Artistic director of California Musical Theatre, Scott Eckern, resigned Monday after his donation towards Proposition 8 – which will overturn gay marriage in California – was disclosed. Following the discovery of his $1000 contribution, many in the theatre community began calling for a boycott of Eckern and the theatre. Despite an apology from Eckern, pressure continued and he ultimately resigned as a result.
It appears Eckern’s political views did not influence his professional decisions, his artistic direction, or his success in 13 years at the California Musical Theatre. While calls for Eckern’s resignation stemmed from disappointment and anger with his personal political contributions, professional retaliation on the basis of personal views creates a dangerous atmosphere for free expression.
Efforts to suppress speech that many may disagree with frequently threaten the rights of members of LGBTQ communities. In fact, as Proposition 8 campaigns went under way, a children’s book about gay marriage, King & King, was made an example of the kinds of materials that proponents of Proposition 8 find objectionable. Remarking on the opposition to the book, renowned gay author, John Rechy, said, “My fear now is that all of gay literature will be more closely scrutinized, and that free speech will become even more endangered.”
A culture of intolerance, and professional retaliation for personal political expression often disproportionately harms minority communities. In such moments, it is imperative to defend individuals’ rights to political expression.
Fortunately, there is a growing conversation in the theatre community and in the general public about how to react to this situation. Jeff Whitty, who wrote the book for “Avenue Q,” which is set to play at the California Musical Theatre in March, blogged on Tuesday:
Scott has been taking calls and exchanging/enduring dialogue at a time when I think most people would have keep their heads firmly planted in the sand. I applaud him for not shutting down, and instead keeping himself open to an overwhelming degree of criticism. He has engaged in dialogue with some of his angriest critics, which speaks volumes.
We support Scott Eckern’s right to political expression, and his choice to engage on this heated issue. And we support those voices in the theater who have recognized the importance for allowing unpopular opinions and are engaging with Eckern rather than trying to run him out of town.