For Rory O'Malley, Tony nominee for Broadway's "The Book of Mormon," elation over the election of Barack Obama in 2008 was immediately tempered by the disappointment over the passage of California's anti-gay marriage Proposition 8. At Carnegie Mellon University Monday night, he said of Prop 8: "I will look back at it as the most horrible thing that ever happened, yet it inspired us to action. It awakened a generation."
Mr. O'Malley (Class of 2003) was back at his alma mater to take part in a reading of "8," a play by Oscar-winning writer Dustin Lance Black (he won for his "Milk" screenplay) that recounts the successful court challenge of Prop 8, in the case Perry v. Schwarzenegger. Spurred by Prop 8, Mr. O'Malley and fellow musical theater star Gavin Creel formed Broadway Impact and, with the organization's executive director, Jenny Kanelos, was among 13 outsiders who made the cut into the courtroom to hear the court case and were among the few eyewitnesses, as the opposition won an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States to have cameras banned from the courtroom.
The play is based on court testimony and interviews with participants conducted by Mr. Black, a founder of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, a group that was instrumental in bringing about the appeal of Prop 8. "I was in court and heard those same words. There are 1,300 pages of transcripts as that show, as we knew they would, that the other side had no evidence," Mr. O'Malley said. "The Bible isn't evidence -- you have to respect people's faith, but it's not evidence in a constitutional argument."
The theatricality of the trial was undeniable, and he felt outrage that the world had not seen the proceedings. When he suggested a script that would be given for production, free and clear, Mr. Black took up the task.
The play was initially planned for readings at Mr. Creel's alma mater, the University of Michigan, and CMU, but once word got out, requests poured in. A Broadway reading including John Lithgow, Morgan Freeman and Ellen Barkin, then Hollywood took over, and the stars included George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Martin Sheen and Mr. O'Malley, who has been involved in six readings.
Bringing the message of marriage equality into theaters provides a safe haven, Mr. O'Malley said. "In case you haven't noticed, there are a lot of gay people in theater." He paused for the knowing laugh. "There's always the worry that we're preaching to the choir," he added. "What we've learned by doing this is to teach the choir how to sing."
Correction/Clarification: (Published September 12, 2012) Dustin Lance Black wrote the play "8" that was read at Carnegie Mellon University on Monday night. His first name was incorrect in the story.
Sharon Eberson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960.