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Prop. 8 repercussions hit Sacramento theater

November 11, 2008 |  3:09 pm

The blowback from last Tuesday's passage of Prop. 8, which prohibits same-sex marriage in California, has hit the California Musical Theatre, a major nonprofit stage company in Sacramento, following the revelation via the Web that its artistic director gave $1,000 to back the state constitutional amendment.

Among those weighing in with dismay over Scott Eckern's donation are Tony winners Jeff Whitty, who wrote the book for "Avenue Q," and Marc Shaiman, composer and co-lyricist of "Hairspray." Shaiman said Tuesday that he phoned Eckern on Friday to protest, then e-mailed more than 1,000 contacts to alert them about the donation.Marc Shaiman, composer of Hairspray

"Of course it's his right to donate the money," said Shaiman, who was disappointed that Eckern, a California Musical Theatre employee since 1984 and its artistic director since 2003, had benefited from last season's touring production of "Hairspray," then piped money to a cause the L.A.-based Shaiman deplores. In their conversation, Shaiman said, "he basically gave me that thing we're just sick of hearing -- 'these are my religious beliefs, but it's nothing personal' " against gay people. "I don't want to hear that anymore. I just told him I'm disgusted at that use of money that came in some way from a show I created." (Update: The “Hairspray” production at California Musical Theatre last August was not a touring production, but one mounted by CMT itself. A touring version of “Hairspray” was seen at the theater in 2004.)

Whitty, whose "Avenue Q" is scheduled to play the Sacramento theater in March, was among those alerted by Shaiman's e-mail. On Monday,  he wrote in his whitless.com blog that "like Marc, I'll work to prevent CMT from producing any of my future shows with Mr. Eckern at the helm. To me, he's one of those hypocrites who profits from the contributions of gays ... but thinks of us as ultimately damned."

Jeff Whitty winning a Tony award for Avenue Q But today, despite wanting to "make an example of somebody," Whitty blogged that he reversed his stance on a boycott, writing that Eckern had given him a "convincing and sincere apology" and didn't deserve to be targeted for more censure. Whitty said he would "look forward to working with the California Musical Theatre in the future."

Shaiman said he would keep pushing for public acknowledgment and redress that would not damage the theater for one individual's political views but would make it clear that anti-gay views won't be accepted in the theater community. A benefit event at California Musical Theatre might be appropriate, he said, allowing backers of gay marriage an artistic platform while raising money to help mount a legal appeal to overturn Prop. 8.

In any case, Shaiman said, the response should be measured. When told that Eckern's donation had been posted on a website called antigayblacklist.com that calls for a boycott against businesses and professionals who backed Prop. 8 -- including some public school teachers -- the composer, who also writes film music, questioned using the word "blacklist," the term for the exclusion of artists in 1950s Hollywood for having suspected Communist leanings. "We have to watch ourselves and not become what we're fighting against," he said.   

Eckern released a statement today apologizing "for any harm or injury" caused by his donation. He said he would donate $1,000 -- commensurate to what he gave Prop. 8 backers -- to the Human Rights Campaign, a group that supports equal rights for gays and lesbians. Update: Eckern’s full statement is here.

After talking with many friends and colleagues, he said, "I have a better idea ... how deeply felt these issues are, and I am deeply saddened that my acting upon my religious convictions has been devastating to those I love and admire." He noted that his sister, a lesbian, is in a domestic partnership relationship.

Richard Lewis, the executive producer whose family founded California Musical Theatre decades ago, said Eckern's views were his own, not the theater's, and affirmed "appreciation ... for the [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] community who have played a crucial role in our success." A torrent of e-mails and calls protesting Eckern's donation began on Friday and has continued, said Lewis, who likened the  blowup to when Los Angeles Dodgers executive Al Campanis questioned on national television whether black ballplayers had the right stuff to be successful baseball managers.

