Play about marriage equality comes to ToledoWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
Jennifer Rockwood believes theater can change the world — so it’s no surprise she is directing “8,” a play about the fight for marriage equality in California.
The play follows Perry v. Schwarzenegger (now Perry v. Brown) filed by the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) in opposition to Proposition 8, a 2008 amendment that overturned a California Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples marital rights.
“We’re very close to their making a new decision or it moving forward. So this whole year’s been a good year to get the word out. And, of course, I have a lot of friends who are gay and I am very sympathetic to the idea that marriage should be equal,” said Rockwood, assistant dean in the College of Innovative Learning at the University of Toledo.
The free staged reading begins at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 7 at the Doermann Theatre in UT’s University Hall. Donations for local advocacy group Equality Toledo will be accepted.
“8” premiered in New York City on Sept. 19, 2011, as a benefit for AFER. The play is the brainchild of Broadway Impact, an organization that promotes marriage equality through theater. The group’s founders, Rory O’Malley, Gavin Creel and Jenny Kanelos, were inspired after reading Perry transcripts. (The court video was not made public.)
“Our minds were blown with how amazing this case was. Our side had so much. We had witnesses and expert after expert,” Kanelos said. The group decided to approach AFER and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who penned the films “Milk” and “J. Edgar,” about putting a play together.
“The court stuff is all actual transcript. Not a word of it has been altered,” Kanelos said of Black’s script.
Black also based his script on interviews he conducted with the families involved in the case.
“People are really relating to that. They’re seeing gay families are as normal as straight families,” Kanelos said.
“8” got more attention when a Los Angeles production, which included famous actors, was put online. The day after it hit the Web, Broadway Impact, which licenses the show, had 150 requests from theaters around the country.
Rockwood had read about “8” on the Internet before deciding to stage her own show. She was one of the first people to put in a request, Kanelos said.
The Toledo play features two out-of-town actors in addition to local favorites like Kate Abu-Absi. UT faculty and other community members will perform on stage for the first time.
“The actors were easy to get. It was convincing people who’d never acted before to be in it,” Rockwood said. “I was picking people that I knew would bring in different crowds. People that I thought were charismatic whether they were actors or not.”
Carter Wilson, a UT professor of political science, will play a witness — also a political scientist.
“When I looked at the script, I was just very excited and thrilled and honored to have the opportunity to play the role,” Wilson said. He is encouraging his students to attend for extra credit.
“I see this also as an educational experience, an opportunity to inform the students and the public about a critically important issue,” he said.
John Adams, UT’s senior director for early outreach, will portray attorney Ted Olson. Olson served as solicitor general under President George W. Bush and is also an advocate for marriage equality. The attorney responded to a letter Adams wrote him.
“He was very nice and very encouraging. He just mentioned I hope my words will inspire you and help you play the part. He said he would love to be there if he could,” Adams said.
Abu-Absi will play Kris Perry, one of the plaintiffs.
“[‘8’ is] the perfect thing for a college campus,” she said. “This is what college is all about.”
Kanelos agreed. “Obviously, young people are just more ahead of the rest of the world on this issue,” she said, adding college is “really when you are discovering who you are and what views you have.”
The Toledo community has been very supportive of “8,” Rockwood said. Several businesses and UT colleges are sponsoring the production.
“For all of the different kinds of people, this is what great theater is. You have carpenters who are building stuff for us, you have lighting people, you have sound people,” she said.
Equality Toledo is also helping and hosting a panel after the show.
“Theater and art, they create a venue for people to maybe see an issue from a different perspective and open the dialogue,” said Sherry Tripepi, executive director of Equality Toledo.
“I’d hope that [‘8’] does open some dialogue to those who are more hesitant to support marriage equality,” she added.
“8” is also sponsored by Catalyst Theatre Network, a recently formed group that includes Rockwood and Abu-Absi.
“We try to pick plays that speak to the human condition,” Rockwood has said, later adding that the name Catalyst speaks to what the play is trying to accomplish.
Productions of “8” in Ohio are special to Broadway Impact, Kanelos said. Ohio Wesleyan University put on a September production and chronicled the journey online through blogs and videos.
“We found that kids, young people and high school students are so passionate [about marriage equality]. They don’t see the difference between a gay person and a straight person,” she said.
Kanelos also said her co-founders are from the Buckeye State. Creel comes from Findlay.
“It’s kind of where all our hearts are,” she said.