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Gay marriage court case focus of ‘8’

By Russell Axon
On October 10, 2012

A court case discussing the constitutional rights of gay marriage took place over the weekend. However, this was no regular courtroom.

UT faculty and Toledo community members performed a staged reading of “8,” a dramatization of California’s Proposition 8 case, Sunday, Oct. 7.

The performance began at 7:30 p.m. in Doermann Theatre and was followed by talkback session with the cast and members of Spectrum, Equality Toledo and the university’s office of women and gender studies.

The cast included over 22 veteran and inexperienced actors consisting of students, theatre, law and chemistry professors, professional actors from Toledo and out-of-state, and local media figures.

“[The idea] is put lots of different kinds of people [on stage] that will bring in lots of different kinds of people,” said Jennifer Rockwood, the play’s director.

Rockwood, who is also director of first-year experience at UT, also acted in the production. She said despite the different levels of experience, the cast only had two rehearsals since the production was a staged reading.

“Everyone had the [script] in their hands so they could read it,” the former theatre professor said. “Many of them were so familiar with it they didn’t have to read it all.”

The play was adapted by Oscar winner Dustin Lance Black, whose credits include “Milk” and “J. Edgar.” Dialogue is directly from the court transcripts and first-hand interviews from the Perry v. Brown (formerly Perry v. Schwarzenegger) trial, where the American Foundation for Equal Rights contested the constitutionality of Proposition 8, a California ballot initiative that limited marriage to opposite-sex couples.

Rockwood said the play’s story isn’t “strictly the courtroom dialogue.”

“It’s been thatricalized a little bit,” she said. “It’s courtroom drama like ... ‘Perry Mason’ or ‘L.A. Law.’”

Rockwood also said the play is a great way to start discussions about the topic of gay marriage because it presents all the arguments.

“You hear the plaintiff’s side and you hear the opponent’s side and you hear what the judge has to say and you get to listen to the witnesses,” she said.

The initial trial ended with a Californian district court judge ruling the initiative unconstitutional. The decision was appealed this year to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Readings of the play are promoted by the American Foundation for Equal Rights and Broadway Impact, two groups who advocate gay marriage. Over 100 readings have been performed throughout the country, many of which featured big name actors like George Clooney and Brad Pitt.

Rockwood said she worked for eight months to get the play to Toledo, and recieved funds from the President’s Lecture Series on Diversity, several university colleges and community members, and a handful of friends.

The play ultimately take a marriage equality stance, something which Rockwood said was very important to her.

“I think most gay people understand the issues, but I’m not so sure straight people understand the issues,” she said. “I like to think that the kind of conversations that go on at the University of Toledo ... are catalytic ... they make you look at different things from different angles.”

The talkback after the show expanded on the arguments in the play and the history of gay marriage.

Rockwood said the one-night-only performance brought in an estimated 400 people, and she plans to put a video recording of the reading on YouTube.

“Everyone has been very complimentary,” she said. “[The play] came together beautifully.”

Rockwood seems to be drawn to works based on controversial topics — her next directorial project is a production of “God of Carnage,” a French play about bullying. She said her project choices are no coincidence.

“I think if you’re an artist, you like to address social issues,” she said. “I’m always involved in something, and hopefully they’re things that help us change the world.”

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