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Native Americans walk out of musical depicting stereotypes

Last Updated Jun 19, 2017 at 9:40 am EDT

LARAMIE, Wyo. – The University of Wyoming is warning audiences about offensive material in a travelling musical after Native American high school students walked out of a performance of “The Fantasticks.”

The walkout happened Thursday during intermission, The Laramie Boomerang reported. It wasn’t clear how many students attending the Native American Summer Institute at the campus in Laramie walked out of the show.

The 1960 musical, which is about two neighbouring fathers who trick their children into falling in love by pretending to feud, contains a scene in which characters dress up as and villainize Native Americans. Attendees said they were also shocked at the casual use of the word “rape” in the musical’s dialogue.

The walkout prompted criticism from UW’s United Multicultural Council and a boycott by another summer camp. The Upward Bound group cancelled plans to attend Saturday’s performance the Department of Theater and Dance.

“The show especially demeans Native American cultures with outdated stereotypes of Native American appropriation by non-native actors wearing headdresses/warbonnets,” according to a statement by the United Multicultural Council. “It also portrays Native American and Latino/Hispanic characters as the villains or antagonists of the show.”

The university prepared a program insert for future performances explaining the scene.

“With historical productions, we see a ‘point in time,’ which is different from the one in which we live,” the insert reads. “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.”

The long-running musical, a staple of regional, community and high school theatre, plays in four different Wyoming communities this week before closing next weekend in Laramie. The musical, which features the songs “Try To Remember” and “Soon It’s Gonna Rain,” closed earlier this month in New York City, having played a total of 21,552 performances in the capital of American theatre.

Tim Nichols, who helped set up the Native American Summer Institute, told The Boomerang that the content was unfortunate

“It’s a 1960s play, but it was, in my view, inappropriate,” he said. “We shared our concerns with the theatre department and we shared our concerns with the students and, you know, we’re OK.”

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Information from: Laramie Boomerang, http://www.laramieboomerang.com