The current production of John Fisher’s play “Ishi: The Last of the Yahi” in the department of theater, dance and performance studies at UC Berkeley has sparked a number of strong reactions — especially among the Native American community, for whom Ishi’s story is sacred. On March 9, after a performance of “Ishi” in Zellerbach Playhouse, members of different California native communities, their relatives and their elders gave vivid witness to the ways the genocide of California native peoples is still a horrible wound, one that our production has reopened.
On behalf of the department of theater, dance, and performance studies, as its chair, I want to deeply apologize for any pain our production has caused.
The controversy “Ishi” has provoked is something that we take very seriously, and we take full responsibility for our actions and decisions as a department.
We appreciate that Native American students at UC Berkeley reached out to us directly to initiate dialogue — dialogue that we were remiss in not initiating ourselves at the time the production was being considered. As a department, we are committed to open discourse, sincere engagement with important political issues and with the many communities we serve and fulfillment of our teaching mission in all that we do. We are also committed, from this point forward, to reaching out to historically underrepresented minorities who may be represented in our work.
As a theatre-producing entity located within a university, we see the conversations, candid discussion and public engagement that happen around our productions as being a central fulfillment of our mission. The difficult and painful witnessing on March 9 was a beginning. To this end, there will be opportunities for additional dialogue in the coming weeks.
Ours is a department of teachers: of acting, design, dance, performance studies, directing, technical theater, stage management, literature, theory, playwriting – the list goes on. We are also a department of remarkable students, who learn and practice all those skills under the tutelage of our brilliant teachers and staff. Our students are not implicated in the decisions which led to this controversy.
At the post-show discussion, our community witnessed the sharing of stories and histories that will haunt us and that we will never forget. I hope that by being present for such witnessing, none of us will again commit such sins of omission and exclusion.