'Wicked' Composer Calls for North Carolina Boycott: "Expect Consequences" for Anti-LGBT Laws
Stephen Schwartz reveals to THR that the production ban in the state extends to all of his works.
As composer and lyricist of Wicked — a musical inversion of The Wizard of Oz which last month became the fastest Broadway production in history to reach $1 billion in ticket sales — Stephen Schwartz has inspired a generation of theater fans to live by the "Defying Gravity" credo: "Everyone deserves the chance to fly."
Now Schwartz is putting his money where that message is.
Responding to North Carolina's recent passage of the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act (otherwise known as House Bill 2 or HB-2), a widely condemned law that bans transgender citizens from entering bathrooms not assigned to their birth-sex while allowing for other forms of anti-LGBT discrimination, the composer has pledged to keep Wicked out of the state until the laws are struck down.
Schwartz's position was stated in an email he sent to his peers in the theater community. Calling HB-2 "reprehensible and discriminatory," Schwartz consulted with his Wicked collaborators and decided to "deny the right to any theatre or organization based in North Carolina to produce any of our shows."
He likened the action to one he undertook in the 1970s — when he dominated the Great Way Way and beyond with works like Pippin and Godspell — which protested South Africa's apartheid policies.
"As you know," the two-time Oscar-winner writes, "this eventually proved to be very effective."
Since news began to spread of the action over the weekend, Schwartz has been inundated with responses. Most have been supportive, but some wonder if taking such a hard-line stance isn't unnecessarily unfair to the state's artistic community — a group that already vehemently opposes HB-2.
In a statement provided to The Hollywood Reporter, Schwartz relayed their concerns. He also reveals that the production ban in the state extends beyond just Wicked to all of his works.
"Their arguments were twofold," he writes. "That [my boycott] 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."
He mentions one letter in particular that he found especially moving, sent by a concerned mother whose son was "learning so much from his involvement in community theater" but now would be unable to perform in any of Schwartz's shows.
Schwartz sympathizes with the arguments, but maintains that these circumstances call for extreme measures.
"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," he writes.
As many as 120 corporations, including PepsiCo, Dow Chemical and PayPal, have called on North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory to repeal the law. Similar proposed legislation in Georgia was recently vetoed by that state's Gov. Nathan Deal after Disney threatened to move all productions elsewhere.
“I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia,” Deal said. “Georgia is a welcoming state.”
Several calls to Wicked producer Marc Platt for comment were not returned.
The full text of Schwartz's statement to THR:
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."
In support of this view, yesterday I heard from a local North Carolina attorney, one of those who had argued against my methods, that "the outpouring of disgust from CEOs has, I think, taken the NC General Assembly and Governor by surprise, so much so that many local newspapers are writing that a repeal of the law is no longer a question of 'if,' but of 'when.' To that end, I thank you and other artists who have spoken out against HB2." I hope he's right, not only because it will mean the end of this reprehensible law, but because it demonstrates that each individual speaking out and acting against bigotry and injustice, in whatever small way he or she can, is able to have a big cumulative effect.
One last thing: I have seen some of the news media report the intent of HB-2 as being about the use of bathrooms by transgender people, as if that were the only content of the bill. This is sloppy reporting, and a parroting of the disingenuous line of Gov. McCrory and those who passed the bill. This bill forbids any municipality in the state from passing any protections whatsoever against discrimination towards LGBT citizens. There are other heinous things in it as well. It is masquerading as only having to do with bathrooms, and the news media should not fall for it.
Thanks for your attention to this, Stephen Schwartz