On Tuesday, Nov. 13 in St. Mary’s Hall, a cast of St. Mary’s College faculty and students staged a reading of the play “8.”
The play details the events surrounding the landmark trial of Perry v. Schwarzenegger, otherwise known as Proposition 8. The script is made up of the transcripts from the actual trial in an effort to demystify what happened in the courtroom and broadcast to the world what couldn’t be silenced: sexual discrimination could not be ruled constitutional in a court of law.
On election day in 2008, the state of California rewrote their state constitution and added Proposition 8, an amendment that banned marriage for gay and lesbian couples. In response, Sandy Stier & Kristin Perry, and Jeff Zarrillo & Paul Katami, two homosexual couples, filed a suit against the proposition in Federal Court. They were represented by the two lawyers Ted Olsen and David Boies, who are most famous for represnting opposing sides of Bush v. Gore . Olsen and Boies argued for the trial to be broadcast live, but the opponents of marriage equality filed an emergency appeal to block the broadcast. To ensure that the public got the right to see the historic proceedings, the famed Dustin Lance Black wrote the play to chronicle the trial.
The play begins on June 16, 2010 during the closing arguments of Perry v. Schwarzenegger.
The play at St. Mary’s was originally set to be staged on Tuesday, Oct. 30, but it had to be rescheduled due to Hurricane Sandy. Despite the date change and a few cast changes due to scheduling conflicts, the reading was held for a completely packed auditorium. The stage was set simply, with chairs on either side of a judge’s podium to represent either side of a courtroom and a screen that was used to show pro-Prop. 8 ads used during the election throughout the performance.
The event was sponsored by Political Science Professor Michael Cain and Art History Associate Professor Joe Lucchesi from the Center for the Study of Democracy. Lucchesi, who played David Boies, produced the show and Jonathan Wagner, ‘12, directed the show. In a short introduction before the show, Cain said that “8” was “an extraordinary event to listen and learn about marriage equality…this is a unifying event for our college.”
Cain discussed this historically significant time for the current generation. He said that Maryland’s Question 6, which was a referendum on the 2012 ballot that allowed same-sex marriage in the state, was a “truly remarkable change for the community, Maryland, and the country.” The Center had originally planned to have Senator Richard Madaleno, a strong proponent for same-sex marriage, in attendance but he wasn’t able to attend because of date change. “This is still an historic evening,” Cain said, “and an historic week. But there is still work to be done.”
Associate Professor of English Beth Charlebois was asked by Lucchesi to help with some of the planning and organization of the event, as well as read her part as Kris Perry.
“I was thrilled to be asked,” said Charlebois, “especially after reading the play which I found very compelling and powerful.” She said that the cast had never read through the play in its entirety as a full cast because of the size of the group and the difficulty of scheduling, but they were able to have a all-day workshop on the Saturday before the original date of the show. “It was incredibly powerful and moving for me to experience the whole play with everyone present in front of an audience of the College community,” she said.
The scheduling complications that arose after Hurricane Sandy significantly changed the feeling surrounding the play, considering its closeness to the election results.
“The play’s relevance to the Maryland election on Question 6 clearly made the play resonate with contemporary politics,” Charlebois said. “Even doing the show after the election…clarified some of the larger issues that need to be addressed on a national level about the status and rights of same-sex couples.”
After the show, a talkback with the Center addressed Question 6 and discussed what happened in Maryland statistically on election night.
“Playing the part of Kris Perry gave me a vivid sense of how much is at stake in this debate not only for same-sex couples but for their children and families,” Charlebois said. “It brought together faculty, students, and staff, gay and straight, together in a way that I will always remember.”