Prop 8: I'm Spartacus! No, I'm Scott Eckern!

LARRY O'CONNOR

That’s what I felt like yelling during last November’s horrifying public shaming of a theatre executive in California. Scott Eckern, the Artistic Director of Sacramento Music Theatre, was forced to resign after the public revelation that he donated $1,000 to the Prop. 8 campaign. I felt like calling all of my friends in the theatre industry and saying “I’M SCOTT ECKERN!” I felt like responding to all of the e-mails I received from my colleagues urging me to join the drive to remove him from his post by saying: “I’M SCOTT ECKERN!” “If you take him, you should take me! ” Like all those slaves standing in solidarity with Spartacus. I was also an executive in the industry with similar views. There but for the grace of God….

But I didn’t stand up and shout. I didn’t because I am a coward. I didn’t because I have children and a mortgage and I might need the next job that comes along so I keep my mouth shut.

But make no mistake, there are many of us working in the theatre industry and the spectacle that was Scott Eckern’s ouster was terrifying and enraging to us. Many readers of Big Hollywood suggest that as long as we are effective in our jobs and we “put butts in seats” then we should have the courage to speak out and fight for our beliefs even if we are a minority in a hostile environment…. I hope this morality tale speaks to you…

I was fortunate enough to witness this witch-hunt from inside the Facebook bubble that helped create it. You see, one of my friends, actress Susan Egan, circulated an open letter to all of her friends. And then her friends circulated it to their friends and well, by now you know what happened. Her letter has been reported many times and she seems proud of her involvement in this episode. She actually wrote her initial letter and then, within 24 hours wrote a follow-up. The full text of Susan Egan’s original letter can be found here. Her follow-up letter is harder to come by, but it contains much more revealing information. In the spirit of “full context” I include the entire second letter here: (my comments follow below)


Dear Friends –

Just wanted to follow up. It’s less than 24 hours since the email/post

I sent, and I am overwhelmed by the number of responses, which are

still pouring in. Thank you! I was very nervous about sending my

letter out there, signing my name and holding my breath to see what

(if anything) would happen. I expect backlash, but I am heartened to

know that my own initial response to the information about Scott

Eckern is echoed throughout our theatrical community. We have always

been a close-knit group, capable of so much, and standing in

solidarity for the civil rights of all our members is a worthy cause.

I am proud to be a part of such a group.

Many messages back to me had questions, and I’d like to address them

here, as I have a nearly-two-year-old (now napping) who limits my

on-line time. It’s long … you guys wrote a lot of messages … get

ready ….

Is it a fact that Scott Eckern donated $1000 to Yes on 8?

Yes, in the state of California, donations of this sort are public

record. You may find the record of his donation at:

www.sfgate.com

Many of you have asked for permission to forward my letter on to

friends, colleagues, press and so on. I’m fine with this. It’s already

“out there” … so you have my blessing. That said, if you feel

compelled to add your name to the letter, please do. Building group

support for civil rights was my impetus for the post.

Many have written demanding Scott’s resignation and have hopes of

building a large enough group of supporters to achieve this. And here

is where I would like to expand both my thinking and what I’ve learned

in the past 18 hours … from many of you:

I understand your position and passion, but I am not ready to sign a

petition asking for his resignation – please read why ….

My philosophy: I have made so many mistakes in my life, done things I

regret and in so doing I’d like to allow for Scott to amend his

actions. I personally do not wish for him to resign, but rather to

write a public apology for offending so many in this theatre world we

all share. I’d also love to see him donate another $1000 towards an

organization of his choosing that would attest to his commitment to

the gay and lesbian communities, which have contributed so much over

the years to CMT and SMC, and to him personally. To me – this is what

we should be asking for first.

A few of you smarties felt like we should take this to the Sacramento

Bee. I’m all for it. Perhaps they are already on it; other news

organizations are. But I’d like the message from us to be one from all

of us. Perhaps a statement, with all our names. As to what that

statement should be. I’d like to be on the side of compassion, not

hate. Vilifying any individual makes us one of them. And the idea of a

Blacklist is a scary one, to me, as it has ensnared innocent people in

the past. I simply choose to spend my money and pursue my career and

live my life in support of those who I feel are fair.

Sam Harris wrote such a thoughtful response and I feel, as he does,

that we should take the high road. He sited an article called Four

Lessons Gay Marriage Actvists Must Learn From Obama. Read the article,

but in a nutshell they are: Anger Loses, Get Organized, Outreach

Works, and Pick Your Battles. These won Obama the presidency. Heck,

these are life lessons.

Read for yourself

A very wise responder to my post asked if perhaps Scott had been

coerced by his church (Latter Day Saints) to make the donation? And if

so, is he really at fault? We know the Mormon Church has been a major

supporter of Yes on 8, and it has “urged” its members to give

financial support. My feelings are: if true, what does it say about a

church that would make such “demands” on its parishioners? But more

important, as a leader in the theatre community I would hope that

Scott would also lead his church to better understand the Gay and

Lesbian community and the need for equal civil rights … something

early Mormons sought as they escaped persecution in the East and

traveled West. LDS has made great movement in its acceptance of

interracial couples and in expunging bigamy from its ranks. Equality

in marriage for all seems a logical next step. In the words of

Hammerstein, “You have to be taught to love and hate … you have to be

carefully taught.” So be a teacher, Scott.

