On Nov. 8 at 8 p.m. and for an admission price of $8, Hope United Church of Christ in Naperville, Ill., will host a staged reading of 8, The Play chronicling the federal trail for marriage equality spurred by the passage of California's Proposition 8. Replacing the original star-studded cast, including actors George Clooney and Brad Pitt, 21 congregation and community members will relive the unprecedented court case in hopes of spreading the message of love and equality for everyone.
"Marriage equality is something very near and dear to our hearts," said Hope UCC pastor, the Rev. Timoth Sylvia. "Doing something like this really sets us apart from the faith communities that are more conservative and sends the message that there is a local Christian congregation that is in support of not only marriage equality, but equality for all."
Hope UCC was one of three organizations in the Chicago area chosen to receive the rights to do a reading. The church had to complete the application process with The American Foundation for Equal Rights and Broadway Impact, the organizations coordinating the readings. Each applicant has to determine where the reading will take place, confirm that any revenue generated from the event will go toward AFER, and agree to initiate a dialogue on the topic of marriage equality afterward. Two Hope UCC members with theater experience are directing the play, and Rick Garcia, director of Equal Marriage Illinois, will host a Q-and-A session after the performance.
[The American Foundation for Equal Rights] was a little impressed that a church was applying," Sylvia said. "It was mostly theater groups that were sending in applications."
The reading will take place at Center Stage Theater, a 162-seat playhouse across the street from Hope UCC. Half of the tickets have been presold, and Sylvia expects the Thursday night event to be sold out. So far the audience is as diverse as the congregation itself, a good mix of church and community members, with some people traveling more than an hour from Chicago to take part.
"We are a wonderful microcosm of the denomination – we are diverse theologically, racially, and very diverse in the sexuality of our membership," said Sylvia, adding that about 25-30 percent of the congregation identifies as LGBT. "I think this is just an opportunity as a congregation to live into our understanding of the church that we are being called to be."
Written by Academy Award-winner Dustin Lance Black, 8, The Play chronicles the case of Perry v. Brown using official court transcripts, first-hand observations of courtroom proceedings, and interviews with the plaintiffs and their families. In 2008, a narrow majority of California voters passed Proposition 8, the initiative that denied gays and lesbians the right to marry, and AFER was formed to file a federal court challenge. After a 13-day trial that highlighted the personal struggles of gay couples Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, and Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, and included testimonies from experts who provided cultural, historical, economic, psychological and sociological contexts to the debate around marriage equality, the district court ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional in Aug. 2010. The defense immediately filed an appeal and the case is now in the California Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
For more information on the upcoming performance or to purchase tickets, visit the Hope UCC website.
Readings are currently taking place around the country by organizations that meet the requirements. To find a reading in your area or for information about hosting a reading, visit 8, The Play's website.