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Sacramento theater director who donated to Prop. 8 faced storm of criticism

November 12, 2008 |  2:41 pm

Scott EckernScott Eckern, the Sacramento theater director whose political donation in support of California's Prop. 8 ban on same-sex marriage has become a lightning rod in the debate over gay rights, resigned today. He said he wanted to protect the California Musical Theatre, his artistic home since 1984, from further controversy.

Word of Eckern's $1,000 donation -- publicly reported under state elections law -- spread rapidly on the Internet late last week, and Eckern drew criticism from some prominent stage artists, including Tony Award-winning composer Marc Shaiman ("Hairspray") and Jeff Whitty, the "Avenue Q" librettist, who wrote on his whitless.com website about his thoughts on how to deal with the fact that "Avenue Q" would be opening at California Musical Theatre in March.

Actress Susan Egan, whose Broadway credits include Sally Bowles in "Cabaret" and the original Belle in "Beauty and the Beast," also passed the word in the theater community. In an e-mail, she said had known and worked with Eckern since 1993 and had been "floored" to learn of his support for Prop. 8, terming it "hypocritical at best and, more likely, distressingly prejudiced."

In Sacramento, Kellie Randle, a partner in a local public relations company, launched a website aimed at supporting Eckern's free speech rights and countering what the site describes as "bullying, intimidation and threats" by out-voted foes of Prop. 8.

"I am disappointed that my personal convictions have cost me the opportunity to do what I love the most," Eckern, the nonprofit stage company's artistic director since 2003, said in a written statement released today by a manager from Randle's firm. Eckern did not return calls Tuesday and Wednesday. In his statement, he said he decided to resign "after prayerful consideration." He apologized "for any harm or injury" taken from his support of Prop. 8, but also affirmed his right "to act upon my belief that the traditional definition of marriage should be preserved."

"This is a highly emotional issue and the accusations that have been made against me are simply not true," he added.

Eckern -- who wrote that he has a lesbian sister who is in a domestic partnership -- said he would donate $1,000 to the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates equal rights for gays and lesbians. By resigning, he said he hoped to "help the healing in the local theatergoing and creative community."

The director's biography, which apparently had been removed Wednesday from the California Musical Theatre's website, said he holds an undergraduate dramatic arts degree from UC Santa Barbara and a master's in acting from Brigham Young University, and that he's had teaching posts at the University of the Pacific, Sacramento State University and American River College.  As a theater artist, Eckern said, "I have not imposed my beliefs onto any of the works" he oversaw, "but have sought to [allow] the truths found in the storytelling to speak for themselves."

Richard Lewis, executive producer of California Musical Theatre, said there was no pressure on Eckern to resign. "The board did not even hint at the idea that I needed to suggest to Scott" that he give up his job, Lewis said Wednesday. Eckern's duties included casting, hiring and day-to-day oversight of a 7-show summer musical festival and a say in choosing the touring Broadway musicals CMT also presents. Lewis said he spoke regularly with Eckern after the controversy broke out, and talked with him Wednesday after Eckern had announced his resignation by e-mail.

Lewis said he was sure the artistic director had made up his mind and did not try to persuade him to reconsider. "I had made it crystal clear to him... I was there for him whatever way he wanted to go with this."

In an interview Tuesday, the L.A.-based Shaiman, who also works as a film composer, said he spoke to Eckern after learning he'd donated to the gay marriage ban. CMT had presented Shaiman's "Hairspray" twice -- in 2004 as a touring show, and in its own production last August. "He certainly sounded like a gentle man," Shaiman said. "He basically gave me that thing we're just sick of hearing: `These are my religious beliefs, but it's nothing personal.'... I just told him I'm disgusted at that use of money that came in some way from a show I created."

-- Mike Boehm

Photo: Scott Eckern. Credit: Charr Crail


 
Comments () | Archives (141)

Hypocrisy and Hate go hand-in-hand... Prop 8 supporters have one commonality: religion. While 70% of black voters unconscionably favored prop HATE = 8 it certainly wasn't because they were black, otherwise 100% would have. Distressed as I am that the percentage was both surprising and lopsided it's the affect of religion. Around the world, conflicts are virtually always religious-based. Bible Spice Palin was stumping with red meat speaches which have resulted in violence and possibly a recent killing in MA. These are not disconnected issues. Remember Mathew Shepherd?

Mormons' history demands that they show tolerance toward others' marriage beliefs. Anything less is shameful.

Scott, good for you and may God continue to bless you!!!

I'm sure Mr. Eckern contributed much to the theatrical community, and it's a pity he had to leave his position. But the creative community cannot tolerate prejudice. This would be true if he'd been prejudiced against blacks, Jews, Asians or what-have-you, instead of gays.

It's a shame that a man who was obviously talented had a blind spot that cost him his job.

Regardless of one's stance on Proposition 8, it is terrible to see a man forced out of his job for his personal religious beliefs. Of course, if religious groups threatened a boycott over a gay employee of some company, and that company fired that individual, people would be screaming "discrimination." In a free society, people are allowed to disagree over lifestyle choices, behaviors and beliefs.

Having been to a few musicals, I find the community anything but tolerant, and often downright insulting, to views and ideologies (religious, right-wing) different than their own. The hypocrisy amazes me.

