming more of a lecture than a dialogue – that is where the primary disconnect was in our minds,” she said. “While we entirely support the right to protest or critique, through art or otherwise, the purpose of this panel was to create a conversation.”
The prepared questions touched on topics like Overture’s process for choosing shows and the continuing popularity of some shows with questionable themes. The questions submitted Monday can be found here.
Gajic said the panel has been rescheduled for April 24, and that one panelist has accepted and one has declined. The statement did not say which panelist had accepted and which had declined, and the panelists did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
“I have no idea what to say, honestly,” said Timothy Yu, a professor of Asian American Studies and poet who was to give opening remarks. “They are apologizing for cancelling the panel. They’re not apologizing to us.
Yu said he had been invited to participate in the second panel but had declined.
Yu was also asked to write an explanatory note to insert in the program, which Overture officials then decided not to use. Gajic’s apology doesn’t address that note.