Monday, November 10, 2008

On the prospect of Proposition 8 creating two economies (and yes, the "stage" label for this post is appropriate)

Just about the time I got tired of my Proposition 8 political posts, I began to have more opportunity to post some "stage" stuff about theatrical productions.

"Whew," I thought to myself. "If I concentrage on stage for a few days, that'll clear the political stuff out of the blog."

As Jim Bakker once said, I was wrong.

John Aravosis at AMERICABlog writes about the California Musical Theatre in Sacramento, its artistic director Scott Eckern (described by Aravosis as "a nice Mormon boy").

Incidentally, the California Musical Theatre site includes a biography of Eckern:

Scott Eckern (Artistic Director) joined California Musical Theatre in the summer of 1984 as co-director of the prestigious Music Circus internship program sponsored by American River College, where he was an adjunct professor of theatre arts. In succeeding years, he assumed a variety of artistic and administrative positions at the theatre while continuing his teaching career during the academic year. In due course he became a tenured professor in the drama and dance department at Stockton's University of the Pacific. An actor, musician, director and playwright in his own right with a Bachelor of Arts in Dramatic Arts from University of California, Santa Barbara and a Master of Fine Arts degree in acting from Brigham Young University. Mr. Eckern left academia in 1993 for a full-time appointment as California Musical Theatre's general manager. In 2002, he was named the company's artistic director. In that position, he provides CMT's overall artistic vision and direction and is responsible for the day-to-day supervision of the organization. Mr. Eckern is president of the League of Sacramento Theatres and sits on the board of the National Alliance for Musical Theatre. He served as the producer of the Sacramento Temple Youth Cultural Celebration, More Precious Than Gold, at Arco Arena and is the recipient of BYU’s College of Fine Arts and Communications Honored Alumni award. He is also an adjunct professor of theatre at Sacramento State University and American River College.Mr. Eckern and his wife, Paula, have three children: Lauren, Erik and Bryan.

Aravosis also writes about Eckern's October 12 donation of $1,000 to the Yes on 8 folks (or, as Aravosis described it, "the hateful bigoted Yes on 8 campaign"). To see it, search here.

All right and fine, and Eckern has the right to do this. And Marc Shaiman (composer of "Hairspray") also has the right to prohibit the California Musical Theatre from presenting any of his shows. Details are in this Susan Egan letter:

Subject: California Music Theatre - Scott Eckern

Dear Friends --

I thought you might be interested to know that Scott Eckern, Artsitic Director of California Music Theatre (Sacramento Music Circus) contributed $1000 in support of California's divisive Proposition 8, which eliminates (not just bans) the right for same-sex couples to marry and receive all of the emotional, economic, and social benefits that married couples often take for granted. Mr. Eckern's affiliation with CMT, as well as his title and the amount donated to legislate the lives of others, is public information that can be found at

Marc Shaiman, composer (most notably of "Hairspray", which was produced at CMT last year) has already contacted Sacramento's CMT and expressed his disgust with the idea that a theatrical organization, employing and making money from gay artists and audience members, harbors an executive who uses a portion of his income to publicly support hate legislation (my term). I believe Mr. Shaiman may have told them they would no longer be allowed to produce his work, and has contacted the creators of "Avenue Q" (to be produced in March of '09) to enlighten them.

I am deeply troubled by the news about Scott, as I have worked for and known him since 1993. I find his behavior hypocritical at best and, more likely, distressingly prejudiced. Many of you friends who, like myself, have worked for Scott might be floored to know this news. I think at this point I shall do my best to "out" him and any others like him. Folks who show (and make money) playing one game, but with an inner intolerance that denies everything our industry represents.

I have personally been in contact with Marc Shaiman to confirm all the information. In his words:

"Yes, it's all true! Of course, there is nothing much I can do since they've already done HAIRSPRAY, but the AVE Q guys (at least one of them) may do something, perhaps picket his own show! But, as I hope people realize, it is not really up to a writer to cancel a production that has already been licensed.

What I could do I did, which was to call Mr. Eckern directly and say what I had to say.

Reading this past week how people still actually think being gay is a choice (the only choice we make is not to lie about who we are) and that that one line from a beautiful book proves we are sinners (a book that also allows for the stoning of wives and of people who wear two different kinds of fabric at the same time), well, I am starting to feel that the only way to make people change is, I think, to now greet every person I meet and say "Hi, I'm Marc, God made me gay and I think that that He and I are both fabulous!" and leave the rest up to them."

Sacramento Music Circus holds a cherished place in my heart, primarily because of Leland Ball and the inspirational talents he would gather for his productions. I feel the spirit of Leland is lost under Scott's leadership. As a private citizen I choose not to support California Music Theatre while it operates under Mr. Eckern's tenure.

I support Marc Shaiman in his boycott of CMT, and hope others will follow -- as ticket-buyers, writers, musical directors, crew, designers and performers and more.

I feel compelled to write because I have heard from so many beloved friends the last few days. People who are in every way caring and generous citizens. Friends who are for the most part very quiet on the political front, who have had to awaken because of last Tuesday, due to their shock that their lifestyles are not "accepted" by so-called friends!! The irony of electing Obama and Prop 8 passing astounds me.

I am not ordinarily a political fighter, but I do believe in information for all, and let them decide. And more than anything I believe in "holding the space" for what is right.

In support of my gay and lesbian friends I find it a travesty that the entire arts community is not standing in solidarity for equal rights. Shame on Scott.

That our industry should be the first to raise money and awareness for AIDS to the result of awakening a country and world to the issue ... well then, marriage (and every other sort of) equality is a no-brainer ... and a duty and obligation.

I hope with this email to find others to "hold the space" with me .... full equality in marriage rights. If you should feel compelled to pass the information about Scott Eckern on to others .... by all means do.

Hoping for change .... still,

Susan Egan

Now before one argues that Shaiman himself is engaging in anti-Mormon bigotry, it should be noted that Shaiman would presumably be happy to have his productions staged by theaters that employ "nice Mormon boys" that happen to agree that same-sex marriage should be allowed by civil authorities. Or at least I think Shaiman would allow this.

But, on the other hand, what if the California Musical Theatre encounters a significant decline in revenue, and reaches the conclusion that the only way to save the theatre is to terminate Scott Eckern's employment?

And what if Eckern then argues that said employment termination violated his Federal First Amendment rights of free spech and freedom to practice his religion? Heck, even prisoners have First Amendment rights to practice religion:

Wilkinson v. Flagner (2001-2002)

Issue Whether an Ohio prison grooming regulation requiring an Orthodox Hasidic Jewish inmate to shave his beard violated his First Amendment right to free exercise of religion.

Lower Court 6th Circuit

Lower Court Ruling First Amendment claim sustained. (opinion) Sixth Circuit order: "Flagner may bring an as-applied challenge to the Ohio prison grooming regulation and that there is a factual dispute on the Issue of whether the defendants have a valid penological interest."

Thus, the California Musical Theatre could conceivably be between a rock and a hard place if the boycott proves effective.

Or it may be that the California Musical Theatre's budget is not impacted, and in fact increases. Imagine if the American Family Association, Focus on the Family, et al launched a reverse of a boycott, and encouraged its members to patronize the theatre?

The irony of this is that Barack Obama, like George W. Bush before him, promoted himself as a bipartisan bridger of gaps. But this gap may be too big to bridge.

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