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.