Devin Randall's picture

"Big Fish" Authors Criticized A Community Theater After It Canceled The Show Over Gay Dad Characters

A community theater is under fire after the production of the musical Big Fish was canceled because of a scene with gay dads.

The scene in question occurs during the song “Stranger.” The main character, Will Bloom, hangs out in a park while contemplating becoming a father and the relationship he has with his own father.

The Palisade Playhouse in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was set to perform the musical last week, but conflict arose between the director, Nik Nemec, and the producers.

While Nemec wanted to include two gay fathers as a bouncing point for the main character to reflect on fatherhood, the producers were apprehensive. Initially, the producers ok’d the idea, but they later changed their minds when they saw the blocking for the scene.

This led to Nemec and a few actors quitting in protest and the producers then decided to cancel the show all together.

In a statement posted on the playhouse’s Facebook page, the show’s producers defended their decision:

“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.”

Ultimately, the producers didn’t want to offend any viewers who don’t agree with gay parents, so they caused problems in the rehearsal space and eventually canceled the show all together.

That said, if the producers thought that they were in the right, they were quickly informed that they were wrong by the show’s creators themselves.

Big Fish’s writer John August and composer Andrew Lippa released a statement through Deadline to share how they don’t agree with the playhouse’s producers.

“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

h/t: Deadline​