Open Forum

  • 1.  Calypso song in Joseph

    Posted 09-24-2021 22:07
    We've just started rehearsals for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  A few cast members have told me they are uncomfortable with the Calypso song because of appropriation issues.  We do not have an actor of color to sing the part.  We are not going to try and have the actor pretend to be African and we're not going to costume anyone in West Indian dress, but the students still feel the style and accent is culturally insensitive.  Has anyone handled this concern?  Did you change the number significantly?

    I would value hearing about your experience!

    Laurie Nebeker
    Eden Prairie High School

  • 2.  RE: Calypso song in Joseph

    Posted 09-25-2021 09:17
    Edited by Randall Adkison 09-27-2021 19:08
    As Joseph was originally a show for a school production, Webber made it a point to include many different styles of music in the show. Calypso is a style that has the dialect it does because of the islands, yes, but it was originally sung in French and the Griots (lead singers) would be the leader of the call and response. They also were making fun of the slave masters. Eventually they started singing in English but the subtle way they made fun remained.

    They have a big Calypso festival in Tortola, and a White Theatre teacher from Jacksonville, Michael Fritton was the first white act permitted to perform in the festival. Not only was he accepted, he is now a celebrity on the Islands and spends his Summer performing there and insists on speaking in the local dialect. Because he makes an effort to be part of island, he is accepted. He not making fun, he's celebrating. He goes by the name, Lord Landcrab as his Calypso name.  I've attached a photo of a description of his first appearance as a Calypso singer, the mixed feelings about it and the eventual acceptance by the Calypso community and crowd.

    I think if you give this as a opportunity to really learn about the style it isn't appropriation. It's learning.
    Description of first white Calypso performer at Festival

    Randall Adkison,
    Interim Executive Director, Florida Association for Theatre Education
    Assistant State Director for Festival Operations, Florida Thespians

    Teaching Artist, Teaching Artist Alliance

  • 3.  RE: Calypso song in Joseph

    Posted 09-25-2021 11:56
    There's appropriation and bad appropriation. I don't see how this is inappropriate appropriation (!). I think your students are confusing the two. This might be a good time to investigate proper and improper appropriation. Appropriation is how different cultures share their art forms. The Hip-Hop culture is intrinsically American. Does that mean that rap music from Africa or Europe is bad appropriation? Is American theatre appropriated from the Ancient Greeks?

    John Perry
    Retired Theatre Teacher

  • 4.  RE: Calypso song in Joseph

    Posted 09-26-2021 17:04
    Hi there,

    I replied to Laurie privately, but wanted to say that I think the kids are right, and share their discomfort.  Our collective understanding of what is and isn't ok regarding cultural appropriation is shifting, and our kids are often better attuned to that shift than their elders, especially those of us who speak from a position of privilege.

    Any time I find myself in contortions trying to defend something as ethically ok, I've got a pretty good sign it's not ok... and our "good intentions" are pretty much moot if we keep doing something after we know it is causing harm.  Greek theater naturally evolving over millenia into many things, American Theater among them, is very different from the exploitative nature of cultural appropriation.  The Calypso song is a relative to blackface -- it isn't a sincere attempt to listen to and learn from a different culture, but instead is a song by a white guy mining his limited understanding of a culture far less powerful than his own to make his musical more fun (and profitable) for his overwhelmingly white audiences (and creative teams.)

    I'd trust the kids' discomfort.

    Josie Tierney-Fife
    Theater Director
    Gorham High School
    Gorham, Maine

  • 5.  RE: Calypso song in Joseph

    Posted 09-27-2021 07:09
    I find this article a useful guide.

    Tamara Plasterer
    Artistic Director, Fine Arts Dept. Chair.
    Padua Franciscan High School

  • 6.  RE: Calypso song in Joseph

    Posted 09-27-2021 12:26
    We have evolved. I would cut it.

    "Careful the spell you cast,

    Not just on children
    Sometimes the spell may last
    Past what you can see,
    And turn against you.
    Careful the tale you tell
    That is the spell,
    Children will listen..."

    Garry Tiller
    Theatre Arts Teaching Artist
    Sidwell Friends
    Washington, DC

  • 7.  RE: Calypso song in Joseph

    Posted 09-28-2021 10:22
    I find myself in agreement with John on this one. I've directed Joseph and it was an enormous amount of fun. Part of that fun is playing with all of the different musical styles. True, the performers aren't Caribbean citizens, and they aren't necessarily black, but neither are they cowboys, French, or Elvis. If anything, I think the treatment of the French musical style has a mocking tone that the Caribbean does not. This production is a celebration of all kinds of music.

    I think this one is being over thought, but then, I'm an old white guy.

    Robert Smith
    VA Co-Chapter Director
    Virginia Thespians
    Centreville VA

  • 8.  RE: Calypso song in Joseph

    Posted 09-29-2021 14:02
    Before we have any more suggestions about cutting songs from Joseph, does anyone remember this controversy? - Digital Newspaper & Magazine Subscriptions
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    Billy Houck
    Theatre Teacher, Retired
    Northern Rep to the California Thespian State Board
    Carmichael, CA

  • 9.  RE: Calypso song in Joseph

    Posted 09-30-2021 08:38
    I agree with Bob Smith - there are many styles of music in Joseph. How do you justify one is appropriation and another is not? The different styles of music is part of the charm of this show. When I directed it, the sons were very diverse in ethnicity and no one asked, "how could all these sons come from one father?" This is still one of my most favorite shows I ever directed. (And Bob, I am an old white woman - so what do I know?)


    Ann Hileman, M.A.
    Executive Board of Indiana Thespians
    Indiana Thespian Hall of Fame
    Maconaquah High School
    256 East 800 South
    Bunker Hill, IN 46914
    765-689-9131 x 5550 (phone)
    765-689-9528 (fax)


  • 10.  RE: Calypso song in Joseph

    Posted 09-30-2021 09:17
    Hi Ann,

    As I recall, half of my "sons" were female. Nobody turned a hair at that either.

    Robert Smith
    VA Co-Chapter Director
    Virginia Thespians
    Centreville VA