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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 is not about Scott's right to support a proposition. It's about the fact that he did so aligning California Music Theater (Music Circus) to his plight and religious attitudes. He KNEW he had to list his job on the donation and with that, it slaps all the artists he's worked with that are gay, in the face. If he wanted to do it on his own, on behalf of his family and religion, he could have had his wife make the donation in her name. I don't know what she does for a living, but it's probably not working with very large numbers of gay people. On top of all this, his SISTER is gay! So are we to assume that his sister was as misinformed as he was about Prop 8? Or did he just ignore her position on it? Scott feigns ignorance on what the proposition was really about. What kind of person donates $1000 to a proposition without getting all the facts? He cites watching the commercials which he felt misinformed him...did he only watch the ones that were FOR prop 8 and not the ones AGAINST?

Again, it's not about his freedoms here, it's about how he went about expressing it. It's about his inconsideration of his employer and his colleagues.

One of the founders of "Music Circus" Russell Lewis was one of the kindest, most compassionate and accepting of people that EVER walked this earth. Scott aligning CMT with his bigoted beliefs is a slap in the face of this wonderful man as well. I know that Richard, his son, is just as accepting and loving as Russell was, so the damage continues.

So people can go on until they're blue in the face about poor Scott and his political freedoms, but they readily overlook the real reason that the people, and now the country, are up in arms over this.

This is not a gay issue as much as an issue of respect, human kindness and decency.

"I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it."
Voltaire (1694 - 1778)


Gays: "Waaaa! The people in a democratic election voted (twice) to preserve traditional marriage between a man and a woman. Let's boycot, villify and silence everyone who disagrees with us!!!"

"We have to watch ourselves and not become what we're fighting against," he said.

Too late. The word blacklist says it all. Apparently the LGBT community will not be satisfied with tolerance, only with conformity to their world view. Disagree with "the community" at your peril.

There are many comments here about how Eckern profited from these productions and used that money to donate to the Yes-on-8 cause. Let's not forget that Eckern , a supposed bigot, also GAVE jobs to many gay people. Over MANY years. Why would he do such a thing if he hated gays? Why would he choose to work in an industry where gays are so prominent if he hated gays? Yet Eckern is not complaining that the money that he paid out is being used in a campaign fighting against what HE personally believes. This has nothing to do with hate and everything to do with Eckern having a different belief about marriage, of which he is entitled to. Eckern can live in peace with others who have differing views than he does, but for those on the other side of the issue this just isn't good enough. Eckern respects the views of others, but he is not given the same respect from those who disagree with his views. He is forced to change his religious views--OR ELSE! If you are gay, how would you feel if you were fired and lost your livelihood simply for disagreeing with the Yes on 8 campaign? This is plain wrong. I can respect your right to fight for what you believe in, but do it in the right way, not a way that will alienate any supporters you've gained for your cause or create a witch hunt against anyone who feels differently than you. I guarantee you this will backfire and wind up hurting you in the end. If you no longer want to attend this theater while Scott is at the helm, that is your choice, but will Scott stop hiring gay actors and actresses? No. Take a deep breath and fight for your cause in the right way--not through unjust persecution and witch hunts. 52% of voters in California voted for this proposition--the same people who voted Barack Obama into office. Should we also boycott Barack Obama because he believes in civil unions rather than gay marriage? We all have different beliefs. Tolerance is being able to live with others having differing views than our own, but doesn't mean we all agree with one another. Thank God that we all have the right to vote and voice our opinions. If you take that away from one person, you better believe it will be taken from you next.

Kettassi and Mr Monroe. Seriously?
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.

I think you've missed the boat on this one and it's already sailed. This has been going on for decades. Try again.

Zippy5150 said: "Are you serious? I don't recall anyone against prop 8 calling for the elimination of heterosexual marriage."

But don't you see? That's exactly what Prop 8 was. There cannot be two marriage definitions in the eyes of the law. So if the definition of marriage were broadened to include homosexual couples, we wouldn't have heterosexual marriage and homosexual marriage both as part of the law. We would only have one marriage: genderless marriage. Are you surprised then that millions of couples would want to stand up and defend the attack on their marriages? The idea that both definitions of marriage can co-exist in the eyes of the law is impossible. In fact, that's exactly what the homosexual activists are fighting against.

What if a law were to be passed saying that there was a heterosexual version of marriage and a homosexual version of marriage? Would that be OK with everybody? No. Because we would see the same arguments that we are seeing now that "separate is not equal."

So, if there can only be one definition of marriage, then allowing homosexual couples to marry means taking away something from heterosexual couples. If that were to happen, couldn't the heterosexual couples argue that their rights were being taken away?

yeah what could go wrong being a closeted gay-basher in musical theater?

GOOD RIDDANCE, and don't let the chorus line boyz kick ya in the A$$ on the way out...so to speak

Exactly so, Myles. SSM advocates cannot seem to understand this basic point. No one seems to be asking how marriage works in our society, what purposes it serves, what changes to it mean to culture and family, all vital questions. Name calling and schouting about rights (a word that needs some defining if ever there was one) has obliterated substantive and constructive discussion.

I'm a fervent supporter of NO ON PROP 8, I'm a lesbian, and I work in the theatre industry and I will say clearly: This is absolutely unacceptable. Absolutely. Ultimately, it has nothing to do with whether or not you support the proposition, gay rights, or "protecting" marriage. It has everything to do with being assured that you can live your life, express your beliefs, and donate funds in support of those beliefs without fear of being forced out of your job.

