La Jolla Playhouse artistic director Christopher Ashley apologized this week for hurt feelings over the theater’s casting for a workshop production of “The Nightingale,” an adaptation of a Hans Christian Andersen story set in feudal China. The play is sparking some weighty discussions about art and and racial representation, and the Playhouse hosted a forum Sunday to hash out criticism directed its way.

The creative team behind the play chose a multicultural cast for the play, but cast no Chinese actors. Two members of the 12-person cast are Asian-American. A white man plays the lead role, a Chinese emperor.

Asian-American actors spoke out at the forum, describing feeling invisible, left out and disgusted. (U-T San Diego)

Director Moises Kaufman apologized, the Los Angeles Times reported, and “said that the creative team intended to create a mythological China, not a literal one. But, he added: ‘I’m the first to agree that we have been unsuccessful at what we were trying to do.’”

Kaufman and Ashley explained they were trying to build a “fantastical world of their own, one that transcended any one place or time” and so used a multiethnic cast. (KPBS)

LA Times theater critic Charles McNulty urged people on all sides to see the situation with greater nuance.

“Ideally, art should reflect a demographic inclusiveness,” he wrote. “But artists must be allowed to pursue their own visions free of political pressures. If the chief goal of creativity is to correct societal disparities, the work will be parochial at best, propagandist at worst.”

Ashley and Japanese American actor Greg Watanabe also talked about the play and its casting on KPBS last week.

You’re reading the Arts Report, our weekly compilation of the region’s arts and culture news.

Happening Here

• Don’t forget our arts and culture event “Meeting of the Minds” is coming up next Wednesday, Aug. 1. More details on our six interesting speakers who’ll bring you in to topics like local scientists chasing a missing da Vinci mural and a theater working to debunk stereotypes about women. You can tell us you’re coming here.

• The city’s arts and culture budget will grow by about $500,000 next year, from nearly $7.3 million to more than $7.7 million. The city’s Commission for Arts and Culture gives out about $6 million every year to dozens of local arts and culture groups. (U-T San Diego)

• I always love hearing what local art teacher Don Masse is up to at Zamorano Fine Arts Academy in southeastern San Diego. His fifth-graders just finished a giant mural on the wall of their school.

• Developer and art fiend Greg Strangman cares about the character of San Diego. CityBeat profiles his midcentury art collection, his work to reinvigorate old buildings and his disdain for blank walls.

• Following New York’s lead, The Old Globe will put on an autism-friendly performance of its popular “Grinch” musical this winter. The effort means adjusting the number of loud noises and flashing lights, and making a quiet area available. (LA Times)

• La Jolla surfboard shaper Tim Bessell got rare approval from the Andy Warhol Foundation to use the famed artist’s imagery on a series of boards. (La Jolla Patch)

• The North County Times always has a great list of stuff to check out, from outdoor jazz to “Fiddler on the Roof.”

• She acted as a teenager at The Old Globe in the 1950s, and Darlene Davies still brims with Balboa Park love. “The park has given me a unique life. I guess it’s not that we imagine it … the park really is magical.” (Balboa Park Beat blog)

• The New Children’s Museum’s known for commissioning and putting together shows of contemporary art that families can access. Jim Chute profiles its new director, Julianne Markow:

“Where the previous director, Rachel Teagle, placed the emphasis in ‘children’s museum’ on ‘museum,’ Markow is shifting it more to ‘children.’”

On the Road

• Not many cities can say this: About 10 theatre projects that were born in San Diego and picked up by Broadway have come back to town on tour. The next is “Memphis,” which the La Jolla Playhouse launched about four years ago. (U-T San Diego)

“It feels extraordinary. ‘Memphis’ was the first show I directed when I came here, and it feels like it’s come full circle,” Playhouse artistic director Christopher Ashley told the North County Times.

• Two key staffers at UC San Diego venues Che Café and The Loft are leaving their posts.

Leaving his volunteer gig at the Che, Gregory Prout said, “I’m getting closer to 30 and have been volunteering at the Che for nearly ten years. As my boss told me this weekend ‘Even punks need to buy a house at some point.’” (CityBeat)

• Public art fan Richard Gleaves offers an introduction to San Diego’s sculptures and installations and announces his downloadable ebook. (Agitprop)

We did a Q&A with Gleaves about his research last year.

• A bunch of local museums won six-figure federal grants last week. (Institute of Museum and Library Services)

• Local theater force Seema Sueko won a competitive grant and will study under a prominent theater director in Washington, D.C., next year. (U-T San Diego)

Sueko joined our first gaggle of speakers for our “Meeting of the Minds” event last June. You can watch a video of her guide to the local theater scene here.

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Kelly Bennett is the arts editor for VOSD. You can reach her directly at or 619.325.0531. Or you can keep up with her on Twitter @kellyrbennett or on Facebook.

Kelly Bennett

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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