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Thursday, October 17, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Proposition 8 battle gets its day on stage

‘8’ uses actual transcripts to reflect drama, reality in courtroom

The play is called “8,” after California’s Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California.

It’s about the court battle to overturn Proposition 8, and you might even say it is the battle itself. Dustin Lance Black’s script is taken almost entirely from court transcripts of the case. The play has been produced as a reading 200 times around the country in less than a year.

Now, a cast of 21 Spokane actors, directed by Troy Nickerson and produced by Sallie J. Christensen, will do a staged reading at the Bing Crosby Theater Wednesday under license from the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which filed the case, and Broadway Impact.

The Spokane performance will be notable for two reasons:

• Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, two of the four plaintiffs in the case, will be in Spokane to participate in a moderated discussion after the play.

• “8” is being performed in memory of David Gigler, who died in June while rehearsing a play at Interplayers Professional Theatre. Gigler and director Nickerson were in a registered partnership in Washington, which provided legal protections similar to marriage.

“When you lose someone like that, it shows how incredibly important it is to have laws to protect yourself,” Nickerson said. “We did have a legally protected partnership. It would have been a totally different thing without that … our house, our insurance.”

That’s why Katami, who works for an L.A. fitness company, believes it has been worth the long court battle. He also believes that “8,” in which he is, essentially, a character, has been a valuable vehicle for airing these issues.

“This play says that if you’re going to have an educated discussion and debate, you can’t do it based on a bumper-sticker campaign,” said Katami, by phone from L.A.

The idea for the play arose when the U.S. District Court hearing the case wouldn’t allow live video of the proceedings. AFER and screenwriter Black (“Milk,” “J. Edgar”) decided the next best thing would be to create a play using the actual transcripts. Black boiled down weeks of testimony into a 90-minute play.

According to Katami, it captures the often tense and dramatic nature of the court case. He called the script “balanced,” and said it attempts to treat both sides fairly. Yet Katami said that the law, not anyone’s morality and religious views, is the crux of both the court case and the play.

“We’re just trying to say, the law protects all people via the Constitution,” Katami said.

A year after Proposition 8 passed in California, voters in Washington upheld a domestic partnership law. This year, Washington legislators passed a same-sex marriage law, but it has not gone into effect, pending a voter referendum this November.

Katami said the play is relevant for Washington, because it shows how easily ballot measures can strip away rights. Katami and the other plaintiffs have won several crucial battles, but are waiting to see if the case will go to the U.S. Supreme Court. They are, he said, “in a waiting pattern.”

The Spokane cast of 21 will include a number of well-known local theatrical names, including Patrick McHenry-Kroetch, Thomas Heppler, Wes Dietrick, Scott Miller, Mark Pleasant, Kate Vita, Marianne McLaughlin, Andrew Ware Lewis and Abbey Crawford.

Gigler would have been part of the cast, too, if not for his sudden death. Gigler, said Christensen, was “outspoken about his passion for equal rights.”

Meanwhile, Nickerson, still in shock, hopes that directing “8” will be therapeutic. In any case, he said, “it will be worthwhile.”

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