Play reading of ‘8’ to show gay marriage debate in new light

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The K-State School of Music, Theatre and Dance is preparing to bring the drama, conflict and truth of the same-sex marriage debate to life with its production of “8,” a one-night-only reading of a new play at Nichols Theatre on Sunday at 7 p.m.

“8” chronicles the federal trial for marriage equality, using verbatim transcripts from various trials concerning the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 as a basis for the script.

“The two universities are the only places in Kansas that are doing it,” said Jennifer Vellenga, assistant professor of acting in the school and director of the stage reading. “Back in August, John Uthoff, our director of theatre, got an email from Broadway Impact. People from all across the country were doing it, and they said they didn’t have a representative from Kansas.”

Broadway Impact, an organization of theatre artists and fans in support of marriage equality, joined forces with the American Foundation for Equal Rights to put on the original show, written by Dustin Lance Black. Black also wrote “Milk,” a 2008 biographical film about gay politician and activist Harvey Milk.

“The original readings were in L.A. and New York,” said Marci Mauller, managing director of the school and producer of “8.” “Stars like George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Jamie Lee Curtis and many others were involved.”

The K-State cast for this production will be made up of 21 people, including some K-State student volunteers.

“We decided to bring community members and students together,” Vellenga said. “We have people from the community, several gay and lesbian citizens who are playing parts, faculty members and students involved, to make 21 people in the cast as a whole.”

Vellenga said that organizing the show taught her more about the actual legislation than she had ever known before.

“It’s a lot to digest. I thought I understood the proposition, but I only knew a bit before I stared looking at it like this,” Vellenga said. “This play is so important because it has the words of the trial in it, even though that’s been sealed. The play was written from the real transcripts of the trial, which had been locked away. You can’t get to that stuff any more.”

In addition to the performance, “8” will feature a talk-back session with the audience, of which Vellenga will be the moderator. Audience members will be able to ask the cast questions, and the session will feature a panel of guest speakers.

“We do have a couple panelists,” Mauller said. “We have Chris Renner, who has been a gay rights activist all his life, and Victor Force, interim minister of the First Congregational Church. We’re hoping to get people on both sides of the issue to talk.”

Vellenga hopes that the audience learns as much as she did.

“I think when you’re working at a university, it’s all about education,” Vellenga said. “It’s not about pushing your beliefs, but being able to educate people about important issues and what theatre can do. The fact that all of those Hollywood elite did it shows that theatre is a different medium than any other way to tell the story.”

Vellenga hopes the play will premiere to a full and mixed audience, and that the power of the show will reach someone who wants to know more.

“People may come, think that it’s interesting and then leave,” Vellenga said. “But if nothing else, it’s interesting. It’s entertaining. It’s about real human beings coming together and telling this story, and there’s something special about that rawness.”

The reading of “8” is free and open to the public to attend.

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