On Saturday night, the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) and Broadway Impact presented the West Coast premiere reading of the play 8 before a sold-out crowd in Los Angeles and a worldwide audience watching on YouTube.
“8” is an unprecedented account of the Federal District Court trial in Perry v. Schwarzenegger (now Perry v. Brown), the case filed by AFER to overturn Proposition 8, which stripped gay and lesbian Californians of the fundamental freedom to marry.
Saturday night’s West Coast premiere reading of “8” was written by Academy Award-winning screenwriter and AFER Founding Board Member Dustin Lance Black and directed by AFER Founding Board Member Rob Reiner. Bryan Singer, acclaimed director of The Usual Suspects and X-Men, was Saturday night’s presenting sponsor. The benefit event raised more than $2 million for the fight to secure full federal marriage equality.
An audience from around the world tuned in to watch a live stream of the West Coast premiere reading of “8” on YouTube. Video of Saturday night’s performance can be viewed at www.youtube.com/AmericanEqualRights.
The star-studded event was attended by actress Julie Bowen; actor Ty Burrell; actor Charlie Carver; film producer and AFER Founding Board Member Bruce Cohen; actress Toni Collette; actress Sally Field; actor, comedian and director Christopher Guest; Ambassador James C. Hormel; actress and model Stacy Keibler; former Republican National Committee Chairman and AFER Board Member Ken Mehlman; television producer Jonathan Murray; television producer Max Mutchnik; California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom; Star Trek television and film star Leonard Nimoy; actress and singer Hayden Panettiere; California State Assembly Speaker John A. Perez; actress Kyra Sedgwick; actor Eric Stonestreet; celebrated actress, singer, producer and director Barbra Streisand; actress Sofia Vergara; actress Olivia Wilde; actress Shailene Woodley; comedian and singer Weird Al Yankovic; and others.
“This play will continue to show Americans—one by one—that truth and justice can prevail over prejudice and fear,” said AFER Board President Chad Griffin. “Try as they might, the anti-marriage proponents of Proposition 8 cannot hide their discriminatory arguments from the American people. The fight to secure marriage equality is at the heart of our generation’s search for greater freedom—this play shows why.”
Black, who penned the Academy Award-winning feature film Milk and the film J. Edgar, based “8” on the actual words of the trial transcripts, first-hand observations of the courtroom drama and interviews with the plaintiffs and their families.
The West Coast premiere reading of “8” featured an all-star cast led by Golden Globe Award-winner and Academy and Emmy Award-nominee Brad Pitt as United States District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker, who found Proposition 8 unconstitutional after presiding over the historic twelve-day public trial; and Academy and Golden Globe Award-winner and Emmy Award-nominee George Clooney and Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winner Martin Sheen as Plaintiffs’ lead co-counsel David Boies and Theodore B. Olson, the renowned attorneys who notably faced-off in Bush v. Gore.
Academy, Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winner Christine Lahti and Golden Globe Award-winner Jamie Lee Curtis starred as plaintiffs Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, a lesbian couple together for eleven years and the parents of four boys. Emmy, Golden Globe and Tony Award-nominee Matthew Morrison and acclaimed White Collar television star Matt Bomer played plaintiffs Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, a gay couple together over ten years.
Golden Globe Award-winner and Emmy Award-nominee Kevin Bacon played Charles J. Cooper, the lead attorney for the anti-marriage proponents of Proposition 8. Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winner Jane Lynch starred as prominent opponent of marriage equality Maggie Gallagher, co-founder and former chairman of the National Organization for Marriage. Academy, Golden Globe and Grammy Award-nominee John C. Reilly played David Blankenhorn, founder and president of the Institute for American Values.
Additional roles were played by Emmy Award-winning journalist Campbell Brown; Golden Globe Award-winner, SAG and Emmy Award-nominee Chris Colfer; Emmy Award-nominee Jesse Tyler Ferguson; prominent gay rights activist Cleve Jones; Tony Award-nominee Rory O’Malley; acclaimed Star Trek television and film star George Takei; Emmy Award-winner Yeardley Smith; and Vanessa Garcia, Jansen Panettiere, James Pickens, Jr. and Bridger Zadina.
The Los Angeles reading of “8” came just weeks after a landmark decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upholding the historic August 2010 ruling of the Federal District Court that found Proposition 8 unconstitutional. The Ninth Circuit concluded: “Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples. The Constitution simply does not allow for laws of this sort.”
The story for “8” is framed by the trial’s historic closing arguments in June 2010, and features the best arguments and testimony from both sides. Scenes include flashbacks to some of the more jaw-dropping moments from trial, such as the admission by the Proposition 8 supporters’ star witness, David Blankenhorn, that “we would be more American on the day we permitted same-sex marriage than we were on the day before.”
“People need to witness what happened in the Proposition 8 trial, if for no other reason than to see inequality and discrimination unequivocally rejected in a court of law where truth and facts matter,” said Black. “I’ve built my career around exposing and uncovering ‘the real story.’ The goal of ‘8’ is to show the world that marriage equality is a basic constitutional right and that those who would deny this basic freedom from loving, committed couples have only vitriol and baseless hyperbole to fall back on. The facts are on our side and truth always finds the light. We are doing all we can to help speed that process along.”
“Because this case involves the constitutional rights of millions of people, it is especially important for the public to see what happened during the trial,” said AFER Executive Director Adam Umhoefer. “Both sides had an equal opportunity and ample resources to assemble their strongest teams and put forth their absolute best arguments in an impartial setting. Viewed side-by-side there is simply no question that there was only one decision the court could have reached. The moment we knew the trial would not be publicly broadcast we immediately began planning to find a way to show the world what happened in this historic case. This play and our partnership with YouTube and Broadway Impact allow us to do exactly that.”
The anti-marriage proponents of Proposition 8 vigorously objected to a television and Internet broadcast of the proceedings of the historic twelve-day public trial held in January 2010. Nevertheless, the Federal District Court, without objection from any party, recorded the proceedings on video. That digital video recording is now under seal as part of the case record.
“8” had its much-heralded Broadway world premiere reading on September 19, 2011, at the sold-out Eugene O’Neill Theatre in New York City. The production brought in over $1 million to support AFER’s efforts to achieve full federal marriage equality.
Throughout 2012, AFER and Broadway Impact are licensing “8” for free to colleges and community theatres nationwide in order to spur dialogue, understanding and action. Most productions will be followed by a talkback where cast and audience members can discuss the issues presented in the Perry v. Schwarzenegger trial.
“I was lucky enough to watch the closing arguments of Perry v. Schwarzenegger in San Francisco,” said Broadway Impact co-founder Rory O’Malley (Tony Award-nominee for The Book of Mormon). “We knew then and there that audiences needed to see and hear this story live, as we had done. ‘8’ builds on a successful tradition of documentary theatre—plays like The Laramie Project and The Vagina Monologues, which inspire us with their combination of art and activism. We are thrilled to partner with AFER to bring this story to a national audience.”