Native American high schoolers attending a weeklong summer program at the University of Wyoming — designed to give them an initial feel for college life — apparently got a rude awakening last week.
The college’s department of theater and dance was showcasing its production of the famed musical, “The Fantasticks,” on Thursday, and Native American high school students in the audience walked out during intermission over the show’s content, the Laramie Boomerang reported.
The musical, which opened nearly 60 years ago, has characters who dress up like Native Americans and includes a reference to rape that’s portrayed as humorous, the Chronicle of Higher Education said.
University President Laurie Nichols and her husband, Tim Nichols, attended the performance, the Boomerang said. Tim Nichols isn’t a school employee but played a key role in setting up the Native American Summer Institute, which draws students from the Wind River Indian Reservation and elsewhere in the state, the paper said.
“It’s a 1960s play, but it was, in my view, inappropriate,” Nichols told the Boomerang. “[W]e shared our concerns with the theater department and we shared our concerns with the students and, you know, we’re OK. We’re going to have a good week. … We’re going to finish strong here and not let that drag it down.”
A dorm director for Upward Bound — a summer camp that recruits low-income students to the university — noted his students weren’t going to the Saturday performance of “The Fantasticks” that it previously was scheduled to attend, the paper reported.
“Our program has students from diverse backgrounds and cultures, and we decided it would be inappropriate to attend the play,” Trevor Montgomery told the Boomerang. “We didn’t want to dismiss the offensiveness of outdated stereotypes by taking our kids to see this performance.”
The university’s United Multicultural Council co-chair also was in attendance and said certain elements were inappropriate.
“The show especially demeans Native American cultures with outdated stereotypes of Native American appropriation by non-native actors wearing headdresses/warbonnets,” Tyler Wolfgang’s statement reads, the paper said. “It also portrays Native American and Latino/Hispanic characters as the villains or antagonists of the show.”
But Nichols, Wolfgang and the Native American students told the Boomerang they don’t want to demean the musical’s performers.
“We have been reached out to by some of the actors in the show who are currently reworking moments from last night[’s] opening for the remainder of the run,” the UMC statement also noted, the paper reported. “We support this decision.”
Nichols told the Boomerang that “there’s a broader issue about racism in Laramie that is very much worthy of in-depth examination.”
The paper also reported that an insert was added to the production’s program that said the theater and dance department never intended to “offend” anybody.
“With historical productions, we see a ‘point in time,’ which is different from the one in which we live,” the insert also reads, the Boomerang reported. “We see portrayals of characters that are painful to watch as 21st century audiences. The challenge then, in producing historical works, is to help audiences understand the context and/or story for the play without taking undue or illegal liberties with the script.”
(H/T: Heat Street)