Of course, the really sad thing is that we don't see organizations and companies standing up for the personal choices of their employees and members - too many in society are not brave enough to stand up and encourage the "agree to disagree" attitude.

Besides, if you're holding groups responsible for the personal contributions of people involved with that group, then you're as "evil" and irrational and bigotted as those you claim to be fighting against.

Shameful blacklisting.

Mr. Eckern is the victim of liberalism fascism. They ask the rest of us to be tolerant of their views. However, as soon as anyone stands up and disagrees with them, they immediately call us bigots. How utterly hypocritical!

WHo are the bigots? Are you kidding me? Run this guy out of a job because of his personal beliefs?!?! I have a friend that is trying to make to support her two kids making it by with her photography business. What do these IGNORANT IGNORANT gay activists do, boycott her business because she donated to what she believed!

GIVE IT UP! THE PEOPLE HAVE SPOKEN. Those boycotting innocent people are the TRUE BIGOTS!!!!!!!!!!

Free Speech is indeed an option. But for every road we take there is a toll. Eckern learned that he could not afford to offend the professional community he works with. Dead right (free speech) is not always the better part of wisdom.

If a Mormon institution like BYU were to hire me, I would have the right of free speech. However, if I started speaking there in favor of gay marriage and against the Mormon Church, they would fire me! I'd be dead right.

The "better part of wisdom" and respect for the community in which you work needs to trump "free speech" sometimes. The Bible says, "to everything there is a season." Add to that: Free Speech should be tempered with sensitivity to the community in which you work.

What Mormons do that is beyond hateful. They turn their backs and will not associate or speak to the offender. Even a son or daughter as easily as a stranger.
Being witness to their control and contempt I declare they are not good people

Wow ! it was refreshing to see someone willing to stand up for his convictions
No matter what the consequences are! Scott is my Hero I want to be like him.
I feel that this is what freedom is about. I am proud to live in a country that we as a people can make decisions on how we want our laws to be, and are able to support that decision with financial backing. Even if some people think this process should only work one way.

Ridiculous. GIVE IT UP. Boycotting because of people's beliefs? You have yours. you lost. GIVE IT UP.

Stephen,

Yes, 70% of black voters have no conscience. Way to propagate a racial stereotype.

Actually, the truth is blacks are offended to see the No on 8 backers call gay marraige a civil rights issue and compare it to the African-American struggle for equal rights. The correlation is completely preposterous. No gay rights leader has ever been assassinated for his or her beliefs. Gays were never enslaved or lynched in droves. They were never denied the right to vote or own property. They were never segregated from the rest of the population. They have no idea what it means to be treated as a second class citizen.

If you want to fight for gay marraige, do it the honorable way -- without trying to draw some parallel to the persecution blacks have had to endure in this country.

Stephen - Your example of mormonism actually gives a good example of the legitimacy of allowing the people to define marriage. Polygamy and plural marriages are disallowed under the definition of marriage. Furthermore, the State of California already provides the same right, privelages and responsibilities. There's no reason to fight for a name only...Elton John makes a wonderful argument regarding the rationale behind not fighting Prop 8:

http://www.usatoday.com/life/people/2008-11-12-elton-john_N.htm

Good for you, Scott.

I wonder how all these people who support this guy keeping his job would feel if it had been found that he had contributed to a white-supremacist organization that advocated denying equal rights to blacks, Hispanics, and Asians.?

What if he had done such a thing and he worked at an organization that worked directly with people in those groups? Everyone would be outraged that he worked there and had donated to such a group.

But turn it around and make it about civil rights for gays and the bigots think he should have no consequences at his job. He works in musical theatre. He works with gay people all day long. You don't think those gay people will be extremely hurt and offended that this guy thinks they don't deserve equal treatment? Of course they will. And this guy shouldn't be working with them if he doesn't really think they are equal to him. And he said so himself that he doesn't think gay people are equal to him because he would deny them the same rights he has.

Got news for you people -- boycotts and protests and marches are as American as apple pie. There have been boycotts to make a political point since colonial days, there has been freedom of speech in America since the Constitution was written (along with separation of church and state I might add), and there have been political street protests since the dawn of man.

All are red, white & blue American ways of speaking your mind. To those who are bothered by protests and boycotts, if you can't stand the political heat, don't play in the political kitchen.

Regarding Elton John, he would do well to read the California Supreme Court's majority decision legalizing gay marriage. It clearly sets out why civil partnerships are NOT the same as marriage. Or put the other way round, why anything labeled other than "marriage" is discriminatory.

God have mercy! A theater director--a MUSICAL theater director--contributed a thousand bucks to Prop 8?! Talk about not knowing which side your bread is buttered on! But I'm sure you'll have no trouble getting work as a church Christmas-pageant director.

the gay agenda is completely intolerant of morality. this guy should never have bowed down to this evil agenda's demands. Yes on 8! No on hate!

The hypocrisy, intolerance and hatred of the gay community has certainly made itself quite public as it viciously attacks those whose beliefs run counter to theirs. Thank goodness for people like Mr. Eckern who stand for something and use the democratic process to suport their cause rather than those who use intimidation, threats and the destruction of private property, as the No on 8 supporters are doing.

 
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