Urgent: week of June 4

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Messages which absolutely need to be seen today due to time constraints or breaking news. Remember to check the"new answers" link for the most active topics. This topic will run for a week, and then we will start a new dated "urgent" file.

-- Anonymous, June 04, 2000


(See last week's section for the postings this is responding to)

Dennis, the Peter Pan production at UPAC was put on by the New York Conservatory for the Arts , that outfit in Hurley with the big billboard near the Hobo Deli. I've been to a few of their productions over the years, always pretty excruciatingly untalented kiddie theatre, with enough occasional raw talent passing through to justify their claims of alumni who go on to screen and stage. That link above shows a picture of Tiger Lily (who is played so buffoonishly that I swear it must be a kinetic Dumb Blonde joke as well, and is not the first time Tiger Lily has been cartooned by a blonde in this role, though the description of her in J.M. Barrie's book makes her much more interesting).

I'll put in a bid for a speaking slot for the Tuesday Board meeting, and I may bring in a audio tape cassette with Tiger Lily saying "Make-em too much noise" as an audio-visual aid. I'll contrast the "innocent ignorance" that even the some on the other side have said was behind the Fifties choice of the mascot, with the knowledge that we have now.

Here's a bit of background on Peter Pan and Indians, probably more than you want to know. ;)

Obviously, the musical version of Peter Pan presented here is a double period piece. The original novel and play are informed by the attitudes of Victorian England, while the sensibilities of the Fifties flavor the Leigh/Styne/Comden/Green musical version.

The Indians exclaim "Ugh! Ugh! Wah!"in the 1928 script version, a vocal motif used in the modern version's "Ugg-a-wugg" dance number performed by the Indians. The 1928 stage directions note that Tiger Lily invokes Manitou, though it does not give text for doing so, just the instruction. In another scene of that edition, Peter says, "The Great Whie Father is glad to see the Piccaninny Braves protecting his wigwam from pirates. Tiger Lily replies,"The Great White Father save me from pirates. Me his velly nice friend now; no let pirates hurt him. Barrie uses the Piccaninny term as the proper name of the tribe, contrasting them with the "softer-hearted Delawares or the Hurons." [The original use of "piccaninny" dates back to 1657 as a black West Indian diminuative of the Spanish "pequeno," used to describe their children].

There are various reviews of recent productions that indicate an awareness of the sensitive issues raised by the Fifties stereotypes of Native Americans that are particularly evident in such numbers as "Ugg-a-wugg."

"It is interesting to note that this version of "Peter Pan" was originally conceived, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. Unlike the other Robbins conception, "On The Town," Casale and choreographer Patti Colombo have found a way to recharge and refresh a classic. A notable change is the re-thinking of the song "Uga-a-Wugg," whose lyrics are now deemed insensitive to Native Americans. Basically using only the music, Colombo has devised a spirited dance sequence for the Lost Boys and Indians. As they form an alliance to battle the pirates, Rigby and the entire ensemble stomp and pound out a variety of intricate rhythms on drums. It's thrilling. -- review by Simon Saltzman, published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on December 16, 1998.

In his 1998 review for Theatre Reviews Limited, David Roberts says, " Finally, my Neverland wish is that there were some way to substitute a "rival gang" (or something!) for the Native American sequences. This is not an issue of political correctness (though I have no problem with that term or concept); rather, it is an issue that much time has passed since Sir Barrie wrote his play. We have learned much about ourselves as a diverse people. We have learned about our racism and our stereotyping and the effect it has upon people and nations. This is an area where it is better to "be grown up" and make some creative changes in the lyrics, music, and book of this enduring and endearing musical."

Also in 1998, Elyse Sommer wrote for CurtinUp

"On the Town scuttled the original choreography while Peter Pan's director Glenn Casala and choreographer Patti Colombo managed to give their dance routines a new sensibility. while remaining true to the Robbins' influence. This is best illustrated by the one super production number, "Ugg-a-Wugg" in which the potentially politically incorrect Indian routine becomes a terrific foot stomping, drum beating anthem of brotherhood between the lost boys and the Indians."

In Southampton, New York, local Native Americans blocked a middle school production of Peter Pan, over the Indian issue. (I believe this may have been in 1996?) As I recall from news coverage at the time, the publishers of the musical script, the Samuel French company, had said something along the lines of their not seeing what the fuss was about, and were adamant about not allowing changes in the script such as the removal of the offensive "Ugg-a-wugg" song.

I said to Suki's 3rd grade teacher after the show that this would be a splendid teaching opportunity about racial stereotyping as expressed in literature and other forms such as theatre, but Suki says they didn't talk about it back in the classroom. How close to zero do you figure the chances are that any other teachers talked about it?

-- Anonymous, June 04, 2000

It should be noted that at least the line in the "Ugg-a-wugg" lyrics has been changed from "and I will come and save the brave noble redskin" to "...save the brave Tiger Lily..." I'm not sure if they eliminated other "redskin" references.

If we want to give some positive suggestions to our teachers about curriculum change, you may want to refer people to a short article by Debbie Reese onteaching children about Native Americans

-- Anonymous, June 04, 2000

Another study guide for Peter Pan which raises thoughtful questions about racism, sexism, and violence.

-- Anonymous, June 04, 2000

We all need some comic relief at this point, so you may want to check out this link I found it while looking into something else, doesn't it eerily resemble a certain mascot?

-- Anonymous, June 09, 2000

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