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8: Realer than real

6 Mar

I’ve been watching the big star-studded benefit performance of 8 in bits and pieces since it was performed and broadcast on the Internet. I’ve been fighting not just against time zones and travel but a series of remarkably spotty Internet connections to do so.

Obviously, the piece is interesting to me for what it is as its core – mostly actual text from the Prop 8 hearings. While the transcripts are accessible to the public, video of the proceedings has not been and really, who reads transcripts like this anyway? Sure, we all know someone who does, but the fact is most of us just don’t.

What’s really interesting to me about 8 – other than that it exists and that the cast of this particular performance involved enough A-listers (among others) to command some serious attention, is the way it straddles the line between fact and fiction, and the way it reminds us, constantly, about both. 8 is relentlessly knowing about its content and the context of the stars who have performed in it.

I also know that it being a staged reading can throw people. Why don’t the actors know their lines better? and Ugh, I can hear them turning pages. I’m by and large no fan of staged readings myself. They’re a useful vehicle for some material and often enjoyable, even if I personally prefer a more immersive experience when I got to the theater.

However, in the case of 8, I love that it’s a staged reading, because it reminds us, at every moment, that these are the words of real people, not characters, that we are hearing, and that the documents exist for us to find life and truth in. It also means that every moment on stage reminds us that this is what we were not allowed to see.

8‘s casting is also fascinating and chilling. I’m only talking about the recent benefit performance in Los Angeles right now, but watching Jane Lynch (who is openly gay) portray, with a truly ferocious anger that’s as frightened as it is frightening, a leader in the anti-equality movement is just about one of the most wrenching and exhausting things I’ve ever seen.

And while it’s humorous in its way, Lynch in such a role is also a sneaky nod to the suspicion that many of us have that at least some vehemently anti-gay individuals may be struggling with their own experience of same-sex attraction and taking it out on the rest of us.

So 8 is a weird animal. It’s largely a preaching to the choir show that tells us nothing we didn’t already know, at least in the abstract. Were there any surprises in Chris Colfer’s performance as Ryan Kendall, a witness in the case who was enrolled in reparative therapy by his family? No. But did I feel shocked and unable to breathe during those two and a half minutes he was on stage anyway? Yes.

On some level, 8 may be a more effective tool than the video of the actual proceedings we’ll never get. Because 8 is not just an act of information, but of protest, and it makes the courtroom environment as vibrant and dramatic as most people expect from TV but quickly learn it rarely is in non-fiction life after an experience or two of jury duty.

8 will go on to have performances with celebrity casts in other cities in all probability, as well as be performed in smaller cities and towns and colleges as an act of information, protest and fundraising, much as The Laramie Project and The Vagina Monologues have been and continue to be. There is also talk of it being turned into a film.

What I’m curious about is what 8 can do beyond preaching to the choir (and raising money). Do you know anyone who has watched it and gone from silent support of equality to activism or contribution? And more than that, have you seen it change anyone’s minds? I’m really curious to know people’s personal experiences with it.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t seen the Los Angeles performance yet, it is currently available online for the next few days only. I’d urge you to check it out, even if you are already deeply familiar with this case and its issues.

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7 Responses to “8: Realer than real”

  1. Gabija March 6, 2012 at 9:03 am #

    My biggest regret is that I can’t show this play to my parents. They don’t know English well enough to understand it and I’m not sure I’d be able to translate everything to them. It’s such a shame because while they’re not actively fighting against marriage equality, they just don’t understand why marriage equality is necessary in the first place and think that LGBT communitty should be happy with the way everything is right now. I guess I’ll just have to try and convey the most important parts of it to them once I get a chance.

  2. NellieNDM March 6, 2012 at 9:21 am #

    I watch way too much Glee…
    I misread the “choir show” phrase from “It’s largely a preaching to the choir show that tells us nothing we didn’t already know” as “show choir”.

    Great insights, as usual.

  3. Kate March 6, 2012 at 11:24 pm #

    How long will it be available online? I have plans to watch with friends on Saturday night; hopefully they won’t take it offline before then?

  4. David C. March 7, 2012 at 5:14 pm #

    I think Colfer shows premise as an actor, but I am increasingly disturbed by his ever growing ego. I just watched a video of him arriving to the theater, and “diva” or “brat” would be too kind and tame to describe him. It’s difficult for me to enjoy someone’s performance when they are so obnoxious in real life. Whoever his mother is, she needs to bring him back down to earth with the rest of us folk.

    • RM March 7, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

      I’m approving this, despite some discomfort and despite knowing that I’m tempted to have this conversation with you while being aware that I may not be able to maintain a tone I’m comfortable with for myself in doing so.

      But in general, FWIW, I don’t have a lot of patience for celebrity performers being criticized for not engaging fans at every turn (or whatever the issue is — haven’t seen the video you are referring to, so I may be missing something), especially considering the hours folks like Colfer work, and the BS that many of them put up with — the guy doesn’t have a body guard for fun.

      But I’m going to leave my thoughts there, and ask anyone who engages this to try to do so civilly.

    • dontturnitoff March 7, 2012 at 8:55 pm #

      Yes, I’m sure the rest of us folk, and Chris Colfer’s mother, would handle nonstop media scrutiny, fan idiocy, unrealistic expectations, invasive photography, intense social/professional pressure and the threat of violence MUCH better than this 21yo kid has.

      Particularly if we had as much to show for ourselves as this jumped-up “brat.”

      How right you are, how much you’ve gleaned from whatever 12-second, illegally downloaded video clip you scraped off the internet floor.

      (LfT, feel free to delete if I’ve not managed civility.)

    • Moriah March 14, 2012 at 11:24 pm #

      I find it annoying that people use such words about people without providing a link to the video so we could see for ourselves or, at the least, explaining what the behavior was that led you to call him a diva and a brat. All videos I’ve seen on Chris Colfer, he seems genuine and kind but with a sense of humor that rubs some people wrong … it’s a sense of humor that I personally love but I know it’s not for everyone.

      Depending on his actual behavior in the video, I’d likely give him a pass as no one can be perfect at all times while in the public eye as much as celebrities today are.

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