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Director Scott Eckern's resignation over his support of Prop. 8: A game-changer in theater history?

November 14, 2008 |  6:00 am

This week's revelation that Sacramento theater director Scott Eckern had made a $1,000 donation in support of California's Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage -- and his subsequent resignation Wednesday from the California Musical Theatre to "protect" the organization from controversy -- obviously pushed buttons for Culture Monster readers, who have weighed in with more than 100 comments in reaction to Mike Boehm's posts about the executive leaving his job.

Eckern remained unavailable for comment Thursday. Members of the theater community interviewed in the wake of Eckern's resignation overwhelmingly disagreed with his position on Proposition 8. But they said they hoped the furor over his contribution -- in light of the fact that he owes his livelihood to the musical theater community, which includes many gays and lesbians -- will be a catalyst for continued community dialogue on the subject of same-sex marriage.

And dialogue, they maintain, is what theater should be all about.

Bill Rauch, director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland and former artistic director of Los Angeles' Cornerstone Theater Company, said Thursday that he felt "heartsick" for everyone involved in the controversy, including Eckern. He added that he hoped the situation would open a longterm dialogue in the theater community, in the same way the controversy over white actor Jonathan Pryce playing the role of a Eurasian pimp on Broadway in "Miss Saigon" opened a conversation about race and casting.

The details on that fracas:

Jonathan_prycePryce (left, in a 1997 photo) played the role in the musical in London.  When it was announced that "Miss Saigon" was going to Broadway in 1991 with Pryce as the star, Asian theater professionals protested.  Actors Equity officials initially barred Pryce from performing on Broadway but reversed the decision when producer Cameron Mackintosh said he would cancel the show. Pryce went on to win a Tony for his performance.

"I think the dialog deepened about authenticity and artistic responsibility. It was not about a decision that got made, thumbs up or thumbs down, but the dialog shifted permanently,"  Rauch said. "This could really be an important moment."

L.A. writer-performance artist Luis Alfaro, who once described himself to the Times as an "out gay Latino," said that, although he is actively protesting Proposition 8, he believes that Eckern's resignation "upped the dialogue" on same-sex marriage. "Isn't that what we're doing as theater artists? How do we support many different points of view?" Alfaro said.

And while he is "saddened" by Eckern's viewpoint, Alfaro added, "maybe what he has done is throw the first volley."

Danielle Brazell, director of the Arts for LA arts advocacy organization, posted a comment saying those who felt that Eckern should be fired or the theater boycotted because of Eckern's donation set a "very, very dangerous precedent as it could happen to anyone in the arts."

In an interview Thursday, Brazell said: "The pendulum is swinging in very interesting ways. This was an historic election: [Barack] Obama ... has put together a cultural transition team and sees culture as a way to address some of our really deep-rooted issues in this country. We have opportunities to create deeper levels of dialogue."

While agreeing that the arts provide a forum for examining controversial subjects, Laura Zucker, executive director of the the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, cautioned that those in leadership positions, such as Eckern, must be aware that they have to use their voices with care.

"The bottom line is I would always defend the individual's right to become involved in a political process in a way that they feel is important to them," Zucker said. "But if you head an organization, you do need to be aware of the fact that there are larger ramifications to everything you do.

"There is no escaping that reality."

--Diane Haithman

Photo: Jonathan Pryce. Credit: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times