"We're looking at the magnitude of the situation and need to discuss whether we take any action.... We don't want to rush into things and do something foolish," Lewis added. "We just put the initial statement out there: 'Don't punish the theater for what Scott chose to do.' "

The theater, which presents touring Broadway shows and produces its own summer musical festival of seven shows, hiring scores of actors and designers who commonly work in New York, has no policy against employees being politically active or making political contributions, Lewis said. He dismissed the notion that Eckern could be fired for backing Prop. 8 or that it would be allowable under California employment law.

-- Mike Boehm

Photos: Marc Shaiman, top; Jeff Whitty, with Tony Award

Photo credits: Shaiman, Al Seib / Los Angeles Times; Whitty, Jeff Christensen / Reuters

Comments () | Archives (152)

This article mistakenly refers to a touring production of Hairspray at California Musical Theatre. The production of Hairspray Shaiman refers to was not a tour; he is referring to the 2008 production of Hairspray mounted by Music Circus, the summer season of California Musical Theatre.

Let's see if I have this right. The majority has spoken and this childish and perverted minority is going to start to boycott any business or person who voted for prop 8? Interesting. Well - then here's an idea:
Let's start talking about how to create a boycott against all gay businesses in California. Send me an e-mail if you have any interest in this. I'll start sending out messages all thru the craigs list publications, and many other free media systems to get the mesasge out. What are you willing to do to help or contribute to this? Please contact all the people in your network. Tell them about this movement and ask what they can do to assist in protecting the value of the majority opinion. The only voice being heard on this issue is the gays crying about the outcome of this election. We need to produce an equal network of the majority voice.
Send an e-mail to me an I'll start the coordination of this. Thanks.

Scott's complete public statement is below. For more information visit supportscotteckern.blogspot.com.

“I understand that my choice of supporting proposition 8 has been the cause of many hurt feelings, maybe even betrayal. It was not my intent. I honestly had no idea that this would be the reaction. I chose to act upon my belief that the traditional definition of marriage should be preserved. I support each individual to have rights and access and I understood that in California domestic partnerships come with the same rights that come with marriage. My sister is a lesbian and is in a committed domestic partnership relationship. I am loving and supportive of her and her family and she is loving and supportive of me and my family. 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 have now had many conversations with friends and colleagues and I have a better idea of what the discrimination issues are, how deeply felt these issues are and I am deeply saddened that my acting upon my religious convictions has been devastating to those I love and admire. My choice to support the proposition was personal and does not represent the views and opinions of California Musical Theatre or the many people associated with the organization. I was required by law to identify my employer and occupation at the time of my donation.

I have enjoyed my association with all the many fine staff members, artists and audiences over the years. I have strived to stay true to our mission of producing quality live theatre to enrich the cultural live of the community. In the course of my work I have encouraged a work environment that is safe and creative, working together in an atmosphere of mutual respect. I have focused on producing shows with fresh eyes to allow the intent of the original creators to come through. I have not imposed my beliefs onto any of the works but have sought to explore the truths found in the storytelling to speak for themselves if they are told well. I have enjoyed the opportunity to be alongside wonderful artists as we have collaborated on sharing productions that will both enlighten and entertain.

I chose to express my views through the democratic process and I am deeply sorry for any harm or injury I have caused in doing so. I want to support not only my friends and loved ones, but everyone in their efforts to receive equal rights so I will be making a comparable donation ($1000) to the Human Rights Campaign. I hope that through future conversations bridges may be built and healing can occur that will allow us to arrive at a better place of understanding for all involved.

So, let me get this straight. This man supports one side of a lawful electoral proposition. And because of that, he may lose his job?! How exactly can these people call themselves liberal if they reject the basic tenet of liberal doctrine , that no matter what people are entitled to their opinions?

It may have been one thing if he came out with an Anti-gay rant, or discriminated against Gays in the workplace. But he was just participating in democracy. No matter what "good intentions" the people who are trying to ruin this man have, these are the kind of "good intentions" that the path to hell is paved with.

The whole purpose of marriage in society is the declaration of a new breeding pair. I've never been anti-gayrights before but I don't see them as a hard done to minority this time, I just see them as unreasonable. Stand together, protect the meaning of our ancient institutions, marriage is not a tax break or a ticket to citizenship.

