"Big Fish" Canceled Over Creative Difference
All our small community theatre wanted to do was to put on “Big Fish,” a beautiful, magical, whimsical musical about the relationship between a father and his son.
We had a creative difference with our director over the portrayal of one particular scene, and now he has set out to destroy our community theatre and spread rumors that reverberated in our community as a result also destroying our summer camps for children. We may even have to sell the building which we had planned to convert into our home. As a result of the Director’s effort to settle creative scores and build his own personal brand, we are likely losing our home and our community is losing the only theatre of its kind in its vicinity.
We are a community theatre putting on a musical that employs LGBT+ staff including actors, directors, musicians, set, and costume designers, as well as works with LGBT+ volunteers in many of our programs including our choir. We featured gay parents in the scene. There is no way to make those facts square with the charge of LGBT+ bigotry, so the producer started a whisper campaign centered around our Mormon faith as a means of settling scores of creative differences.
The scene we disagreed on that the director used as an excuse to resign is one when the lead character discovers he is about to be a father. We had all originally agreed on a shared vision which was for the lead character to be introspective while he walks through a busy street in New York. We also wanted him to walk by people who represent the diversity of America and stages of parenting. We included a same-sex couple holding a baby as one of the families that pass him. The creative difference arose over whether the lead character would stop and sing explicitly to that one couple. The director thought singling out the gay couple was an important political statement to make. For us, the point of the scene was not to make a political statement but focus on the main character’s wonder over becoming a father. We would have objected to that blocking of the scene had the lead character focused on any couple heterosexual or same-sex or an individual. And we would have objected to politicizing the scene, regardless of the issue. That is not what the scene called for.
This was a creative difference that the director used as an opportunity to slander us, lead a campaign to dissuade the actors and stage-hands from participating in the production. Unless the scene was performed exactly as he wanted, he threatened to go to the press. He did all this to seek to raise his profile and sympathy from other theaters toward his personal brand. In fact, the national theatre community, including Broadway, has been fed false facts about the creative difference and, as a result, there is now a national campaign against our tiny theatre.
What is sad is how readily so many jumped to judge and condemn and threaten anyone who remained associated with our theater.
We, the founders, have devoted our lives to sharing the beauty of music and art. In fact, we invested our lives’ savings into our dream of creating a welcoming space in Greenfield for art and music. To fund our first production in 2017, we sold one of our cars. Besides our family, this project is everything to us.
While we build this dream, we are living in the basement of our in-laws. We have never received a salary. In fact, most of the productions are staffed entirely by volunteers who share our love of art and family theatre. Our highest stipend is $250 per production-- this includes weeks of rehearsals and weekend performances.
Destroying our tiny theatre which only has a 175-person capacity and blacklisting our LGBT+ volunteers and staff and anyone who works with us—including the two actors who had agreed to portray a gay couple-- does not help the cause of artistic diversity and certainly does not help our community.
Our disagreement with the producer was artistic over what was best for the character and scene. But real diversity, in every respect, is about accepting that people of all races and all gender orientations are part of normal everyday life. Real inclusion—whether for LGBT+ people or Mormons—isn’t found by shining a light on the fact that a minority is included but when it’s just expected and natural that we are all part of the scene.
True art, in its best form, is about acceptance. This is all we wanted to do in our theatre productions. That dream is now being destroyed by a disgruntled director who played on fears about our faith to build sympathy for his personal brand and try to settle old artistic scores. Our hope is that the community we have come to love and the media who claim to seek the truth will slow the rush to demonize and instead look at the facts around this production and consider the motivations of those who are working so hard to destroy it and us.