Is BBAJ a problematic show? An open letter from the director.

In September 2010, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson opened at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on Broadway with much acclaim.  Yet despite good reviews from critics, it closed early, after only 124 performances.  Some speculate it was due to economic hardship, others that the emo inspired rock music did not appeal to the general public.  However, what was ignored in popular media, as well as the producers and creators of the show itself, was the indelicate and stereotyped portrayal of Indigenous Americans in the musical.  

Because of this, productions of BBAJ are often greeted with deserved suspicious tension.  On top of that, the xenophobic climate we breathe in daily has made us more conscientious of toxic materials in our daily lives, as well as the art we put out into the world. 

Below are some questions I would like to answer for the community, in order to be held accountable as a director working on a potentially problematic piece.  

Q: Andrew Jackson is responsible for the genocide of thousands of Native Americans during his presidency.  Is Andrew Jackson portrayed as the protagonist of this show? 

While Jackson is the titular character, we are not making him into a hero, or even someone to like.  We have made great effort to find the balance between showing Jackson as a charismatic leader to the white frontiersmen of the 1800s, as well as the unapologetic racist whose decisions still have repercussions to this day. 

Q: In the original production of BBAJ, the Native Americans were played by Caucasian actors dressed in traditional dress.  Will Dominion Stage’s production make this decision as well? 

No.  I cannot emphasize enough that we will not be showing any stereotype of Indigenous Americans from history, nor will we be allowing any traditional dress onstage worn by a non-Indigenous American.  The artistic team and myself have made sure to approach all portrayals of Native Americans in a way that is respectful. This was something that the original production got extremely wrong. And we intend to fix that with our production. 

Q: Have you been able to work with any Indigenous Americans during rehearsals? 

Yes.  Before Dominion Stage had announced they were adding BBAJ to the season, I had gotten in contact with a colleague from the Cherokee Nation.  Over several weeks, we dissected the entire musical, and identified what was unnecessarily problematic and what was not.  We were then able to brainstorm solutions and different approaches to these parts of the script, while also staying within the legal limits of the show rights.  

We were also able to have a guest from the National Museum of the American Indian, and an Indigenous American herself, come to a rehearsal and watch the actors in a run of the show.  We as a production team and cast are so grateful to learn from both individuals. We would not have done this show without their positive input. 

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson can be a problematic musical, there is no denying it.  In the past, there have been productions that did not approach the material as they should have.  There are also productions that have had the agency to use the material to show their audiences the catastrophic results of a presidency founded upon a dangerous cult of personality.  We at Dominion Stage intend on being one of those productions. 

Thank you for being a community that not only supports the arts, but one that will keep us accountable.  We become stronger as a company and artists through questions and growth.  

We look forward to seeing you at Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. 

–Danni Guy, Director   

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