Wow as a fellow member of the glbt community I am kind of upset by this article. I know that people who are against prop 8, like me, are very upset by the passing of it. I know that we are fed up. I know that we have been wrong but we can't do it like this. Religion is something that we have to realize is a very important thing in peoples lives, whether or not it is a part in yours. You may feel betrayed but I don't think you should jump down everyone's throat for supporting prop 8. Not everyone is a bigot. Everyone has their biases... including me. Not everyone is out to hurt us. Not everyone is educated on the issues either. PLEASE!!! Give people the benefit of the doubt. Be the better person. You can still be pissed off and upset. We are still going to fight this. Just try not to play dirty and hurt people because they might have hurt us without being aware.

Ok. Hold it right there. I'm personally a "No on 8" guy, and I understand outrage about an individual supporting this blatant bigotry, but how, in any way, shape, or form, should his personal beliefs and religious beliefs translate into a boycott and retribution on a theatre he does not own, or to cause him to lose his job? I'm sorry but that is no better than what the yes on 8 people were doing to no on 8'ers.

Stop it. Seriously. That is a bullshit trick to pull and I'm glad Whitty decided to rescind his statement. If you don't like the man's profiteering from gay's efforts, then don't work with him, but don't punish the company, who's views are not like this man's. And don't try to get him fired. He has a personal belief and participated in the democratic process - albeit an abused process, as a slim majority shouldn't have the ability to take away rights. He was posed a question and answered it. Nothing more. Go after the real criminals behind prop 8, the religious leadership that is trying to legislate the scripture into our constitution. Leave the man's business life alone.

I can make personal choices, too. I can choose not to continue to support the CMT with donations and by buying tickets (as I have done in the past) as long as Mr Eckert continues to work there. I have read his statement, and understand his dilemma, but he also needs to make a choice. By inexplicably canceling the emergency meeting they had called for this afternoon and not rescheduling it, it can reasonably be implied that the CMT is in tacit agreement with Mr Eckert's views. Although I have thoroghly enjoyed their productions in the past, there are many alternative venues which I can choose to support.

Did I get this correct - Marc Shaiman thinks that anyone involved with one of his works must have the same opinions and values that he has. And if Shaiman learns that somebody like Scott Eckern disagrees with him, that person should be ridiculed in public and be fired. Never mind that through the professional efforts of people like Eckern, Shaiman's career and reputation increased. Never mind that Eckern personally appreciates Shaiman's talents and creativity. And never mind that Eckern in all probability used to like Shaiman and respected him as a person. None of that matters if somebody disagrees with Shaiman or the gay rights agenda. Logic, personal beliefs, long standing traditions, tolerance and nondiscrimination be damned. And let the harsh light of reality shine on the true bigots of this issue.

Here's how this is interpreted: "He didn't vote the way I did, so let's punish him." This is a double-standard. One cannot claim prejudice and intolerance, then hurt someone because they disagree with you. What is tolerance for you is also tolerance for him.

This is exactly what caused the support for Prop 8 in the first place. Conservative religious people have a deep-rooted fear that they will be similarly "punished" for practicing their religion, so they want to prevent it being codified into law. The argument goes "that's false, it would never happen." But then incidents like this cement the fear in the mind of the reader: "The Gay community will keep pushing and stop at nothing until my way of life is destroyed."

Now I know you or I don't feel this way, but every time there is an attack on an individual or a place of worship, the bell tolls..

separate but equal is a myth. gay californians have been stripped of equal protection under the law by this hateful AMENDMENT to the state constitution. "I have a lesbian sister who I love, but she can't have the rights I enjoy" is a bullshit excuse. People in 2008 marry for love, everything else is secondary. Love should not be up for popular vote. Get to know some gay people, you might be surprised to know how much like you we are........

It is perfectly reasonable to put pressure on those that supported prop 8. His funds, generated in part from many gay and lesbian people, went to support a campaign that was ugly and spread lies and untruths and ultimately removed civil rights from a selected group of people. Having said that, Eckern has done what we hope that pressure does - cause him to search his soul a bit by talking with family and friends, and as a result, contributing to the HRC. So we should be thanking him for listening with an open mind and his donation to the HRC and continue to support his theater. I would suggest sending him thank you notes with a brief story about why marriage equality is important.

