Yesterday, I went to see Miss Saigon on Broadway. I remember seeing that show in 1993 because it was the hot show then. I just don’t remember being affected by it, but in the arts, performance is only part of the story. Recently, I performed some of the music with the Philly Pops. During the preparation we got the back story from the conductor. We found out that a person in our choir had a father who lived the story at the heart of Miss Saigon. This was that many GI’s married Vietnamese women and fathered children.
While watching this production I couldn’t help thinking two things. First, a colleague warned me that it was “dated” and second, I realized it is more relevant today than ever before.
The character of the Engineer, who go the final bow, wouldn’t have been my call…but…anyway…he ran the local brothel and made money off of the hostilities by supplying American GI’s with female companionship. One such girl who was new to the business connected with a soldier with a conscience and he soon fell in love with her and married her. During the fall of Saigon and the departure of the American soldiers he lost touch with her and didn’t even know he was a father.
During the second act there was a slideshow that showed all of these Vietnamese children and the song that the men who assembled sang had a line that said “Conceived in Hell, And born in strife. They are the living reminder of all the good we failed to do.” This was in reference to the children that came out of these “temporary” relationships.
When we are in the storm, or the war, we seldom take stock of what our responsibilities are beyond “today”. The human cost can only be measured when we put a face to the name or group of people who are affected. Drama and music put allow us to do just that and experience that pain and longing of the individual. It is a part of our nature to feel through these mediums and sometimes it takes these mediums to connect to our feelings.
Ken Robinson has said that we do ourselves a disservice when we try to justify the arts in our schools by saying things like, “the arts are worthy to be included in education because there is a positive correlation between participation in the arts and increased test scores in academics.” This argument is the worst justification for the arts. The arts speak to a part of our person that is otherwise left untouched.
On March 29, 2017…I was moved emotionally by the same show I saw on June 3, 1993 and was completely unaffected. Those emotions are necessary for living and should not be discounted. They should be an important consideration when making decisions at the national level.