Monkey: Journey to the West ATTN: CWU Theater Department

In this current cultural and political climate, it is incredibly important to cultivate an inclusive and diverse environment. Central Washington University’s theatre department claims to publicly support inclusivity and diversity; however, the theatre department’s actions still align with the same racist figures they try to separate from.

Historically, Western theatre and film profit from the whitewashing of their creative casts, as well as the portrayal of racial stereotypes onstage and onscreen.

On January 19th of this year, CWU’s theatre department took part in the Ghost Light Project, a national initiative where theatre spaces across the country were promised to be places of diversity and inclusivity.

The department is failing to commit themselves to the pledge they’ve taken.

Monkey: His Magic Journey to the West, CWU’s current mainstage production, is the result of a desire to produce a show of non-western origin. However, the adaptation they chose to produce was the translated work of Bryan Nason, an Australian playwright. The theatre department does not have enough students with cultural ties to Asia who may be able to represent the Chinese figures who appear in Nason’s adapted folklore. This led director George Bellah III to cast white actors as Chinese characters.

Monkey: Journey to the West is yet another example of white people profiting from the depiction of racial minorities on stage.

It is important to note that the impact of the message depicted in this production does not in any way affect the cast or crew, but it does have real consequences for those in Asian communities.

Although it may be difficult to comprehend, some stories are not meant to be told by those who are not a part of the community; minority voices matter.

The depiction of the real Chinese characters within this production is also intentional; if there hasn’t been a discussion about this issue; that is an act of gross negligence. Monkey: His Magic Journey to the West is only one instance of the theatre department’s continual whitewashing of people of color. Why weren’t there more efforts made to contact the Asian community at Central Washington University if they wanted to be more culturally sensitive? The Observer, CWU’s school newspaper, wrote that the cast and crew of Monkey were aware of the lack of representation onstage and that the creative team were making an effort to be more sensitive. As a precaution, the production’s director talked about having a diversity specialist assess the show for cultural accuracy; however, according to cast sources, there was no indication that any diversity specialist consulted with any member of the creative team.

The department should not wait for the marginalized to come to them; rather, they should make the effort to be respectful of the stories attempt to stage by making a proactive effort to show the marginalized that their stories are held in high regard

We also strongly encourage the department to diversify their own student bodies so that they can sustain a production like Monkey: Journey to the West with the appropriate members of their respected communities. In the future, if Central Washington University attempts to mount another production that features any marginalized communities, we would like CWU’s theatre department to look to organizations on campus for guidance. We hope that these concerns are taken into consideration when future productions are mounted at Central Washington University’s Ellensburg campus.

Created By
Taylor Boteilho

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