Exclusive: BIG FISH Creators Speak Out Following Show Cancellation At Pittsburgh Community Theatre Over LGBT Representation

By: May. 17, 2018
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As BroadwayWorld previously reported, The Palisade Playhouse, a Pittsburgh community theatre, has canceled their upcoming production of BIG FISH after the director and several performers quit following a dispute with the producing team over the inclusion of gay ensemble characters in the background of a scene set in Central Park.

Following the incident, BroadwayWorld reached out to the creators of the production - who had this to say:

"This week we learned that an upcoming production of BIG FISH at the Palisade Playhouse in Pittsburgh has been canceled over a disagreement between the director and the theatre. Specifically, the director planned to include a same-sex couple as part of the background action during the song "Stranger."

In defending their decision, the theatre argues that, "the script did not include any reference to the LGBT+ community." That's correct; nowhere in the script does it say that any character is gay or lesbian or trans. But nor does it say they aren't. A director's decision to signal that two silent characters are same-sex parents isn't changing the text. It's providing context and framing. It's directing.

BIG FISH is a musical about parenthood, family and love. These are shared experiences of all human beings.

The theatre continues: "This added moment of focus created questions about whether the director's addition would convey a message about gay marriage in a way that would be seen as inclusive to some but exclusive to others."

Which feels another way of saying, "We didn't want to risk offending anyone."

And look, we get it. BIG FISH has been produced hundreds of times in the U.S. in part because it's so family-friendly and unlikely to offend. There's no sex or violence. In some cases, we will allow for words to be changed or omitted. We do this because we want as many people as possible to get to experience it - both as an audience and as part of a production.

But "family-friendly" shouldn't mean ignoring reality. Let's remember that in America there are all kinds of families, including ones with two dads, two moms, people of all gender identity, color and creed. Family-friendly is something bigger than it once was.

This notion of "thinking bigger" is something Big Fish's hero Edward Bloom would certainly endorse. After all, his friends include a giant, a witch and a werewolf.

When we see #bigfishmusical videos on Instagram of high schools doing Be The Hero, it reminds us that the show we wrote inevitably changes with every production, every player, every choice. That's theater. It exists only because people come together to put on a show.

We're sorry the show won't go on at Palisade Playhouse, but look forward to working with the director and company to find a new home for their production."

-John August and Andrew Lippa

The theatre released the following statement via their Facebook page:

It is with deep sadness that Palisade Playhouse announces a decision to halt production of the upcoming musical "Big Fish".

The decision to cancel "Big Fish" comes on the heels of a dispute between the director and co-founding producers over how to proactively insertrepresentation of an LGBT+ family despite the fact that the script did not include any reference to the LGBT+ community.

In an effort to show genuine acceptance and welcome all, an initial compromise had been made upfront to include two gay fathers holding a baby and walking across
stage as part of a scene with a bustling park setting. The direction shifted with blocking and scene direction that would have created an additional moment of reflection between the lead character and the gay parents during an emotionally charged song about the feelings of becoming a father for the first time. This added moment of focus created question about whether the director's addition would convey a message about gay marriage in a way that would be seen as inclusive to some but exclusive to others.

As a result of the dispute, the director resigned and some cast members followed, creating a divide between the producers, directors, cast
and crew, and igniting a fiery discussion on social media in the days following. Additionally, a campaign to disparage the reputation of the Playhouse emerged, and it soon became clear that working in harmony to produce the show on time and within budget would no longer be possible. Without the ability to move forward as planned, the Playhouse will face a significant financial loss and face the possibility of closing permanently.

Since its founding in July 2016, people
of all different walks of life and with diverse views and beliefs have existed harmoniously and cooperatively within the Playhouse. Throughout this time, the Playhouse successfully produced a variety of family-friendly musicals, a host of choir concerts and events, and was fully immersed in the current 2018 season of shows, concerts and events. All shows were produced and planned with the intention to be welcoming to all, regardless of personal beliefs and views. Many people in the area had happily received the benefit of these offerings.

Palisade Playhouse's founders grieve with those who feel hurt by this decision, but also grieve because of the intolerance and the spite with which they were treated as well. Palisade Playhouse remains true to its founding ideals, and for that reason, Palisade maintains the need as an organization to maintain a level of neutrality on this issue and many other issues, so that all people may feel welcome.

Many took to their Facebook comments to express anger and dismay at the decision.

One commenter, Joanna Obuzor, wrote "Why did it take a compromise to include this scene in the musical? Your statement seems to be a clear illustration of the bias and bigotry of the producing partners."

Another commenter, Samantha Story-Camp writes "I am of the opinion that you are allowed to believe and have faith in any way that you choose and I will defend to the death your right to do that. However, the second that your beliefs somehow diminish or Invalidate someone else's right to exist freely then you and I have a problem. There is absolutely nothing that is not "family friendly" about same sex parents. Nobody would be harmed by seeing 2 loving dads. No one is stopping you from doing what you want to do but if you're going to have an organization that is limited by your faith structure then you need to be upright about that at the onset because it is unfair to bring in people and not let them in on it and not let them make The Choice whether they feel comfortable being a part of it or not. That was the mistake you made. Not the beliefs as much (although I wholeheartedly disagree with you) you do have a right to your beliefs. But to bring people in and not let them know the parameters by which you were going to do this is grossly unfair. You are not the victims in this particular situation. Did people blow it out of proportion? Absolutely they did but you have to live with the ramifications of the decisions that you made and you made those decisions and did not give your actors and your director a fair shake from the onset. I know no one personally involved with this. I am basing this entirely on what I'm reading in your statement."

Big Fish was scheduled to run June 15 through June 30th.

BroadwayWorld reached out to the theatre but they did not have any additional comments at this time.

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