Christians believe that sexuality is only good within heterosexual covenanted relationship since anything else leads to a non-generative perspective within society. This eventually leads to the debasement and decline of the society. This is not anti-gay, but rather a wider horizon beyond the self-serving sexuality which is pervasive in our society regardless of orientation.

This said, I believe this story is additional evidence that gay politics is anti-Christian, in that they would not respect the democratic right of a Christian to participate in the Public Square. Since the gay narrative and the Christian narrative are mutually exclusive (despite what some mainline Protestants say), gays eventually must ironically attack Christians for being "out" about their faith. Within a few decades, I predict that some in the homosexual community will turn to terrorism against the Church. Statements in Spain/Brazil and in the USA point to this growing violent reality amongst the gay political community.

He did with intent to rip away the legal rights of others under the CA law. That is ridiculous! He does not deserve to be in a leadership role based on his past discriminatory views. He thought he would not get caught, but hid did based on his donation amount. Shame on him and the others that are trying to weave religion into the civil rights laws of others.

Why shouldn't he be called out??? If he donated to the KKK, wouldn't the African American community be calling for his firing/resignation? If it came to light that the artistic director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem donated to the KKK wouldn't there be a movement against this individual? When will people understand that stripping gays of their civil rights is just as serious as stripping other groups of their rights? This man runs a musical theatre, admittedly the GAYEST art form. He makes a living and has a standing as a community leader largely from the contributions of gay people. How could we expect people to work with this man day in day out knowing that he thinks you are less than 100% equal to him? That he holds hateful prejudices in his heart?

I would be interested to hear from people who work for him. Not sure I could stand working for someone who looked at me and saw someone less than human.

Great, in the mean time I'll stop hiring gay people at my business...wait, gays have made this illegal. Gays are full of hypocrisy!

I dont know about a boycott but using the Internet I saw that my doctor and landscape company both contributed to Prop 8 and I no longer use their services.
The pro Prop 8 actually threatened a boycott of all business that contributed to No on 8 and sent them threatening letters so noone is in a position to throw stones.

I think what is "ironic" here is the concept of anti-gay musical theatre which is so bizarre it makes my head spin! If show tunes arent gay I dont know what the heck is!

Wow! Is this the same gay community that has been asking for tolerance? Mr. Monroe got it right. Let's circulate gay business addresses and let the boycott start.

1. There is a difference between disagreeing with someone and with denying them their civil rights. If you disagree with me, we have an argument or we agree to disagree. If you attempt to deny me access to or the use of my civil rights, we have, at the very least, a lawsuit.

2A. Liberalism has nothing to do with respecting freedom of speech. Respecting everyone's freedom of speech and thought is a tenet of democracy.

2B. Democracy requires that we all respect each others' freedom of speech and thought. So if I disagree with your speech, or thought, or donation (which the courts say is "speech", I have an absolute right to say so and to mount whatever protest within the law that I feel is appropriate -- that's MY freedom of speech.

"Wow! Is this the same gay community that has been asking for tolerance? Mr. Monroe got it right. Let's circulate gay business addresses and let the boycott start."

What a ridiculous statement. I don't ask you to "tolerate" me. I don't give a rat's behind if you tolerate or don't tolerate my lifestyle. I don't care if you approve of it or not or if it makes you sick to your stomach or if you want to run up and down Sunset Blvd. yelling "I hate gays." BUT DO NOT TRY TO DENY MY CONSTITUTIONAL CIVIL RIGHTS. That's when I'll protest, boycott, publicly call out hypocrites and do whatever I need to do to get them back.

"Great, in the mean time I'll stop hiring gay people at my business...wait, gays have made this illegal. Gays are full of hypocrisy!"

No hypocrisy at all - consistency in law. In fact this statement shows how wrong Prop 8 is. If it's illegal for you to not hire me because that's discrimination, then it is illegal for you to deny me my legal civil rights. PERIOD. The government recognizes us as equals.

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