Prop 8 On Trial

Prop 8 On Trial is a multi-media performance examining the 2010 trial, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, challenging the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 that banned same-sex marriage.

Using more than 12 actors portraying more than 40 attorneys, plaintiffs, and expert witnesses, the performance telescopes the trial’s key arguments into a performance that includes key video evidence submitted by the plaintiffs and professional and amateur media coverage of the trial. It also includes The Bloggers (a composite of the many journalists and activists who live-blogged and “tweeted” the proceedings) as a sort of Greek chorus that comment on and contextualize the action.

This project takes on a landmark case that marks the first time same-sex marriage was debated in federal court. Two days into the trial, however, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling blocking the broadcast of a video feed of the trial. In response, news and activists organizations began live-blogging the proceedings. Those blogs, as well as actual trial transcripts, twitter-feeds and newspaper reports are the framework of the performance. It is widely predicted the case will eventually make it to the U.S. Supreme Court meaning the trial, and ensuing appeals, will go down in the history books as a landmark civil rights case, stirring vigorous public debate along the way. While trials are inherently dramatic, the case prepared by Ted Olson and David Boies, nationally prominent attorneys who argued on opposite sides of the landmark Bush v. Gore, uses the Aristotelian principles of persuasion, ethos, logos and pathos to create a rhetorical Leviathan. By including the deeply personal stories of the gay plaintiffs and witnesses, they bring a human dimension to their argument, buttressed by internationally renowned experts in the fields of history, psychology, sociology, and economics. The result is the raw material for a riveting piece of theater has been called by one journalist, “a theatrical classroom.”

Prop 8 On Trial is also a story about 21st century media. Much of the testimony revolves around the advertising campaign conducted by the pro-Prop 8 groups and the influence those ads had on the outcome of the election, and the impact of the messaging on the gay population that was targeted. Just outside the actual trial proceedings was an even larger media event that occurred as the internet became the sole public source for daily coverage of the proceedings. A large number of bloggers posted their own “transcripts” along with commentary that created competing narratives of the trial and provided the only “images” available to the public. Inspired by the Living Newspaper plays of the Federal Theater Project during the 1930s, Prop 8 On Trial utilizes original source material and live blogging of the trial providing a “ripped from the headlines” immediacy to the project.

A six-hour workshop performance was presented at the Fishtank Performance Studio on February 15, 2010 with 25 local actors. Upcoming performances of Prop 8 On Trial are scheduled at the Fishtank for September 17-20, 2010.

About the Artist:

Lisa Cordes has been a member of the Kansas City arts community for 25 years, working as a theater artist, arts administrator, and educator.   As a resident artist at the Fishtank Performance Studio, Lisa returns to her roots – creating “poor theater” in small, unadorned spaces focused on both original and “found” scripts that bring inquiring minds together to make experiences that challenge audiences to reconsider themselves and the world around them.

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