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“Godspell” composer curtains his shows in North Carolina

“Godspell” composer curtains his shows in North Carolina

Stephen Schwartz, who wrote the music for shows including Godspell and Wicked, has withdrawn his work from North Carolina stages in response to the state’s Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act.

Playbill published Schwartz’s words online:

In an email obtained by Playbill.com, Schwartz writes, “To my fellow theatre writers and producers: As you no doubt know, the state of North Carolina has recently passed a reprehensible and discriminatory law. I feel that it is very important that any state that passes such a law suffer economic and cultural consequences, partly because it is deserved and partly to discourage other states from following suit.

“Therefore, I and my collaborators are acting to deny the right to any theatre or organization based in North Carolina to produce any of our shows. We have informed our licensing organizations and touring producers of this, and I’m happy to say have met with compliance and approval from them.

“In the 1970’s, I, along with many other writers and artists, participated in a similar action against apartheid in South Africa, and as you know, this eventually proved to be very effective.

The Charlotte Observer also reported on Schwartz’s decision. From that story:

At last count, more than 120 companies had called for the law to be repealed. On Friday night, the CEO of PepsiCo – the company whose signature soft drink was invented in North Carolina – sent a letter to Gov. Pat McCrory calling for a repeal.

Governors of several states have banned most official travel to North Carolina in protest, the latest being Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton.

The law prohibited a Charlotte ordinance from going into effect that would have allowed transgender people to use the bathroom that they identify with, not their biological identity. It also prohibited other cities and counties from adopting similar ordinances, and eliminated the ability to sue in state court for discriminatory firing.

In the Durham-based Indy Week:

The Grammy, Tony, and Academy Award-winning composer has written eighteen musicals, including Wicked, Godspell, Pippin, and Children of Eden. At least five of his works are slated for production in North Carolina over the next month, four of them in the Triangle. Jason Cocovinis, director of marketing at Music Theatre International, which handles the production rights for Schwartz’s works, confirms the embargo, but says that shows already licensed will be allowed to go forward. No new touring or local productions of Schwartz’s musicals will be permitted until he decides to end the embargo…

North Carolina’s final productions of Godspell and Pippin before the embargo will play in high schools and a community theater (see below). But Wicked, Schwartz’s smash musical based on The Wizard of Oz, has been a bestseller at DPAC in recent years. It won’t be returning until HB 2 is overturned. If the embargo gains traction across professional theater and variety arts, that won’t be the only blockbuster avoiding the state.

Broadway World, which first published Schwartz’s statement last week, has just published his response to those criticizing his decision:

“First of all, I think it’s important to remember that this is not just me, this is a collective action by a great many theatre artists, as well as those from other fields. For instance, I saw this morning that 269 authors and illustrators of children’s books are declining to attend conferences and festivals in North Carolina as long as the law is in force.

“I have received a great number of responses. Not a single one was in support of the law or attempted to justify it in any way. The majority of them were supportive of the action I and my colleagues have taken, but several from North Carolina, while expressing sympathy with the goal, took exception to the means. Their arguments were twofold: that it unfairly targeted those who were already opposed to the law, that is people involved in the arts, and that it deprived people of the chance to raise the sensibilities of their audiences by exposure to works that promote tolerance. I received one particularly poignant letter from a mother who asked how she would explain it to her son, who was learning so much from his involvement in community theatre and now would be unable to do one of my shows.

“While I don’t deny there is merit to these arguments, I continue to feel that the only way to bring about a quick reversal is for people in North Carolina to become angered enough that they put pressure on the governor and legislature. This may be cynical of me, but I believe that the only thing Governor McCrory and his cronies in the legislature understand is the threat they may not be re-elected. As long as they feel that the bigots in their state are going to support them, while the rest don’t consider it an important enough issue to become exercised about, they are not likely to change anything. As I wrote to one of those who responded to me, “In a democracy, I think we all have to take responsibility for the policies of the states we live in. If my home state of Connecticut were to pass such a law, I would absolutely expect consequences that would affect me, even though I would be personally opposed to it. As I have seen demonstrated in the past, the most effective way to fight legal bigotry such as HB-2 is through real consequences that bring about the anger of the electorate and threaten the re-election of the perpetrators.

The arts world is far from the only one responding to the legislation: corporate players including PayPal (which is withdrawing a 400-job deal from the state), Google Ventures and PepsiCo are all protesting. From ThinkProgress:

[PayPal] CEO Dan Schulman explained in a statement that “the new law perpetuates discrimination and it violates the values and principles that are at the core of PayPal’s mission and culture.”

Schulman asserted that the decision to not proceed with the Charlotte center “is a clear and unambigous one” that reflects the company’s “deepest values and our strong belief that every person has the right to be treated equally, and with dignity and respect.” Because PayPal’s employees would not have equal rights under North Carolina law, employing them there is “simply untenable.”

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Gregory Orloff

"What, exactly, does collective punishment achieve?"

Stephen Schwartz answers your question in this article:

"I feel that it is very important that any state that passes such a law suffer economic and cultural consequences, partly because it is deserved and partly to discourage other states from following suit."

"In the 1970's, I, along with many other writers and artists, participated in a similar action against apartheid in South Africa, and as you know, this eventually proved to be very effective."

In other words, it is the hope that the moral pressure of such deprivation will (1) draw attention to the injustice, (2) spur locals who don't want to be deprived to press for change when laws are unjust, and (3) make those who want to pass similar unjust laws elsewhere think twice before doing so.

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James Byron

To rephrase: how does forcing opponents of a law who've been outvoted to "take responsibility" for the votes of others increase their effectiveness in fighting it?

A full-on, South Africa-style boycott may prove effective, but that obviously ain't gonna fly in NC. It has to be voluntary: not many companies are gonna cost themselves profits; so the boycott'll mainly focus on non-profit cultural activities. Exactly the people, as Schwartz himself notes, who tend to support equality.

People who're willing to endure the opprobrium of supporting the NC laws aren't likely to be coerced by missing out on performing in 'Godspell' or other productions. About the only people affected are his allies.

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James Byron

"In a democracy, I think we all have to take responsibility for the policies of the states we live in."

Why? Individuals have only one vote; however vigorously they campaign, many times, they'll be outvoted. Even assuming it's just (an assumption I reject), what, exactly, does collective punishment achieve?

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