Thursday, November 13, 2008

Theater exec forced to resign b/c of contribution to Prop 8

I was surprised at just how far this is going and will continue to go to targeting individuals. (See previous posts about targeting mormons on prop 8)

Theater exec Eckern, caught in Prop. 8 flap, resigns

By Marcus Crowder
Published: Thursday, Nov. 13, 2008 Page 1A

Scott Eckern, artistic director for the California Musical Theatre, resigned Wednesday as a growing number of artists threatened to boycott the organization because of his $1,000 donation to the campaign to ban gay marriage in California.

"I understand my supporting of Proposition 8 has been the cause of many hurt feelings, maybe even betrayal," Eckern said in a written statement. "I chose to act upon my belief that the traditional definition of marriage should be preserved."

Richard Lewis, the executive producer of the California Musical Theatre, said he does not plan to immediately seek a replacement.

"We're not going to worry about having a so-called artistic director. That was a title specific to Scott," he said. "… I do need another No. 2, but in the interim, I think it will be a committee of my senior staff."

News of Eckern's campaign contribution, which popped up on Web sites following the passage of Proposition 8, quickly spread through an industry that has long advocated for gays on rights and health issues. It was met with shock, disbelief and ultimately anger.

Eckern's duties as artistic director include helping select touring productions and creating the annual Music Circus season. He also was responsible for Music Circus casting.

Los Angeles-based and Tony Award-winning composer Marc Shaiman ("Hairspray") wrote a blog saying he would never allow any of his shows to again be licensed or performed by California Musical Theatre while Eckern was employed there.

Despite support from many in the local community who valued his contributions and championed his right to free speech, Eckern decided he could no longer be effective as the creative force behind the area's largest producing and presenting performing arts organization.

Lewis, who is also chief executive of California Musical Theatre, accepted Eckern's resignation but said he exerted no influence over it.

"Scott made a decision, and he informed us of the decision," Lewis said. "He sent his release around to the press, which we knew would happen, and we wanted to make a statement as well. We want to make sure the public understands that I didn't put any pressure on Scott and nor did anybody else."

In his statement, Eckern, who is a Mormon, said, "I am leaving California Musical Theatre after prayerful consideration to protect the organization and to help the healing in the local theater-going and creative community."

Mormon church leaders supported Proposition 8 and encouraged members to contribute time and resources to its passage.

Eckern became interested in the Mormon faith as an undergraduate at University of California, Santa Barbara. In 1983, he received a master's of fine arts degree in acting from Brigham Young University.

He eventually landed a position teaching theater at the University of the Pacific. Eckern and wife, Paula, have three children. In an apology he issued earlier this week, he noted that he has a sister who is a lesbian, and that he loves and supports her.

Eckern, 50, had been with California Musical Theatre for 25 years, working his way up from a summer intern coordinator to becoming the assistant to Leland Ball, then the company's producing director.

In 2002, when Ball stepped down, Eckern became artistic director of CMT and Lewis became executive producer, splitting Ball's former responsibilities. Eckern also held the title of chief operating officer.

It was Eckern's dream job and, by all accounts, he did it well, helping to cement the organization's reputation as a progressive, accessible, artist-friendly organization. It produces the Music Circus, presents Broadway Sacramento, and recently opened "Forever Plaid" at the capital's newest performing venue, the Cosmopolitan Cabaret.

Ball, who over the past couple of days has talked to both Eckern and Lewis from his home in New York, expressed appreciation for Eckern and regret over his circumstances.

"The theater has had such an overwhelmingly positive reputation among artists as a welcoming place to work. And he was at the center of that," Ball said. "He was the camp counselor and cheerleader out there. He's given a lot of blood to that theater."

Although many contacted by The Bee disagreed with Eckern's stance on Proposition 8, they lauded his artistic contributions.

Adrienne Sher, who worked with Eckern for seven years on the League of Sacramento Theaters board, said she was inconsolable.

"He's done more for theater here than anybody. He was the League," Sher said. " … He struggled morally over every issue that came up. I think he's a hero, and I'm just crushed that this has happened."

"I am stunned that this happened," said Stephanie Gularte, artistic director of Capital Stage. "I don't feel anger or hostility to either side, but I do feel great sadness and I think the Sacramento theater community has lost an important leader."

Added Buck Busfield of the B Street Theatre: "We know that every political and social movement has casualties, and it's really sad that it should be Scott, who is such an incredibly, decent talented man and a friend of ours."

Busfield used a theatrical allusion to sum up the conflict: "You want your villains to be villains, and Scott's not that."