The Homecoming Players in Ithaca, New York, for which I serve as artistic director, won a slot in the national series of staged readings of Dustin Lance Black’s new documentary play, 8, which we performed on August 10. We were thrilled to be part of this program, and a fine party we had.
Our plan was to raise enough money to fund our one-night-only production and also have a nice chunk left over to donate to the show’s co-sponsor (along with co-sponsor Broadway Impact), the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER).
AFER is the sole sponsor of the federal lawsuit for marriage equality, the case called Perry v. Schwarzenegger (now Perry v. Brown), which tested the constitutionality of the dogged and depressingly popular Prop 8. As you know by now, this is the ballot initiative (passed in November 2008) to ban same-sex marriage in the state of California. The proposition has been through every level of court in the state, and been struck down every step of the way. Now its ultimate fate rests with the highest court in the land. The proponents of Prop 8 have appealed to the the Supreme Court to hear the case, and rule on it, once and for all. Counsel for the plaintiffs, Theodore Olson and David Boies, have asked the Justices to put this hideous measure out of its misery without rehearing it yet again. When the Court reconvenes and conferences in October, we shall see what happens.
The play is drawn largely from the actual transcripts of the 2010 federal trial, held in the district court for Northern California, in San Francisco. The play is about the case, but also about the people—four plaintiffs seeking nothing more and nothing less than to be treated equally under the law. The play has personal resonance for me, having lived in California during the despicable “vote yes” campaign and the discouraging passage of Prop 8, on the same day that President Obama was elected.
8 the Play is a window to the struggle that thousands and thousands of LGBT couples and families face, every single day, just to play on the same field as the heterosexual majority. Institutional and social discrimination against the LGBT community remain at alarming levels in America, but there has been progress, and good change is possible.
Our 8 event exceeded our expectations, an enormously gratifying experience, and evidence of the strong enthusiasm for progress that runs through our progressive and arts-alive community. There is lots of good theater here in Ithaca, and a lot of enthusiasm for it. Very nice.
The performance sizzled. The script of 8 is compelling and instructive, at the same time that it can be surprisingly silly. The playwright’s note to the director: “In the trial there were plenty of tears but many more laughs.” Among other inherently dramatic elements, the unpreparedness, ineptitude, and baseless hubris of the defense counsel Charles Cooper’s arguments are impressive–you can’t make some of this stuff up.
The cast of seventeen, ranging in age from 18 to 70, was drawn from more than ten theater companies in Ithaca, many of the actors sight unseen. Not a false word was spoken by anyone. The lively talkback after the reading drew ready and poignant stories from cast, guests, and our robust and rapt audience alike. You can’t achieve such a good reading with minimal rehearsal unless your actors are spot on, and ours were.
The comfortable Hockett Hall is ideal for staged readings. Built as a recital hall (with a gift from my mother, a very grateful Ithaca College professor emerita) for the School of Music, it is of course perfectly suited for live music. It’s an acoustically very live space–you can hear a pin drop on that high-polished stage. Our company needed no mics or amplification of any sort.
Guests of honor for the evening included Captain (now Major) Steve Snyder-Hill (instantly celebrated for what he has come to refer to as “the booing thing,” which happened last September in response to the question he phoned in to the Republican presidential debate, about DADT); Steve’s husband, Josh Snyder-Hill (a formidable activist in his own right); and Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick (among the very first to sign on to the Mayors for the Freedom to Marry last winter).
Steve summed up the experience on his Facebook page: “This weekend Joshua and I attended the Homecoming Players’ [production of 8]! This was one of the most memorable moments we have had to date. We have done many appearances on TV and been guests of honor before, but there was so much love and passion by all of these great actors to show the public the harm that our courts have done to gay people. We were so moved by all the warm affection of all of the people of Ithaca, including their Mayor. This one will definitely be one of those memories that will outlast all the others. Thanks Rachel and Arthur [Bicknell, the Homecoming Players’ literary manager], you guys are the best, we will always remember you!!! We intentionally waited to see the play, and not watch it, even with all the famous actors who have done it, and I can totally say that no one will do it better, because of the heart that was put into this. It was worth waiting, and we could never experience it like that again. Rachel and those actors were top notch driven by passion!!! Even bringing tears to our eyes several times during the play…”
Our production of 8 succeeded. We topped our fundraising goal, and were able to donate a healthy $2,500 to AFER. All in all, it was a grand celebration, with high fives and hilarity all around.
8 the Play gave me an exquisite opportunity to marry my twin passions, for art and social justice. The Equality Mantra, the page I administer, is growing like a weed, and now boasts over 27,000 members. Many and much bigger equality pages, all over Facebook, are bursting at the seams with activity, as well. You could even say we’re beginning to feel a little fat with our hopes for real evolution. The marriage equality community is becoming the size of a small—maybe a medium-size—country. We’re all in this together.
Meanwhile, the Prop 8 saga continues. The forces that proposed it refuse to relent, in spite of the measure’s being struck down by courts on every level short of the Supreme Court. On August 27, the trial judge for the Ninth Circuit ordered the case closed, so now Prop 8, which would deny equal rights to a whole segment of the population, is at long last on the threshold of its final destination. Today I am hopeful that Prop 8’s demise, in the end, will be quick and clean, that the Justices will refuse to take the case, and that very soon thereafter, California will once again hear wedding bells.
I am immensely grateful to everyone involved in our 8—audience; cast; guests; our incredibly generous donors (who numbered over one hundred, showed faith in us, and took us past our goal in support of national marriage equality); and, last but not least, Broadway Impact and AFER, for entrusting us with a spot in this historic series. I hope we did them proud.
Learn more about Rachel’s new novel here —-> Driving in the Rain
Join Rachel on Facebook here —-> The Equality Mantra