And this is why I was a closeted conservative when I worked on Broadway
posted at 9:01 am on November 21, 2016 by Larry O'Connor
When the cast of Hamilton chose to thrust their play (and the professional theatre industry) into the national political conversation Friday night, it was inevitable that I would write the post you are about to read.
— Hamilton (@HamiltonMusical) November 19, 2016
Because for over 15 years I worked in the theatre business and know first hand what it’s like to hold conservative views while surrounded by liberal activists bent on using their profile and platform to push their ideas and shame those who might disagree.
I worked in New York and Los Angeles with the Shubert Organization and as an independent general manager and producer before leaving that industry behind and beginning a new career in the new media and talk radio. I began writing at Andrew Breitbart’s Big Hollywood website under the pseudonym “Stage Right” and after writing about politics and culture for nearly a year I revealed my true identity in this post.
That was seven years ago.
So here we are. My old industry making headlines for a blatantly political gesture designed not just to shame Vice-President-elect Pence but to call-out all of us who might have had the audacity to hope Hillary Clinton not be our 45th President.
Oh, the actors might rush to say that “Republicans are all welcome” to their play. But creative people in a medium as visual and impactful as theatre know very well the net results of this political grandstanding.
“If you don’t agree with us on politics, you’re going to be lectured to and publicly shamed,” is the message conservatives, Republicans and anyone who wasn’t #WithHer received from this little episode, whether that was the actors’ intent or not.
My phone starting buzzing in the early hours Saturday morning as news of the “curtain-speech-heard-round-the-world” hit everyone’s Facebook page. Friends of mine who work on Broadway were sending me their personal opinions because they “could never say it out loud” and they were counting on me to speak on their behalf.
I heard from an actor who pointed out that the performers on stage are in the most prominent position of privilege the industry could ever provide an actor. They appear in the hottest play in the country and have a steady Actor’s Equity contract with full benefits along with a job for the next decade, if they want it.
The idea that these well-paid thespians represent “the diverse America” that is concerned with the direction of the country is absurd, this actor said. They represent the elite not just in this country, but in their own industry. It wasn’t lost on this actor friend of mine that these cast members live a far better lifestyle than the Americans they claim to represent.
Another friend, an actor of color, regretted the message sent to any Republican or non-liberal who heard about this story over the weekend. The man came to the THEATRE with an obviously open mind and they chose to reject the gesture this friend said to me. “And you’re for tolerance and diversity?” the actor lamented.
Indeed I can tell you from first hand experience that in the theatre industry diversity is only skin-deep and genital-high. It’s the superficial and irrelevant differences of race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality that the members of the theatre community obsess over, not the more important and challenging intellectual diversity of opinions that they reject and ignore.
They expect all of their colleagues to believe the same thing or they will excise them from their lives and file them into a category of racist, sexist homophobic or just plain stupid.
Take another friend who has worked in the industry for decades. This person made the mistake of voicing their opinion about Hillary Clinton’s trouble with the truth and the law on their Facebook page and found that they had been unfriended by many over their co-workers the next morning.
Broadway: Divergent opinions not welcome here.
So while so many lament the insult to Pence (for the record he says he was not insulted and has shown himself to be the class act that many of us has known for years) or the insult to future ticket-buyers who now feel like they’re not welcome on Broadway, I reserve my pity for those few individuals with whom who I share a unique allegiance.
I am thinking about the actor who stood on that stage disagreeing with the spectacle unfolding before him. I am thinking about the musician who may have voted for Gary Johnson. Or the usher who saw their health care costs skyrocket due to Obamacare. Or the stage hand whose son is in the Marines and he wants a Commander-in-Chief who will fight the war on terror in a vigorous and effective way.
They are silent. Nobody hears their voice because nobody at the Richard Rogers Theatre (or any other theatre on Broadway) cares to listen to their voice. They’ve been told that their voice is not welcome. They’ve been told that they are to stay silent if they want to keep their careers.
Don’t believe me?
Here’s a story for you. In fact, it’s the story that got me started at Big Hollywood in the first place. It’s the story of Scott Eckern, the former Executive Producer of the Sacramento Music Circus. Eckern was a well-respected theatre professional who made the mistake of donating to California’s Prop 8 initiative. Prop 8 was to define marriage in the California constitution as between one man and one woman.
One of my former colleagues, actress Susan Egan, began a crusade on the issue that led to Eckern losing his job. In one of her impassioned letters to her fellow theatre professionals she wrote this:
Prudence in refusing to donate towards the cause and remaining quiet in his personal beliefs would have served him greatly.
In other words, believe what you want to believe but you better keep your mouth shut if you want to keep your job. Actually, she went further and even revoked the “believe what you want to believe” part when she wrote:
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.
Translation: “Reverse your position or you’re not one of us.”
Within months of the Eckern episode I left the industry I loved and staked out on a new career. As a political and cultural commentator and talk show host. Thank you, Susan. I’ve never been happier.
My former colleagues in the theatre industry claim they want to foster discussion and they hope for a dialogue about these issues, but they are being disingenuous, at best. They don’t want a dialogue, they want a monologue.
That’s what we saw on Friday night from the stage on 46th street. A monologue. A speech. A lecture. It was patronizing and it was condescending and there was no room for rebuttal.
Sadly, it was what I have come to expect from my former industry and, ironically, the exact opposite of the industry I find myself in now.
Anyone who disagrees with my opinions here at Hot Air can say so in the comment section below. Anyone who disagrees with my opinion on talk radio can call up and tell me why I am wrong. And I regularly encourage guests who disagree with me to come on my show so we can openly debate the topics of the day.
I realize now that the “theatrical community” is nothing more than a monolithic echo chamber that tries to fool itself into thinking they are open-minded and encouraging of all people from every walk of life.
UPDATE: In a previous version of this post, I referred to the Richard Rodgers Theater as being on 47th St. The post has subsequently been corrected to reflect the appropriate geographical location being 46th street. In fact, the Richard Rodgers theater used to be called the “46 Street Theater”. I pride myself on my savant-like knowledge of Broadway theaters and I am mortified that I made this ridiculous error. -LOC