However, I realize it can be hard to be a lone voice – stand up and

make such points, and I do not personally hold it against Scott that

he did not make this courageous choice. I do not agree with his Yes on

8 vote, but his vote is his constitutional right, and I do not even

ask for him to change his mind about that. Rather, it’s the fact that

his income, the direct result of so many brilliant gay and lesbian

talents, was used to support the elimination of their given civil

right. This is a conflict of interest at the very least … and betrayal

at the worst. Prudence in refusing to donate towards the cause and

remaining quiet in his personal beliefs would have served him greatly.

I feel for the position Scott is in now. Do not get me wrong … HE put

himself there and so all is fair. But my question to him is this: what

does your church think about the shows you produce? CABARET, A CHORUS

LINE, BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS, RENT, to name a few. AVENUE Q

is heading to Sacramento – presented by CMT – does it hold the values

of LDS? Perhaps not. So how do you resolve that conflict? Does your

donation in support of Prop 8 (those 30 pieces of silver you gave) …

does it absolve you of your “sinful associations” and livelihood? Here

is where I cannot wrap my mind around the situation. And so it is.

Bottom line. I felt the information was important to disseminate. I

was shocked and betrayed by Scott’s actions. I stand by my letter and

give my blessing if you feel you’d like to pass it along. I preserve

the possibility for a happy ending (the best piece of direction I have

ever been given as an actress) – that Scott will embrace his

theatrical friends, realize the hurt he has caused, and genuinely make

amends. Anything less and I personally do not consider him a member of

this cherished theatrical community. That other composers have written

me in the last 18 hours to say they join Marc Shaiman in his boycott

of granting rights to CMT until the matter is resolved is encouraging!

I wish no one harm, Scott included. My intention is not to cause any

grief to him or his family, just as I’m truly certain (I have known

him for more than a decade) he meant no personal harm to his fellow

artists. But actions and words have consequences, and I’m afraid they

are personal.

But have hope. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been persuaded, so will

others. In news just 15 hours old, and I quote:

“[Schwarzenegger] urged backers of gay marriage to follow the lesson

he learned as a bodybuilder trying to lift weights that were too heavy

for him at first. ‘I learned that you should never ever give up. . . .

They should never give up. They should be on it and on it until they

get it done.'”

Just holding the space; join in!

Susan Egan

I read this letter and I got ONE message: Believe what you want, but if you work here, you better keep your mouth shut and you better not be politically active or be ready for the consequences.

Susan is best known for originating the role of Belle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast on Broadway and Los Angeles. That is when I met her and knew her best. As is the case with most people one meets in the theatre world, you know them intimately during the run of the current show, and once the show closes, despite promises to be BFF, things happen. New shows are mounted, new BFFs are made. But we all stay good friends. Even if you only see each other every year or two in New York or LA at an opening or just passing each other in Shubert Alley. I consider Susan a friend, and that is why her letter and the language she used in it bothered me so much.

How can the open-minded, free-thinking members of the theatre community not see the insidious nature of this situation?

Mr. Eckern was forced to resign his job and livelihood because, out of his religious convictions, he took a political position. And, in Susan’s words: “I preserve the possibility for a happy ending… that Scott will embrace his theatrical friends, realize the hurt he has caused, and genuinely make amends. Anything less and I personally do not consider him a member of this cherished theatrical community. “ And, how does she suggest “amends” can be made? “to write a public apology for offending so many in this theatre world we all share. I’d also love to see him donate another $1000 towards an organization of his choosing that would attest to his commitment to the gay and lesbian communities…” I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to suggest that this is a tiny step toward Mao’s tactics in the cultural revolution. This person must be publicly shamed and humiliated and we will extract a fine for his transgressions.

Also, what about this: “Prudence in refusing to donate towards the cause and remaining quiet in his personal beliefs would have served him greatly.” Translation: If he were smart, he would have just shut his mouth.

And did you catch this line? “Anything less and I personally do not consider him a member of

this cherished theatrical community”
. Get it? If you don’t agree with our point of view, you don’t belong in this business. Go work somewhere else with people who think like you.

This issue revolves around Prop 8, and I will purposely not reveal how I voted on this issue, because my reaction to this particular situation is not related at all to my position on Prop. 8…. my greater concern has to do with the propensity of those in the theatre industry to so easily adopt intolerant and totalitarian positions towards those who may genuinely hold differing viewpoints.

I consider myself a center/right leaning person, and I know, FOR A FACT, that there are many in the theatre industry who hold similar views as I. Do you hear much from them? Honestly, we don’t say much in public, because we are genuinely scared to. And this episode is exactly why.

