Verbatim theatre

A last-minute injunction blocked the live stream and recordings of the same-sex marriage court case Perry v. Schwarzenegger. So Dustin Lance Black took the trial transcripts and made a play reenacting the whole case.

Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier
InSapphoWeTrust, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Proposition 8 was a 2008 ballot initiative put to the popular vote in California that temporarily banned same-sex marriage in the state. I say temporarily because it was (rightly) overturned as unconstitutional in a contentious court case, known at different stages of its passage through the judicial system as Perry v. Schwarzenegger, Perry v. Brown, and Hollingsworth v. Perry.

Because of the huge effect this court case would have on people’s lives, it was supposed to be recorded and live streamed so that everything would be out in the open. Two days before it was due to begin, though, the defendants successfully blocked the recording and broadcast of the trial.

(Side note: the State of California was the official defendant, hence the “Schwarzenegger” and “Brown” in the case names. The state itself refused to defend this law because they – again, rightly – felt that it was unconstitutional, so a California Republican politician stepped in to argue the other side. His group was the one that blocked the broadcast.)

What do you do when such an important trial is hidden in such a way? Well, a screenwriter and director named Dustin Lance Black decided to make it public in a very creative way: he would take the court transcript and turn it into a play.

Now, there’s a whole sub-branch of theatre that is non-fiction – that is, the words are from authentic and real sources like interviews or letters. Think of it like a documentary in the form of a play. Black’s play, called 8, simply took the court transcript from this case verbatim and staged it.

You can watch the whole thing on YouTube, with a star-studded cast that includes Jamie Lee Curtis, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Martin Sheen, George Takei, Jane Lynch, and Yeardley Smith.

As for the court case itself, Proposition 8 was struck down. This decision was appealed to the Supreme Court, unsuccessfully, and as soon as it was legal again the two women at the centre of the case – Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier – were married by the same California Attorney General who had declined to defend the proposition in the first place.

That Attorney General? As of today, she’s the Vice President of the United States.

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