Overshadowed Theatrical Productions recently completed their fall production “Twelve Angry Men” and “Twelve Angry Women” Yes, you read correctly. We did both versions of this famous play. It was an experiment in marketing as well as acting and directing.
Before I begin talking about that experiment, let me share some thoughts about the play in general.
I was very surprised about the number of our audience members who had never seen this play or the MOVIE! I have always considered this work a classic and a favorite for many film lovers and also high schools. It has become a way to teach the importance of civic responsibility, bias, and that prejudice comes in many forms.
Reginald Rose wrote the original play for the CBS series, “Studio One,” and it aired on September 20, 1954. He says it was based, to a certain extent, on his own experiences as a juror,. He also said that it reflected a time when standing up for your constitutional rights could get you in trouble.
Afterwards, the teleplay was adapted into a film. Although it did not win, “Twelve Angry Men” was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Direction, and Best Screenplay based on mate- rial from another medium.
The real award is that Rose has written something that is lasting. It speaks across generations and racial divides. It makes one think of their own prejudices and the need for jurors who will serve with a moral responsibility. Our audiences sat on the edge of their seats most nights. We had fabulous conversations each night and many audiences members came back the following weekend to see if it made any difference if the cast was all male or all female.
Ticket sales weren’t what we wanted.
But if our goal is to give the audience a night of entertainment that moves them and inspires them–then we definitely succeeded.
Over 10 years ago someone told me we should produce “12 Angry Men.” They suggested that we have a cast of all women and another cast of all men. They thought it would be a clever marketing ploy. I declined for several reasons. One of them being that I didn’t think I had 12 men that could pull off the acting that this show requires. I put it on the back burner of my mind and waited. In the meantime, I saw the Theater in Chicago production with Brian Dennehy and George Wendt and John Boy Walton…oh, I mean, Richard Thomas as Juror # 8. I also spent the time visiting local community productions and waited until the time was right.
As I have complained about for now, over a year, Covid has really done a damage to our theater. In our area, several shut their doors for good as they couldn’t continue with the costs of rent etc. while they just waited to entertain again. We were able to produce an original Biblical drama that kept us going with 50 audience members a night until we thought everything was getting back to normal. Not quite trusting, I decided to mount a smaller musical, The Marvelous Wonderettes, for the summer. It was fantastic, but the audiences didn’t come. A summer show usually brings over 2500 to our doors. This summer we didn’t even get 1500. So, what better time than now to pull out that old marketing ploy? We decided that we would mount two shows with two casts. We would have four directors, two of each gender that would each be in the play and direct the opposite version of the play.
At auditions, we were thrilled. People came. We even had to turn people away. (Which always makes me sad.) We began the character studies and blocking and somehow in the middle of the process I stopped enjoying it. It was difficult. Why didn’t I notice that we were actually going to be producing two shows at the same time? One is hard enough…but two? I think I might be a little crazy….
What made matters worse is that I’m not sure that any of the other directors were enjoying it either. We were all feeling the stress of having to be in two places at one time plus carry on with our outside duties. The creative experiment of working together didn’t gel the way I thought it would. Instead of being inspired by each other we did the opposite. At times we were afraid to speak up, or at times we didn’t want to make an issue about something, or at times we felt competition, or that we weren’t as important as the other directors. Emotionally, it was difficult. One week ago. I would have told you that this theater experiment was a failure
12 Angry Women opened last week and if you asked me now I would tell you that I probably wouldn’t want to direct with four directors ever again, but that I did learn. That’s a good thing. I want to learn each and every time I decide to be involved with a production.
Here are some facts:
12 Angry Men is the play many of us, of a certain generation, had to read in high school. This courtroom drama by Reginald Rose has been around since 1954; first as a live Television play, then in its more well-known incarnation, the 1957 film, starring Henry Fonda, directed by the great Sidney Lumet. (Did you know the film was nominated for three Oscars?)
