Dustin Lance Black is not someone who shies away from controversial issues. The playwright and screenwriter has garnered acclaim over the past decade for his socially and politically relevant work, most notably for the Academy Award-winning film “Milk.” A vocal activist for LGBT rights, Black has devoted much of his life to exposing issues of injustice related to the gay community, from discrimination and bullying to same-sex marriage. So when the L.A.-native learned that the proceedings in the Perry vs. Schwarzenegger trial, in which the constitutionality of the infamous Proposition 8’s ban on same-sex marriage was questioned, would not be made public, he decided something needed to be done.
That something became “8,” a documentary play based on transcripts from the trial and interviews with the individuals involved. Between star-studded productions in New York and Los Angeles, featuring the likes of Brad Pitt and George Clooney in a departure from their usual blockbuster roles, and smaller-scale readings on college campuses and at community theaters across the country, the play has raised more than $3.5 million in support of same-sex marriage. This weekend it comes to Louisville, thanks to a partnership between the Louisville Bar Association (LBA) and Bunbury Theatre.
It’s a collaboration that has been a long time coming. LBA president Scott Furkin explains that the organization has been hoping to team up with Bunbury for a few years now, but they were waiting for an appropriate project that blended creativity and entertainment with educational value. When he read about “8” in a New York Times article about the play’s premiere, he knew he’d found the right fit. “We’d been thinking for a long time about collaborating on a project that would highlight a legal issue or showcase the role that lawyers play in pursuing justice,” he says. “When I read about ‘8,’ I thought, ‘Wow, this might really be the project that Bunbury and the LBA could do together.’”
Bunbury’s creative director, Juergen Tossman, agreed, and so the partnership was formed, with the LBA underwriting costs and the Bunbury assuming creative responsibility. “Educating the public about legal issues and the justice system is an important part of the LBA’s overall mission,” Furkin explains. “This is a recurring thing for us: finding a vehicle to offer information to the public in an entertaining way. By offering ‘8’ to the public without charge, we’re advancing our goal of being a legal resource to the community.”
Furkin says the LBA was particularly drawn to the timeliness of the issues presented in “8.” “The question of whether or not same-sex couples should have a legal right to marry seems destined for decision by the United States Supreme Court. Because this play is based on transcripts and interviews with participants on both sides, and because the arguments on both sides of the question were framed by some of the leading lawyers of our time, we felt it would be a good vehicle for educating the public about the constitutional issues involved and really what is one of the more compelling social issues of our day.”
The reading comes at the end of Gay Pride Month, two weeks after Louisville’s own Kentuckiana Pride Festival. It also comes four months after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling by Judge Vaughn Walker, depicted in “8,” that deemed Prop 8 unconstitutional. With the case likely headed to the Supreme Court within the next year, the issue is certainly a controversial one. And while the latest polls indicate that 47 percent of Americans now support legalizing same-sex marriage, new constitutional bans in states like North Carolina demonstrate the gay marriage issue remains far from resolved.
Furkin is careful to emphasize that the LBA is not taking an stance by producing the reading of “8” — rather, its goals are education and awareness. “Reasonable minds can differ,” he says. “Our membership is so diverse, with many different opinions and viewpoints, that it’s rarely possible for us to arrive at just one position on any important question. Our goal in presenting ‘8’ is simply to educate people about the issues. We’re more concerned that they make an informed decision than we are about what decision they reach.”
While the LBA and Bunbury may not be actively striving to change people’s minds, they do seek to open them. By presenting the facts — through the words of the plaintiffs themselves and arguments from some of the best lawyers in the country — they hope to start the conversation.
Friday, June 29
Bunbury Theatre @ The Henry Clay
604 S. Third St.
Free (but tickets required); 7:30 p.m.