Theatre News

Edinburgh Fringe theatre company accused of ‘lazy racist practice’ with geisha casting

Tea Ceremony
Tea Ceremony
© Zoo

An Edinburgh Fringe show has been criticised for having a caucasian Cypriot performer taking on the role of a geisha.

Tea Ceremony, produced by SRSLY_yours and staged at Zoo Playground, featured the award-winning Marios loannou, taking on the role of a male geisha.

The show recently completed its run and has subsequently sparked a statement from BeatsOrg, an advocacy organisation founded by British East/Southeast Asians working in the theatre and screen industry.

Their statement said: “It’s something of a surprise that unashamed Yellowface was taking a bow on the Fringe in the shape of Tea Ceremony, performed in full geisha costume and make-up by Marios loannou, “as an icon of beauty, well-trained to seduce her customers through movement, song and dance, the Geisha leads the audience on a journey of modern-day abuse, child labour, human trafficking, torture and slavery, and the high price we pay for our joy and greed.”

BeatsOrg continued: “It’s also a fact that to many of us who also bear the historical weight of those listed abuses in our family heritages, these lurid descriptions, danced upon by a Yellowfaced performer, are extremely triggering and traumatic. The fact that on the booking site there are audience reviews from people who are NOT Asian of course ‘wondering what all the fuss is about’ is though no surprise.

“Because, of course, it’s just a man in make-up and florid clothing unless you’ve ever sat there and felt that sense of casual but brutal erasure.

“Sadly this is not the first time in recent history where this kind of lazy racist practice has been seen in
a festival so many performers and makers go to to try and establish a name for themselves. In 2013
Beijing Cake, performed by a group of Yale students conspicuously not of Asian heritage, caused a
similar shock to East/Southeast Asian heritage artists who bought a ticket in good faith on the title
alone and were confronted by a display of what can only be described as race-spoofing.”

The statement comes as the Fringe faces increasing scrutiny from theatre companies such as award-winning Nouveau Riche, who published an open letter about the negative experiences they encountered while performing their newest piece in the Scottish capital.

Speaking to The Stage, the producers at SRSLY_yours defended the show, saying “[Tea Ceremony] features a cisgender caucasian male performing the role of Geisha; a creative choice by the team at [theatre ensemble] SRSLY_yours that recognises that geishas are not exclusively ethnically Japanese or biologically female.

“We are pleased that Tea Ceremony is generating discussions of long-standing issues of prejudice and racism. Its themes are challenging for our audiences, but we refute any suggestion of yellowface or whitewashing – both of which are anathema to the show’s message.” The company has said that two Japanese artists contributed to the work.

BeatsOrg added: “We have no wish to see a sanitised and conservative Fringe. The problem is though that with outdated racist performance tropes, a sanitised and conservative Fringe is exactly what we get.”