Let's turn this around for a moment and imagine that you're in Scott's shoes, only you work for a primarily conservative organization, a corporation, that you donated money in support of the NO ON PROP 8 effort, and that colleagues in your field mounted an effort to boycott that company because of your donation. Imagine that you are in no way trying to use your position at work as a forum to advocate for your pro-gay rights beliefs, and that you made your donation as a private citizen. Imagine if you were forced to resign in an effort to save the company bad publicity. If this scenario were to happen, those of us who support NO ON PROP 8 would be out in the streets about it.

It's equally unacceptable that Scott Eckern has been put in this position as a result of his personal beliefs -- beliefs which I may strongly and vehemently disagree with, but that should never be the reason for which he is forced to resign. Unless he was advocating for a season of plays filled with anti-gay messages or he was discriminating against LGBT artists or employees in some manner -- things which he has obviously not done - then Scott Eckern should never have been put in the position of having his personal beliefs affect his job security.

Scott wasn't forced to resign, but his politcal donation did cause the LGBT community to react with a boycott. His theater company didn't fire him, and could have continued to perform their productions with him as their employee...they just can't have that and a GAY/LESBIAN audience.

stuff happens

Who ever said that the rights freedom of speech, freedom of religion, or freedom to vote protected someone from the consequences of exercising these rights?

Mr Eckem donated money to a cause that he knew many of his professional colleagues find deeply offensive, with full knowledge that the donation would be made public by state law. As it was his right make that donation, those colleagues have an equal right to not to do business with him. Its not blacklisting, its reality.

The LGBT community does not support individuals or organizations that do not support us. To think there would be no consequences for passing Proposition 8 is naive.

Mr. Monroe ignorantly says:
"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."

Let's see if I have this right. People keep commenting on the "majority has spoken" point. Since when in this country has it *ever* been okay for a majority to vote to take away the right of a minority that was upheld by a supreme court. That's why the U.S. not a direct democracy, otherwise we'd be just like other countries where 51% of the people can just vote to exterminate 49% of the people if they wanted to. This precedent has never happened and shouldn't have happen. Prop 8 should not have made it onto the ballot in the first place. Even my Reagan-conservative parents voted NO on this horrible proposition, and we all had a discussion about this and wondered who could possibly vote on this when it defiles everything this country stands for? And now you propose to boycott gay businesses. Good luck considering that gays make up like 2% of the population. If you think that 48% (almost HALF) of Californians who voted are the "minority" and that we are all just gay, gay lovers, or perverted you are wrong. Some of us had a conscience. Some of us remember what it means to be American. And since when has to ever been considered childish and perverted to organize boycotts and stand up for the principles of our country? If not for those principles, it would still be "tradition" for blacks to be slaves, or whites to be separated from everyone else, for people to only marry their own race, etc. Of course, that is what the majority wanted so of course it is right. Please.

everyone STOP! and think...

1. EVERYONE is entitled to his her opinion on ANYTHING, including same-sex marriage.
Including Scott Eckern. Anyone can express those opinions.

2. NO ONE has the right to deny other people their rights, regardless of their opinions of those rights. Supporting actions, funding actions or taking actions to deny rights is NOT OK. What Scott Eckern did is not ok.

3. Same sex marriage takes NO RIGHTS away from people who want an opposite-sex marriage.

See the difference? It's that simple.

Something that happened 10 seconds ago as opposed to a tradition upheld since time began is hardly a dyed-in-the-wool right. Please.

Ellliot Jones writes:

"There are many comments here about how Eckern profited from these productions and used that money to donate to the Yes-on-8 cause. Let's not forget that Eckern , a supposed bigot, also GAVE jobs to many gay people. Over MANY years. Why would he do such a thing if he hated gays? "

He didn't GIVE jobs to anyone. People earned those jobs and he had no other choice but to hire them. He's not the only one making the decision to hire someone. If he were to never hire anyone who is gay, they'd have a heck of a time staffing their theatre and their shows!

MS - I forgot that "tradition" and "since time began" were applicable to human rights. African-Americans and women have certainly had equal rights traditionally, since time began, at least here in the United States! Thanks for setting us straight on that,

Joshua Cohen said "Who ever said that the rights freedom of speech, freedom of religion, or freedom to vote protected someone from the consequences of exercising these rights?"

That's what makes them freedoms - the fact that individuals can exercise those rights without fear of punishment. If a company can fire an employee because of his or her political opinion, where is the freedom of speech there?

Granted, a group of people can boycott for whatever reasons they want. But I'm sure you can see that a boycott in this situation would force Scott Eckern's employer to choose between violating his freedom of speech and alienating a large group of customers. Tough spot to be in.

Let me clarify - when I said "forced to resign" I didn't intend that to imply that the theatre had actually forced him to resign. Rather that Mr. Eckern was put in the position to have to make the choice to resign or risk damage to the company he's worked for the last 25 years.

I just fear that it's shortsighted not to see what this would look like if the tables were turned and one of us were in his position based on our belief that the ban is wrong.

If the theatre or any of its leaders were using the operations, resources or programming of the theatre to advocate for passage of Prop 8 (as the Mormon Church did) or if they were discriminating against LGBT artists, programming or employees, then I'd be first in line to boycott the company. There doesn't seem to be any evidence of this at this point.

One down, many more to go.

If you want to preserve the sanctity of marriage and the family, shouldn't all the Prop 8 people be pushing to make divorce illegal? Preventing same-sex marriages does nothing to "protect marriage" nor the family.

Banning divorces will.

With the hetero-marriage divorce rate near 50%, even before this issue, I think there is a much bigger threat to the sanctity of marriage.

How many people who voted YES on prop 8 have been divorced before...my guess is there are many hypocrites out there hiding behind so-called "religious beliefs."

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