By Kelly Chian, ’16

The cast members rehearse for the upcoming spring play, “Twelve Angry Jurors”. Every cast member stays on the stage for the whole play while the audience sits around the stage to emulate the setting of a jury room. Photo by Charlotte Janes

“Twelve Angry Jurors” provides a twist on an old classic with a mixed cast and a theater-in-the-round layout

The spring play, “Twelve Angry Jurors” is being performed on April 21, 22 and 23 at 7:30 p.m. The play is about jurors who try to make an unanimous decision of guilt or acquittal of a murder case on the basis of reasonable doubt. The mixed cast of genders and theater-in-the-round create an exciting new form of a play.

The play is adapted from “Twelve Angry Men” which was previously a play and a movie in the 1950’s. In order to accommodate a mixed gender cast, the play was changed to “Twelve Angry Jurors.”

The case is about a 18-year-old boy who is accused of stabbing his father to death. The preliminary vote of the jury leads to an 11 to one vote for a guilty verdict. The play follows the discussion to convince the jurors to have a 12 to zero vote. The jurors are not identified by name but rather are numbered one through 12.

Director Greg Varner tries to preserve the meaning of the play while still leaving some room for interpretation. Varner wants his students to be in charge of the development of character in the first few weeks but tries his best to give each of the 12 jurors a distinct personality.

“This is a tough piece to direct because it is an iconic text. Many people are familiar with the play, so we have to be careful to honor the legacy of the piece while still allowing the actors to make it their own,” Varner said. “The cast reflects a broad range of experience, so the rehearsal process is about teaching and expanding students to cultivate the most successful performance.”

Varner has a more relaxed approach of letting the actors figure out how they want to play their character and uses that as a starting block. He wants the play to be the students’ vision as well as his own.

“After the first few read-throughs, I put my script away and just watch,” Varner said. “I want to see the choices students make so I can affirm the ones that land well and talk more about areas that aren’t as effective.” 

For the play to have a more organic feel, the actors are asked to formulate different aspects to their characters.

“Because it is important that this play never becomes a scripted experience, I will be challenging students to experiment with various tactics that continue to reshape the performance,” Varner said. “I like working with ensemble pieces where the production is influenced by student input.”

Although the genders have switched, Varner and other cast members do not see this as a large change simply because the characters have such distinct personalities separate from their genders.

“[The play] has been produced as ‘Twelve Angry Women’. ‘Twelve Angry Jurors’, obviously, is the iteration of the piece that accommodates a mixed cast,” Varner said. “Because the play is grounded in 12 different personalities coming together, the gender of the performer seems secondary.”

Leads senior Tina Hohman and junior Chris Chene play Juror #8 and #3 respectively. Juror #3 is a hot head that masks his insecurities with overconfidence and attempting to be better than others while Juror #8 is more calm and collected in her thoughts. Both leads agree with Varner that the mixed gender cast doesn’t affect the play much.

“It’s just a women playing a role instead of a man,” Chene said. “The biggest difference is that the pronoun goes from ‘he’ to ‘she.’ I don’t think that changes how the play works.”

With the exception of different genders, the largest change for the cast and director is the performance through a theater-in-the-round format. The audience will be surrounding the 12-person cast.

“The surrounding audience and a non-stop presentation lends a realism to the experience that should serve to draw the audience into the story,” Varner said.

Chene sees it as a way to create a large audience engagement.

“I really enjoy it because it’s a challenging way to perform. I have never done it before. Wherever you look, there’s audience members. It’s a great way to bring the audience into the play and to enclose yourself in the show because there is no dead space,” Chene said. “There’s always an audience member about three feet away from you.”

Without any set changes or breaks due to scene cuts, the action continues throughout the play.

“It really helps with the dramatic momentum because there aren’t dead spots and so there aren’t moments where people are entering or leaving. It’s constant. It’s hot and intense throughout the play,” Chene said. 

However, because of the constant spotlight on the cast, Chene must preserve his energy in order to be engaging for the entirety of the play, unlike in a movie, where actors can say their lines and then take a break when the cameras aren’t on.

“It is just more exhausting. You can’t let your energy die because you are acting the whole play,” Chene said. “I have to think about the way I’m sitting or the way I’m reacting to the other characters.”

From the director’s side, this means creating a set that allows for every audience member to have a clear line of sight to see all of the action.

“It adds a dimension to the performance that is not a typical part of theatre,” Varner said. “For the cast, there is no place to hide.  At all times, they are on–even when they might not have a line for pages.”

For Hohman, she must be aware that some people may be seeing her back while speaking dialogue and must find a balance of making the play interesting from every angle of the set.

“We have been working hard to connect with the audience and make the stage picture interesting because you can be talking and some people would be seeing your back,” Hohman said.

The play has become more of an ensemble cast because of the continued presence of every member. The situation is supposed to emulate the feeling of a real jury because some jurors are locked up when deciding the case.

“It underscores, in this piece, the way that we are so frequently in the gallery of stories the media presents,” Varner said. “It will feel very much like the audience is actually in the jury room. For the audience, it is interesting to be watching both the play and the people across the stage who are also watching the play.”

The decades-old play remains timeless because of its take on life through the eyes of twelve jurors. The play focuses on the differences that exist in our society and how we deal with them in the microcosm of a jury room.

“I see in it a universal application: people have unique and valid perspectives on the things they see in life,” Varner said. “The most successful communities are the ones that can host purposeful conversations about their differences. Jurors monopolize on that.”