On Eckern, or How to Get What You Deserve

by Esther Emery

I’m buzzing over this, folks. So much so that it’s bringing me out of my six week blogging hiatus.

I’m glad his fellow artists called for a boycott. And I’m glad he resigned. And I don’t feel guilty about it. 

Okay, I feel a little bit guilty, but it’s not painful enough to change my mind.

For those of you who need filling in, Scott Eckern is the erstwhile Artistic Director of California Musical Theatre. He donated $1000 to Yes on Prop 8, and I think he was pretty clear on what that proposition entailed and who it affected. What he wasn’t so clear on was the eventuality that his donation would be made public. Or maybe he knew that part, too, but wasn’t clear on how that revelation would affect his relationships with all those gay folks he sees at work.

It started with Marc Shaiman, the Tony-award winning composer of Hairspray, who put out the first call for a boycott. Actress Susan Egan followed suit, and before you could say “My California” a coast-to-coast dose of frustration and disappointment in the passage of Prop 8 got dumped in California Musical Theatre’s inbox.

I heard about it first at rehearsal. I imagine that’s how it spread: artist to artist, singer’s mouth to actor’s ear, from gay composer to gay-sympathizing actress to a straight male blogger who’s been working with gay actors since he was twelve years old. 

In the meantime, lots of people have risen to protect Scott Eckern. Some people said it was about free speech. “His work has nothing to do with his politics,” they said. “This is ridiculous.” “Vindictive.” “I’m ashamed of the No on 8 community.”

Well, I’m not.

When I hear this situation framed as a conflict between free speech and civil rights, my bullshit alarm goes off. It’s a pretty sensitive alarm, well practiced on first run-throughs and easy acting choices.  This isn’t about speech. Scott Eckern didn’t earn a boycott because of something he said.

No, this is about money. Control the money, and you will control the politics.  In theatre, control the talent and you will control the money. And a whole lot of the talent pool is gay. 

If my money is buying political action against a certain kind of person, I’d better not expect that certain kind of person to come back and make me some more money. It’s simple. It’s where capitalism meets the human heart. It’s how it works.

So why do I still feel guilty?

Eckern made a bad decision. I’m glad he’s facing the consequences.  But I am sorry for the witch hunt. I’m sorry that the many converged to punish the one. I’m sorry that much larger financial fish earned all this ire and that one imperfect human became their sacrificial lamb. Most of all, I’m sorry that the language of post-vote-No-on-8 has dipped toward the vicious and petty. That happens, historically, when a group is disenfranchised. In the absence of equal protection under the law, the underdog has to organize his fellows, attack with what weapons he has, and make an example of those few who make the foolish mistake of acting against the people they depend on.

It doesn’t feel very good. Unlike John McCain, I don’t like being the underdog.

On the bright side, in the written statement that accompanied his resignation, Eckern pledged $1000, an equal amount, to the Human Rights Campaign. That’s quite a bit more than I gave them when they knocked on my door asking for help defeating Prop 8. I learned something this November, and it looks like Scott Eckern did too.

So there’s my passionate opinion. What do you think?  Should we theatre folk stick together no matter what? Is there an unwritten law that says “Thou shalt not act against a fellow theatre company, any theatre company, no matter what!”? Should money donated to political campaigns be personal business? Or do you think it is our right and responsibility to work for the people whose actions we want to support and withhold our talents from the rest?