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VIDEO: Star-studded “8” the play raises $2 million at L.A. premiere, attracts global audience online

LOS ANGELES – Saturday’s West Coast premiere reading of “8” the play, starring a stellar cast led by Brad Pitt and George Clooney, was a big hit, raising more than $2 million for the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER).

More than 1,000 people crammed into the sold-out Wilshire Ebell Theatre, including celebrities Barbra Streisand, Sally Field, Leonard Nimoy, Kyra Sedgwick, Sofia Vergara, Eric Stonestreet, Christopher Guest, Toni Collette, Olivia Wilde, Ty Burrell, Julie Bowen, Toni Collette and Stacy Keibler. Also seen in the audience were Lt. Gov. Gavin Newson, openly gay Ambassador James C. Hormel and California State Assembly Speaker John A. Perez.

The reading was streamed live on YouTube, attracting more than 250,000 viewers around the world. AFER and Broadway Impact produced the reading, and Bryan Singer, director of “The Usual Suspects” and “X-Men,” was the presenting sponsor.

The play, written by AFER board member and Oscar winner Dustin Lance Black, has been tweaked since its world premiere in New York City on Sept. 19, 2011. Black based the play on the Proposition 8 trial transcripts, his observations from the trial and interviews with the plaintiffs and their families. The revised version removes some of the legal language and adds more human-interest vignettes about the plaintiffs.

"People need to witness what happened in the Proposition 8 trial, if for no other reason than to see inequality and discrimination unequivocally rejected in a court of law where truth and facts matter," said Black, who won an Academy Award for his screenplay of “Milk.”

"I've built my career around exposing and uncovering 'the real story.' The goal of '8' is to show the world that marriage equality is a basic constitutional right and that those who would deny this basic freedom from loving, committed couples have only vitriol and baseless hyperbole to fall back on. The facts are on our side and truth always finds the light. We are doing all we can to help speed that process along," Black said.

Rob Reiner, an AFER founding board member, directed the L.A. premiere reading, and the actors only had two read-throughs on Saturday, hours ahead of the performance.

Pitt played district Judge Vaughn Walker, who presided over Perry v. Schwarzenegger (since renamed Perry v. Brown since the election of Gov. Jerry Brown).

Clooney played AFER attorney Ted Olson and Martin Sheen played his co-counsel David Boies. Olson, a Republican, and Boies, a Democrat, faced off at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000 in this historic case Bush v. Gore that ultimately decided the election of George W. Bush.

Kevin Bacon played Charles Cooper, the lead attorney for supporters of Prop 8. John C. Reilly played David Blankenhorn, founder and president of the Institute of American Values, one of two “expert” witnesses who ended up giving testimony that aided the other side.

Christine Lahti and James Lee Curtis played Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, a lesbian couple together for 11 years who are parents of four boys. Matthew Morrison and Matt Bomer played Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, a gay couple together for more than a decade. The two couples are among those who sued for marriage equality rights.

Other roles were played by Jane Lynch (Maggie Gallagher of NOM fame), Chris Colfer, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Campbell Brown, Cleve Jones, Rory O’Malley, George Takei, Yeardley Smith, Vanessa Garcia, Jansen Panettiere, James Pickens Jr. and Bridger Zadina.

Supporters of marriage equality hailed the production for providing an accurate glimpse into the historical trial. Judge Walker ruled on Aug. 4, 2010, that Prop 8 was unconstitutional and a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that opinion on Feb. 7, 2012.

Cooper and Prop 8 supporters on Feb. 21 filed a motion seeking an expanded review of the appeals court ruling, a process that only delays the case possibly reaching the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Because this case involves the constitutional rights of millions of people, it is especially important for the public to see what happened during the trial," AFER executive director Adam Umhoefer said.

"Both sides had an equal opportunity and ample resources to assemble their strongest teams and put forth their absolute best arguments in an impartial setting. Viewed side-by-side there is simply no question that there was only one decision the court could have reached. The moment we knew the trial would not be publicly broadcast we immediately began planning to find a way to show the world what happened in this historic case. This play and our partnership with YouTube and Broadway Impact allow us to do exactly that."

Ironically, Prop 8 supporters successfully argued in court to prevent the public showing of the trial videotape until at least 2020. So “8” the play – and the video that is now available for viewing here and on YouTube -- is a valuable and important production that allows members of the public to make up their own minds about marriage equality.

"This play will continue to show Americans -- one by one -- that truth and justice can prevail over prejudice and fear," said Chad Griffin, AFER board president who last week was announced as the next president of the Human Rights Campaign. "Try as they might, the anti-marriage proponents of Proposition 8 cannot hide their discriminatory arguments from the American people. The fight to secure marriage equality is at the heart of our generation's search for greater freedom -- this play shows why."