Marc Shaiman Finds His Inner Activist

Marc Shaiman Finds His Inner Activist

Like many gay people, composer Marc Shaiman wrote a check to No on 8, watched the polls enthusiastically and, perhaps blinded by the promise of a Barack Obama presidency, thought that on November 4, California voters would extend this idea of change to marriage rights. And like many gay people, on November 5, when it became clear that Prop. 8 had passed and same-sex marriage had been banned throughout the state, Shaiman sprung into action. 

First up was his now well-chronicled call to a theater director in Sacramento who Shaiman found out had donated money to Yes on 8. Coincidentally, California Musical Theatre’s artistic director, Scott Eckern, had just produced one of the first licensed regional theatre productions of Shaiman’s musical Hairspray. So the composer called him up to ask why, then issued a public decree that the theater would no longer be able to produce any of his works. Other composers followed suit, the public caught wind of the conversation, and days later, Eckern resigned. 

That exchange, plus an idea Shaiman had thought up in passing during the Prop. 8 campaign, sparked this week’s must see video clip — the FunnyOrDie.com-hosted Prop. 8 — The Musical. “At the
 risk of sounding insensitive to the people who did the 
[anti-Prop. 8] commercials, they were good, but they
 weren’t good enough," Shaiman recalls. "I do remember sitting
 there, watching the commercials and thinking to
 myself, God, I wish someone would call me and ask me to 
do something. But, I’m the fool who
 didn’t figure out who I needed to
 call.” 

The mini-musical,
 featuring an all-star cast of your typically outspoken 
gay rights advocates (Margaret Cho, Kathy Najimy, Neil
 Patrick Harris) mixed with some surprises (John C.
Reilly, Jack Black), premiered Tuesday, and Shaiman 
talked to Advocate.com about what prompted this
 engaging, albeit (his words) “six weeks late”
 call to action. 

Advocate.com: How did Prop. 8 — The Musical come to be?
Marc Shaiman: Two years ago, I guess, Adam
 [McKay, from FunnyOrDie.com] and I did this Oscar number
 with Will Ferrell, Jack Black, and John C. Reilly. Me
 and Adam and Judd Apatow had written that together. So
 that’s how I knew him. Anyway, he e-mailed,
 amid all the e-mailing I’d been doing [re: the 
Sacramento theater director] and said, "Why 
don’t you do a song about it for FunnyOrDie?" I
 thought, Oh, God. Why didn’t I just write a song
 about it in the first place? That’s what I
 do. So he planted that seed. Literally, I wrote it
 on a Tuesday. We started thinking about how to put it 
on Wednesday, cast it, brought in Adam Shankman. We got on
 the phone and called friends, called agents and
 managers — we spread around my demo, which was just
 me singing it. People said yes and wanted to be a part 
of it because of what it was about, but because of the 
nature of doing this so fast, if we had said
 we’re filming it Monday night instead of Monday 
afternoon, when we shot it, we’d have had a whole
 different cast. It was right before Thanksgiving.

So once you had everyone in place, how long did the
 actual shoot take?
Adam staged and filmed that thing basically in 
four hours. As silly as it is — even when 
something’s silly, what he pulled off was 
unbelievable. We all had the best time — we felt like
 we were 15 years old again.

It’s got that musical theater summer camp feel to it.
And that’s what I wanted when I wrote it. 
I knew the second I started writing it, I was writing 
just that — music summer theater camp style of
 cramming all this stuff into three minutes and writing in a 
simplistic, unvarnished style. Kind of almost like
 this Gilbert and Sullivan light opera. We kept
 thinking, Where are we gonna film this? Luckily,
 once Adam came aboard, he called production designers and 
costume designers from films, and then I remembered 
that this magic store in Santa Monica has a theater. 
If you open this door at the back of this magic store,
 you’re suddenly in this theater — it’s this 
bizarre thing.

I know you said on the FunnyOrDie website that you
 wrote this, but you did it six weeks too late. Do you 
think a lot of people couldn’t fathom that
 Prop. 8 would pass and therefore didn’t get
 as in involved as they should have?
In my silly first eight measures of gays and the 
people who love them, just dancing and cavorting about
 — the spirit of Obama’s election just made it 
impossible for us all I think to really believe it could
 happen. We were watching it sort of happening, I was 
giving money, but no one went the distance because we 
just couldn’t believe it. It seemed like we 
were about to turn such an incredible page in history that
 we were just sedated by it. So in my silly way, I
 purposely started the video, showing that we felt this 
way, which is how this must have happened.

On the flip side of things, once Prop. 8 had
 passed, you were one of the first people to come out
swinging with that theater director and say, "This 
is not OK. You can’t use my work and then 
turn around and let the Yes on 8 people benefit from it."
Even there, I would want to at least be fair and 
say ... if it hadn’t been a theatre that had
 just done Hairspray, I might have still been 
outraged, but would I have picked up the phone and
 called the guy? Probably not. I still have to look into 
myself to not as selfish about when I choose to be
 outraged about things that affect me and all of us 
like me. But the fact that it was Hairspray and what
 Hairspray is about ... clearly someone who works 
in a place that puts on musicals year-round is working with
 and friends with gay people. To me, that was a slap in 
the face in the realization of ... the crazy Phelps 
who picket funerals, the Bill O’Reillys, and such — 
we know who they are, we know what they think. To me, it is
those among us who silently still feel this way about 
us. Prop. 8, to me, was really just a smokescreen. It
was really about, these people felt, a chance to just
 openly express our disgust with gay people. The fact that 
this was a person who was among us, a form of bigotry 
you don’t even know is there ... I just needed
to call him man to man and then let people know about 
it, to encourage them — maybe it was a little bitchy of me
... I am gay — to e-mail and call him and really make 
it clear to this man, "What have you done?"

Did you get many other composers to stand behind 
you and support what you were saying?
It all happened so fast. The fact that he
 resigned so fast and that his resignation was accepted
 so fast — I’d like to think, Oh, look what I 
did. And by the way, it was a few of us, not just me.
 But as big as my ego is, I came to the realization 
that I’m not that powerful. There clearly had 
to be other reasons, and this was the straw that broke the
 camel’s back. I understand why 
the theater felt sucker-punched and why they didn't 
return my calls. But I left messages saying, "Let's figure 
out a creative resolution to this." And the truth is,
when I really think about it, I would have written 
this to be performed at such an evening. I would have
written numbers to be performed like that. But they didn't 
call me. And I understand. I still need to figure out how to 
allow the people who were sucker-punched by my actions
 to express themselves to me.

Back to the musical ... did any of you get into
 conversations about Prop. 8 on the set?
There just wasn’t time. We hit the ground 
running, and there was no time except to say "Cut,"
"Action," and "Laugh."

Well, you certainly got it done. And amazingly,
 with tons of standout moments.
And if we’d had an extra few hours or
I ’d had more time to write, we’d have 
done even more.

Tags: World, World

Latest videos on Advocate

From our Sponsors

READER COMMENTS ()