One other disturbing part of Susan’s posting on Facebook. It received close to 100 comments from her friends lauding her “courage” for speaking out. Courage! Please… In this industry, what Susan did was the opposite of courage… does ANYONE doubt that she would have been applauded for her actions? Please! The self-delusion here is almost funny. Susan herself suggests that Mr. Eckern would have shown courage by standing up and being a lone voice in dissent of his church’s position on same-sex marriage, yet she can only find contempt for his standing up and being a lone voice in the theatre world in support of traditional marriage.

In fact, far from Susan showing courage, a cynic might think that since she was quickly aligning herself with a recent Tony Award winning composer, Marc Shaiman, she might have known that this public stance would put her in very good stead with the powers-that-be in our industry. It’s not a secret that a huge number of writers, directors and producers (you know, the men doing the hiring) are gay men. Yes, in theatre, gay men!

After Mr. Eckern resigned, Susan posted on more letter. Again, for full context, I re-print it here:

Scott Eckern Resigns

While I never wished for Scott’s demise, nor unemployment on anyone in this economy, I understand that his resignation may be the best outcome for all involved and watching.

I don’t want the arts community to be one that cannot accept the diversity of all — including those who may have unpopular political opinions among artists. My beef with Scott was his use of money made from the blood, sweat and tears of the gay community towards the prohibition of the civil rights of that same group.

CMT was in a difficult position. Had they fired Scott, they risked looking intolerant themselves. Had they kept him, they risk financial backlash from artists. Scott’s resignation is the best solution, and offered him an opportunity to something selfless. Let’s give him that.

His statement is fascinating, but I am ill-qualified to analyze it. I do wonder what his lesbian sister thinks of Prop 8. He seems to live in two worlds and that must be exhausting. BUT … changing Scott’s mind about the proposition was never my goal. Informing the theatre community of how he uses his earned income was my goal.

I am overwhelmed still by the tremendous storm of these last three days. I suppose we have all had a button pushed, and now … isn’t it amazing (!) … how lots of individual people … frustrated, angry, disillusioned … are now a unified group … organizing, sharing, loving each other and the message we wish to deliver.

I am so moved by the messages I’ve received from you guys — thank you. The backlash is nothing compared to the new friends I have made. I’m honored to be in line, on the line, picketing the line with all of you.

I also know that some are still angry — even with Scott’s resignation. Perhaps his words frustrated you. I understand your passion, but urge all of us to take the win and move on to the next battle. In no way should CMT be hurt further. This is a great, inclusive arts organization …. beloved by so many of us and the community it serves. Celebrate it. We lose so many theatres across our nation … let’s support this one which has given so much. Scott’s resignation may, in fact, cause backlash from Yes on 8 supporters — so now we MUST stand behind CMT with every fiber of our beautifully diverse selves.

I want to stand strong, make our message clear …. and err on the side of compassion. I know we are right, and with that on our side, we can afford to make considered steps that when scrutinized by reasonable people will be seen as fair, intelligent, and clear. Let’s be bigger than our opponents. Only then can we gain the support of those who are open to hearing — a growing group! So much mis-information was put out in CA and across our nation; we need to re-educate and people will hear. But the moment we sensationalize anything, we lose all integrity, and supporters.

I have learned so much from you in the last few days — thank you. Let me know how I may be of service.

Holding a growing space,

Susan Egan

Let’s take a look at how Susan summed up her biggest objection to Mr. Eckern exercising his rights of free speech and association: “My beef with Scott was his use of money made from the blood, sweat and tears of the gay community towards the prohibition of the civil rights of that same group.”



The Orwellian use of “civil rights” in the context of a man forced to resign for making a private, political contribution is too easy of a target (isn’t free association and the expression of political ideas the very first of our civil rights?), so I’ll focus on the first part…

I wonder if Ms. Egan (or, the actors, writers and directors applauding this episode) would be pleased with a group of families forcing Disney to no longer hire her because their ticket money is being used to support ideas which, they believe, undermines the basic structure of our society? Of course, it would never happen… but right-wingers are the intolerant and ignorant ones, remember?

And by the way. Let’s help shed some light on the economic realities of the theatre business for the self-aggrandizing artists involved in a show: The MONEY was not made by the “blood, sweat and tears of the gay community…” (blood?). No, the art, or the product may have been made by their efforts, but the MONEY was made by the sale of tickets to the general public (the majority of whom agree with Mr. Eckern’s position), and by the careful and prudent management of the business… the business MANAGED BY MR. ECKERN!!!!

You see, this is the world I work in. The “Theatrical Community” as it is so often referred to. A community where a respected executive with decades of exemplary service to his city and to his industry donates money to a proposition that merely maintains the legal definition of marriage as one man and one woman, and he must step down in shame. Mr. Eckern was great at his job. He got “butts in the seats”. He is now unemployed.

If only we had our own Arthur Miller to write a new version of The Crucible.

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