What Theater People Love (and Hate) About Same-Sex Marriage
Friday, July 22, 2011
On Monday, many gay members of the Broadway community -- from theater ushers to playwrights -- will be wed onstage immediately following a performance of "Hair." Though much of the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender (L.B.G.T.) theater set is celebrating same-sex marriage, not everyone is rushing to the altar to get hitched.
"Do civil rights need to be tied to marriage?" asked Jennifer Miller, a downtown theater veteran and professor of Humanities and Media Studies at Pratt.
Although Miller is in favor of same-sex marriage, it raises lots of questions for her, especially since its benefits -- like spousal health insurance or tax breaks -- still exclude people who don't choose to be wed.
"Do I want to be fighting for gay marriage or do I want to be fighting for health care for everybody?" she said.
But Oskar Eustis, the artistic director for the Public Theater, said you can't really go wrong with allowing same-sex couples to marry in New York.
"Being for gay marriage is sort of like saying you like strawberries," he said. "Who the hell is against it?"
Eustis spent much of his career in small, alternative theaters across the country until he took the helm of the Public in 2005, and he's noticed that New York's gay marriage win has unified theater-types like never before, particularly in more mainstream Broadway communities.
"What we're seeing [now] is much more mainstream, commercial people being willing to stand up and show their support and actually be leaders on this issue," he said.
Actress and singer Athena Reich, who calls herself a "second generation gay" because her father lives in Toronto with his husband, said after same-sex marriage was passed, she felt a change in the way people in her neighborhood treated her. When she moved to the city 11 years ago, she said she was taunted when walking down the street with her girlfriend.
"Now you see 14-year-olds, gay kids, kissing on the subway," she said. "This is an official win that makes it harder for people to discriminate against us."
Still, she said the struggle isn't over yet.
"My eyes are on the prize," she said. "It’s going to go federal."
Some big time theater producers, like David Stone of "Wicked," and Tony-winning celebrities like Cynthia Nixon (of "Sex in the City" fame) have long been familiar faces at rallies and events in support of gay rights. In October 2009, Stone even footed the bill for buses that sent the cast of "Hair" to march on Washington for gay rights.
This weekend, the cast of "Hair" will perform a benefit at Rockwood Music Hall on the Lower East Side to raise money for Broadway Impact, a gay rights organization whose mission is to "educate and inspire our community into action towards equality." A play exploring the Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage in California, called "8," will also come to Broadway for one night in September.