“Hair,” Marriage Equality, Politics on Broadway: The True Meaning of “Equality”?


gay marriageThe purpose of this post is not to knock the cultural and political alignment of the Broadway revival of Hair with the National Equality March, scheduled for Oct. 11 in Washington, D.C. I support marriage equality and recent coverage in the New York Times of conservative Ted Olson’s backing of it is obviously heartening. Personally, do I think the U.S. Supreme Court will entertain the case? Perhaps. Will they rule that the Constitition permits marriage equality. Not till Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas are dead. (Those two would never resign the Court.)

But back to Hair. Last month, when it was announced that Hair would take a few days off the performance schedule in order to participate in the October march, no one could really complain — it’s the right thing to do for very much the right show. Indeed, Oskar Eustis, artistic director of the Public Theater one of Hair‘s producers, issued this statement:

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The Public Theater has always aspired to make theatre that matters, that speaks to the great social issues of our time. Hair has never been just a show; its message of change and hope and inclusion is one we try to live, not just preach. This is the moment when we need to recognize the right of all citizens, gay and straight, to have their love and their unions acknowledged by the state. We are proud to join with Cleve Jones and the National Equality March in support of gay marriage. Peace now! Equality now! Justice forever!

But I also wonder to what degree the Public Theater would be positioning itself in the marriage equality vanguard if there wasn’t a march or wasn’t a Hair. Also, at what point does political activism involving a theatrical product morph into a kind of marketing porn? For example, not only is the musical taking off the Oct. 11 performance, but here comes word that there will be a “mobilization rally” on Oct. 5. Here’s the 411:

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New York’s Theater Community Comes Together for Equality

The Public Theater, The Cast of Hair, Broadway Impact and BC/EFA
to Hold a Mobilization Rally
In Advance of October’s
National Equality March on Washington

Oskar Eustis, Cleve Jones, Gavin Creel, David Stone and more Schedule to Speak

Delacorte Theater, Central Park
Fri., Aug. 28, 2:30pm

Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director of The Public Theater, announced today that The Public Theater, the cast of Hair, Broadway Impact and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (BC/EFA) are holding a mobilization rally for New York’s theater community in advance of October’s National Equality March. The rally will be held at Central Park’s Delacorte Theater (enter at 81st Street and Central Park West or 79th Street and Fifth Avenue) on Friday, August 28 from 2:30-3:30 PM and will be open to the public. Noteworthy members of both the civil rights and theater communities will be on hand to speak, including Oskar Eustis, legendary gay rights activist Cleve Jones, Hair star Gavin Creel and producer David Stone.

“The theater community has always been a force for change. This rally will give us the chance to come together to spread the message of Equality and hopefully encourage others to join us at the National Equality March in October,” said Gavin Creel.

The producers of the Tony Award-winning revival of Hair previously announced that, in an unprecedented move, they are canceling the show’s Sun., Oct. 11 performance so that the entire cast can join the National Equality March in Washington, D.C.

Last May, civil rights activist David Mixner called for a national march on Washington in support of equal rights for LGBT people, calling on prominent LGBT community leaders Cleve Jones and Torie Osborne to execute and organize it. Days later in Fresno, California, at a rally of approximately 5000 people from all walks of life protesting the California Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Prop. 8, Cleve Jones stepped to the podium and committed to Mixner’s plea. At that moment Jones’ organization, Equality Across America, was born, along with its first mission: the National Equality March. Between now and October, Equality Across America will develop grassroots leadership in all 435 congressional districts to ensure that their message is heard loudly and clearly by elected officials all across America. In October 1979, LGBT activists from across the country marched on Washington to fight for equal rights towards all. Exactly 30 years later a new generation of equality activists will take to the National Mall and continue that fight — and not quit until LGBT people are granted equal protection in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states.


Perhaps what I’m reacting to is the headline of the press release: “New York’s Theater Community Comes Together for Equality.” Well, from what I can tell, this is all about Hair: two producers, Creel, etc. Not that Hair hasn’t the right to go and fight a cause, and not that the revival hasn’t the right — and, indeed, the incentive — to align itself with the cause of marriage equality, but when you read “New York’s Theater Community Comes Together for Equality,” don’t you think of something larger, vaster, more encompassing than just one show? If anything, Broadway Impact is perhaps ideally positioned to reach out to — well, here is a list of shows currently on Broadway or soon to be on Broadway — when do we get to see the unity? Who in, say, Billy Elliot or In the Heights favors marriage equality? Why shouldn’t they speak, despite whether or not they go to Washington, D.C., or whether or not they’re affiliated with Hair. And what about Off- and Off-Off-Broadway. Does Oskar Eustis intend to push out anyone who favors marriage equality, who might want to lend their gravitas to the mobilization, just because they’re not part of his show? What kind of politics is that?

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It seems easily solvable to me.

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