POSTED ON APRIL 24, 2013:
Awaiting a Decision
Three local companies pitch in on important show
As the nation anxiously awaits a U.S. Supreme Court ruling -- expected in June -- on same-sex marriage, three local companies mount the timeliest of productions.
But it's just an accident that Theatre Tulsa, Odeum Theatre Company, and Theatre Pops chose to perform 8, a staged-reading drama by David Lance Black. It describes events leading to the California Supreme Court's ruling overturning California Proposition 8, a ballot proposition that restricted the recognition of marriage to opposite-sex couples. Sara Phoenix, artistic director of Theatre Tulsa and director of the show, said that once she'd seen a production of the drama in Oklahoma City, she wanted to do it in Tulsa as soon as possible.
"We didn't know the Supreme Court thing was going to be happening," she said. "I don't know if it's fate or luck or what. But it's timely. The timing just worked out so well."
Phoenix saw the show in October of last year, and by the end of that month, she had -- on behalf of Theatre Tulsa -- secured performance rights.
From there, the concept of a collaborative show took shape, and pieces began falling together.
"Really, we wanted it to be a collaboration between as many theater companies as we could," she said. "We extended the offer to about everybody. But because of scheduling and things, not everyone could commit to being involved."
In the end, 8 took shape as a production by three respected troupes in town -- and the director couldn't be happier with the group effort.
"It's turned out to be perfect," Phoenix said. "Everyone's had such a great time with it, and it worked out like it was supposed to."
The show is a staged reading, meaning that all actors will have scripts in hand, but that's not because of the short rehearsal time. Rather, that's how the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) -- the organization overseeing the rights to the show -- wants it.
"They only license it as a staged reading," Phoenix said. "It kind of takes some of the traditional production value out of it, but I think that works really well, because it forces you to focus on the words."
The cast of 24 includes actors from across the spectrum of Tulsa and Tulsa theater. There's Chad Oliverson, known to most of us as the Official Tulsa Incarnation of Dr. Frank N. Furter in The Rocky Horror Show, there's improv comic actor Sally Adams, there's T.J. Bowlin, whose acting pursuits include female impersonation, and there are mainstay players from several local companies, and everyone has come together to produce a show that the all really believe in.
Among the cast is a couple who's been together for 22 years. While they got legally married in Canada several years ago, actors Pat Hobbs and John Orsulak are among the very people most affected by the court case.
"There are over 1,000 different rights we don't get," Orsulak said. He's the quiet one. And then Hobbs jumped in.
"I hate to use the collective word 'benefits,'" he said. "But there are so many things that we as a gay couple are missing out on." He mentioned the fact that the pair is unable to file a joint tax return, and he brought up the couple's ineligibility for social security survivor benefits. He mentioned that when Orsulak retires next month from his teaching job, transferring to Hobbs' health insurance through his job is not an option.
"I remember about 20 or 25 years ago, my grandmother's uncle died," Hobbs offered. "He had a $50,000 life insurance policy, and he had a partner of 15 years, but the company wouldn't pay out the life insurance policy because he was not a woman. And things like that are still happening, unfortunately."
These are the very issues on which 8 shines a light.
"It's a personal story about four of the plaintiffs," Phoenix said. "[Black] kind of took some license with their dialog, like their personal conversations, but all the court stuff is right from the transcript."
The script jumps from courtroom scenes to the aforementioned personal times and even includes some video from California's pro-Prop. 8 organizations.
"There's talk about how marriage affects children and what it does to the fabric of society, which is all the stuff the proponents of Prop. 8 were saying," Phoenix said, echoing some of the issues touched on by Hobbs and Orsulak.
For all the inequality extant in the couple's standing in the eyes of the law, both men were quick to mention that they don't feel much in the way of discrimination.
"To me, Tulsa hasn't been all that discriminatory," Hobbs said. "Of course, we're both in the arts, and the neighborhood we live in is pretty eclectic. But I don't see what maybe people from other parts of the country would classify as a 'backwoods Oklahoman.' I don't feel discriminated against. We've always been very open, and we just don't get much of that."
While 8 is a big show, there are only three performances scheduled, and Phoenix said that's two more than pretty much anyone else who does the show gets to do, as AFER rarely licenses a show for more than one performance.
Another caveat of performing the piece involves what amounts to a talkback session after each show.
"A part of our licensing agreement is that after each reading, we'll have a discussion or a talkback with the audience, and there's the suggestion of having an attorney or a local law professor on hand for that, which we do," Phoenix said. She doesn't feel like the people who would buy the tickets to a show like 8 would be the same people who would come in and attack the issue during the talkback. Rather, she just hopes to get a different take from the talkback speakers -- including a TU law professor and an Episcopal priest.
"I think it will be good just to get an educated perspective from people who know about the law," she said. "It's just to have a little bit of depth of conversation from people who have studied and know more about it than we as actors do. We all come to this with our own perspectives, but I think having them there will add another dimension."
As the subject matter of 8 remains in the news as the nation awaits the court's decision, Orsulak said that basically, he's just happy to be here.
"It's going to be interesting to see how this shakes out," he said. "I never thought in my lifetime we'd ever be anywhere close to this. I have two nephews who are gay, and I hope that someday, they'll be able to get married like anyone else -- with a piece of paper and the legal rights."
Still, neither he nor Hobbs holds any real anger over the issue.
"This is what we've been for 22 years. We live on a very eclectic street, and everyone there just knows us and accepts who we are," Hobbs said. "Of course, we've got the best yard on the street."
Theatre Tulsa, Theatre Pops, and Odeum Theatre Company present 8 in the Liddy Doenges Theater at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, 110 E. 2nd St., Thursday through Saturday, April 25-27 at 7:30pm. The show is intended for mature audiences only. General admission tickets are $12 and available at the 2ndStreet box office, by phone at 918-596-7111, or through tulsapac.com.
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