Thursday, November 13, 2008

He's No Theatre Queen

He's No Theatre Queen

Sacramen-to's Califor-nia Musical Theatre -- which is currently presenting the lesbian-themed The Color Purple and is slated to run the gay-friendly Avenue Q early next year -- found itself in a firestorm of controversy when it was exposed earlier this week that its artistic director Scott Eckern had financially supported the state's Proposition 8.

That measure, which narrowly passed in last week's election, strips away the right to marry for the state's gay and lesbian population.

Of course, it didn't seem to matter to the majority of Californians that straight people have long been undermining the institution of marriage or that the biggest proponent for the measure was a church that formerly embraced polygamy or that the world didn't end when the state's gays and lesbians began marrying or that voters were taking granted rights away from a select group of people who they deem not good enough to be allowed to marry, yet they're more than OK when it comes to paying taxes.

According to the Sacramento Bee, after Eckern's support for the measure was revealed, "Gay and lesbian artists called Monday for an artistic and audience boycott of California." Undoubtedly, that is what led California Musical Theatre Executive Producer Richard Lewis to convene an emergency meeting of the board of directors and issue the following statement:
Any political action or the opinion of Scott Eckern is not shared by California Musical Theatre. We have a long history of appreciation for the LGBT community and are truly grateful for their longstanding support.
By yesterday, Eckern, who had been with the California Musical Theatre for 25 years and professes to have a lesbian sister, resigned in midst of the maelstrom. According to the Bee, the embattled artistic director released a statement in which he "said that he 'honestly had no idea' that the contribution would spark such an outrage and made the donation to act on his belief as the traditional definition of marriage be preserved."

His statement also said, in part:
...after prayerful consideration to protect the organization and to help the healing in the local theatre-going and creative community.... I support each individual to have rights and access, and I understand that in California domestic partnerships come with the same rights that come with marriage.... I definitely do not support any message or treatment of others that is hateful or instills fear.... This is a highly emotional issue and the accusations that have been made against me are simply not true.... I am disappointed that my personal convictions have cost me the opportunity to do what I love the most which is to continue enriching the Sacramento arts and theatre community.

Now, as regular readers know, I am completely and unabashedly a vigorous proponent of our First Amendment right to Free Speech. Make no mistake, I will defend Mr. Eckern's right to donate as he chooses, however misguided I happen to believe he was (I mean really! What was he thinking?! Doesn't he realize he's biting the hand that has fed him for the past 25 years, as surely many within musical theatre's base are gay, including his top subscribers, donors, artists, casts and crews?!?!)

Having said that, I also must defend those who were exercising their right to vote with their pocketbooks against the theatre by boycotting it. Why would any of them want to continue supporting an organization that had as its artistic director, the individual whose vision is supposed to be open to all the possibilities, someone who would cash in on his gay base and essentially saying, "We'll take your dollars, including for shows like The Color Purple and Avenue Q, but you'd better not be married!"

In retrospect, in reaping what he has sown, Mr. Eckern was probably not best suited for the occupation he has abruptly left.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 13 November, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jerome Robbins cooperated with the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). He named more names than any other witness, despite the fact that he did not work in film and there was no blacklist in theater.

I grant that the times were very different then, but do you think Robbins should have been treated the same way as Eckern? Should producers have not hired him in ballet and theater?

At 13 November, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Who here said anything about blacklisting? Certainly not me. And your point about Jerome Robbins is a bit of a non-sequitur.

But since you have raised him, bios that I have read on Robbins have repeatedly stated that he suffered remorse throughout his life about his betrayal of onetime friends. I suspect that Eckern may find himself in that same boat.

At 13 November, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

With much respect (because I like your site so much), I think you missed my point. Both Robbins and Eckern behaved in ways that were contrary to the interests of many people who work in theater. Should people have refused to work with Robbins, as, for example, Marc Shaiman said he would refuse to work with Eckern?

When Robbins directed Zero Mostel in Fiddler, someone asked Mostel, who had been blacklisted, how he could work with someone who provided names to the blacklist. Mostel replied, "I don't have to have lunch with him." I think that's a mature and healthy response.

Is the difference that Robbins was a one-of-a-kind genius, and Eckern merely a good, but replaceable, professional? (I assume that, but am unfamiliar with his work.) If that's the case, the moral argument goes out the window.

At 13 November, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Anonymous, I appreciate your erudite response, along with the excellent anecdote on Zero Mostel.

Please let me be clear about where I stand. I do not believe any person should be fired or prohibited from employment of any kind for exercising their right to free speech. That is decidedly and truly un-American.

As I said, I would just as readily defend Eckern's right to use his dollars within every legal means he wishes as much as those individuals who choose not to support the theatre. Just as Eckern made his choice, so too did the individuals voting with their wallets.

At 13 November, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't disagree with a single thing you wrote about rights. But it seems to me that this issue is about much more than that. For example, is it legitimate to ask at an employment interview for any job in a theater, "Do you support same-sex marriage?" Is it grounds for turning down an otherwise qualified applicant if he or she doesn't? If so, would it be acceptable for another business not to hire an applicant simply because he or she does support it? Is it acceptable for a theater to have a blanket policy of not hiring Catholics, Mormons or Muslims, since their religions don't support same-sex marriage? Where does it end?

I think the value of professionalism is that it allows people to work with each other on a project that everyone cares about without each having to judge whether everyone else is somehow globally acceptable. In the anecdote about Mostel and Robbins, Mostel took professionalism to an extreme that I don't know that I'd be able to muster, and I admire him for that all the more. I worry about theater being an echo chamber of people congratulating themselves for holding the same views. It's largely like that now, and I think that's why many people don't go to it or take it (especially musical theater) seriously as an art form equal to film, television or novels.

(Just to remove any mud in the water, I'm a libertarian and I support same-sex marriage, but not by judicial imposition, which is what motivated Prop 8 in the first place. I would have voted no on it if I lived in CA, but I'd be very concerned that next time the judges will impose something that I don't support.)

At 13 November, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

I don't think we're in disagreement.

Personally, I do not believe it's appropriate to ask questions of the nature you've outlined during the course of a job interview, unless perhaps you're applying for a specific job within a church. And one certainly cannot be discriminated against for their religious beliefs. Again, that would be dangerously un-American and against all that our founding fathers stood for.

As a person of faith myself with what I consider to be relatively moderate politic beliefs, I don't want anyone -- whether they're coming at me from the left or right -- trampling on my rights, particularly those outlined in our Constitution.

At 13 November, 2008, Blogger Esther said...

Well, I agree with you that Mr. Eckern has the right to his opinions and his religious beliefs. But I am saddened that despite numerous contacts with gay and lesbian people - both personally and professionally - he came to the conclusion that they were not entitled to the same benefits and protections that he enjoys in his personal life.

His religious beliefs are his own but they should not be the basis for deciding who gets which rights under our Constitution. And people have every right to spend their money in a place where they feel welcome and respected.

I saw Hairspray the other night and I read in their Playbill bios that Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman have been partners for nearly 25 years. How ironic that they composed such a wonderful score about the fight against racial prejudice and segregation and yet as gay men, they are denied their full civil rights.

And just to amplify what you said, the world hasn't ended in Massachusetts either since gay and lesbian citizens were allowed to marry. Things are just fine there. The only difference is, gay and lesbian residents are better protected and more secure. Like you said, the government cashes their tax payments just like it does everyone else's.


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