Ask the people involved in the upcoming production of 8 — a chronicle of the federal constitutional challenge to California's Proposition 8 — what it's about, and you'll get a spectrum of responses.
To co-producer Steve Emily, it's an opportunity for dialogue about gay marriage. To actor Mike Miller, it's a chance to inhabit a role opposite actors he respects. To Colorado College religion professor David Weddle, who will moderate post-performance talkbacks with the audience, it's a David-and-Goliath tale.
But they all see the play — and the case — as a landmark in society's journey from where we were to where we could be.
Emily started that journey when he read that Brad Pitt was joining a Los Angeles production of the play, which premiered on Broadway in 2011. The cast, which included George Clooney, Martin Sheen and Jane Lynch, performed a staged reading from the script, which weaves court transcripts, plaintiff interviews and first-hand observations from the historic Perry v. Schwarzenegger trial that led to the overturning of Prop 8, a constitutional amendment banning same-sex couples from marrying. 8 was penned by Dustin Lance Black, who won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Milk and is a notable LGBT activist.
The more he learned about it, the more Emily thought a staged reading would be a good fit here.
"I brought it to the company and said, 'Here's this opportunity out there. I haven't pursued it yet because I want to get everyone's approval, but we've got to jump on it.' Everybody said yes."
To stage the state premiere, the four-year-old ensemble's members asked the local theater community for help filling the 21 roles. The response exceeded Emily's goals to create a cross-section of talent and broad-based discussion. The cast includes local theater luminaries such as Lynne Hastings, Oscar Robinson, Sammie Joe Kinnett and Drew Martorella, plus non-actors such as Susan Edmondson of the Bee Vradenburg Foundation.
Miller, a SET member, has seen video of that L.A. production and knows a staged reading will present acting challenges.
"When I'm reading something alone, just reading it, I can do the emotion in my head," he says. "But when you're standing on stage, you have to remember where you are in the script," while making occasional eye contact with the audience and cast.
Do they worry that gay-marriage advocates will fill the 45-seat theater and that conservatives will stay home?
"We've been adamant about getting the word out that, no matter where you fall on this issue, your view is represented," Emily says. "All we can do, really, is put it out there. And say, 'You're more than welcome to come in.'"
Weddle puts it in an ideological context: "This case raises the question, 'To what point do you protect the rights of minorities?' When the conservative view becomes the minority view, does Congress have the responsibility to make sure that's respected and honored?"