Ordway head apologizes to 'Miss Saigon' protesters

Ordway Center's production of Miss Saigon
Ordway Center for the Performing Arts' production of Miss Saigon angered many Twin Cities Asian-Americans for its portrayal of Vietnamese men and women.
Courtesy of the Ordway

In a step hailed as a victory by a coalition of artists and their supporters, the outgoing head of the Ordway Center for Performing Arts in St. Paul issued an apology last spring for its response to protests against the musical "Miss Saigon."

"I am deeply sorry," wrote Ordway President Patricia Mitchell, "and take responsibility for the failure of institutional memory which communicates to you and others that your passionately held concerns and beliefs have been completely disregarded."

Mitchell's apology followed up on an earlier letter, in which she promised that "the Ordway will not produce Miss Saigon as long as I remain President of the Ordway." She made that promise last November, about six months before she announced her pending retirement.

Writer and performer David Mura, of the Don't Buy Miss Saigon Coalition, pointed out Wednesday that Mitchell's promise not to produce the play again "became moot" with the news of her planned departure.

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The head of an arts organization has "many difficulties, but deciding a piece of art is unacceptable" because it is "racist, misogynist and not a very good piece of art ... isn't one of them," he said.

The Ordway has presented "Miss Saigon" three times, generating repeated protests. Mitchell's letter cited her review of archived materials dating back to a 1999 production, when community members demanded that the Ordway promise never to present the musical again.

"Reading these documents, I understand more clearly why there is so much anger on the part of members of the Coalition, because it seems that nothing has changed," she wrote.

"I also want to acknowledge and apologize for the hurt that presenting this work has caused for you and others whose deeply held convictions have been expressed throughout the past year."

In announcing its receipt of Mitchell's letter nearly three months ago, the coalition said Wednesday that it "wishes to highlight that this apology represents a victory for Asian American activism, and we share this achievement with our allies and supporters." Mu said the coalition needed time to communicate with the Ordway and its own members before fashioning its response.