'Fantasticks’ Scene Prompts Walkout, Incites Condemnation

“We didn’t want to dismiss the offensiveness of outdated stereotypes by taking our kids to see this performance.”

Native American high school students were offended after attending a  summer workshop at the University of Wyoming. So much so, in fact, that they staged a walkout of the theater and dance department's stage production of The Fantasticks on Thursday. The Laramie Boomerang reports:

The production — first performed in 1960 — 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 play’s dialogue.

The walkout prompted a response from UW’s United Multicultural Council, hasty scene edits before the next performance and a boycott of the play by another summer camp. Upward Bound — a summer camp aimed at recruiting low income and first generation students to UW — will no longer be attending the Saturday performance its participants were previously scheduled to attend.

“Our program has students from diverse backgrounds and cultures and we decided it would be inappropriate to attend the play,” said Trevor Montgomery, a dorm director for Upward Bound. “We didn’t want to dismiss the offensiveness of outdated stereotypes by taking our kids to see this performance.”

UMC Co-Chair Tyler Wolfgang was in attendance and said the play contained rape jokes in addition to inappropriate comments about Native Americans.

The UMC’s statement, authored by Wolfgang, condemns the production for projecting cultural stereotypes of both Native American and Latinos/Hispanics.

“The show especially demeans Native American cultures with outdated stereotypes of Native American appropriation by non-native actors wearing headdresses/warbonnets,” the statement reads.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

UW President Laurie Nichols and her husband, Tim, were also in attendance. Although he is not employed by UW, Tim Nichols was instrumental in setting up the Native American Summer Institute.

He said that the derogatory content of the production hurt — but did not undo — the progress the institute has made toward welcoming Native American students from the Wind River Indian Reservation and elsewhere in the state. [...] 

Despite wide condemnation of the production’s content, Nichols, Wolfgang and students said they did not want to throw the actors under the bus

"It’s a 1960s play, but it was, in my view, inappropriate," he said.

Why, exactly, is portraying events with historical accuracy inappropriate, exactly?

“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 says. “We support this decision …”