Question #1 that we faced: Isn’t it dated? What relevance does it have today? Come see the play and you will soon find our that Juror #10 leads the way with his immigrant and minority comments. Unfortunately, we all go in to any conversation with a great deal of bias and maybe realizing this would help all conversations end more peacefully. We can learn from each other. We adopted a tag line #Don’t confuse me with the facts. Sadly, many times we don’t care enough to step out of our own selves and into someone else’s.
The drama begins when a lone holdout, Juror #8, believes there is a reasonable doubt in the case of a youth “from the wrong side of the tracks” on trial for the murder of his abusive father. The stakes are high and the jury is mandated by the judge to think about it wisely and carefully, because the punishment for conviction is the death penalty. Since the decision must be unanimous the deliberation begins. The Jurors range greatly in personality, economic and educational background and ethnicity. A thrilling ride when you realize this is real life. Every jury is made up randomly and everyone does walk in with different personalities, educational backgrounds and ethnicities.
As Jessica Means (my co-director) and I watched the 12 Angry Men rehearsal last night we were thrilled. It was tense, riveting and thrilling–just as people had told us the women’s production was last week. Every juror looks as if they walked in off the street in 1959 Manhattan. The set is beautifully simple; it manages to be both artful and authentic. The cast is constantly moving to almost be “the camera” and allow the audience to see the jurors from each angle.
Why 12 Angry Men/Women?
It is a bucket list love of a classic theater piece that I always wanted to tackle.
To learn from a totally unique theater experiment.
To take an old classic and see that even after years some things never change.
People. It’s simply great theater.
So, the marketing ploy? Unfortunately, things haven’t changed since this summer. Our tickets sales are horribly low. Even with 24 people in the cast–I’m not sure we will even hit our numbers from the summer. I’d like to ask for a little help. Don’t let Covid kill this theater. If this is a play you weren’t planning on attending…could you decide to come? If you are seeing one of the versions could you decide to see both? Could you spread the word? Please tell your friends and neighbors that this is one show that should not be missed.
One last thing: 12 Angry Men is a timely, riveting drama that will get you thinking about your preconceptions and stereotypes. It is a reminder that we must question apparent facts before making tough decisions. I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.
Okay. I lied…one more last, last thing. My co-director’s are all brilliant and now that we’ve all gotten past the hard parts we all admit it was a crazy great experience. Thank you, Jessica Means, Brad Holloman, and Mike Larsen for sharing your time, creativity and inspiration with us all.
Now, will you all please go to Overshadowed.org and buy tickets? Let’s show everyone there is still a place for theater!
I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Until next time, this is just me, talking to you from the wings.
I always get to this point in a show. Do you know the moment? It is when something is almost over–you can see the end in sight–a time you will never experience again–It is here and I regret that more people haven’t seen this musical. I want to share it. There is pain and joy in the closing of a show.
This year has theater audiences struggling to come back from what they lost during Covid. We decided to do a smaller show for several reasons. We weren’t sure that people would want to sit next to each other. Or maybe we’ve all gotten used to sitting and watching our entertainment inside instead of taking the trouble to go out and actually BE with people.
So…I decided on The Marvelous Wonderettes. It is a jukebox musical. It was an off Broadway success. In fact, so much of a success that there are multiple sequels that are written and performed about these four girls.
These four girls….Missy, Cindy Lou, Suzy and Betty Jean. Entered my world months ago as strangers as did the girls who played them. (Amy Keipert, Jessica Means, Brooke Kassal and Grace Ryan) They worked harder than I think any of them expected as they discovered that this musical was much more than a few great songs strung together. They worked hours daily on their harmonies and choreography and characters and the work paid off. What we have is an amazing show with four brilliantly talented girls who sing difficult harmonies effortlessly.
Here I am at closing weekend wishing that I could convince everyone I know to spend a couple of hours in the theater with this show. Here are a couple of remarks I have received:
“What a perfect show to mark the return to live theater. It was so good to laugh and smile and sing along with such fun songs.”
“I haven’t had that much fun in years.“
“This show is better than vitamins. I feel ten years younger.“
Honestly, those comments mean the world to me. The reason I am in theater is because I want to bring joy to the world. (well, one of the reasons.) This show did that.
We have one weekend left and if I could convince you to come out and join us for one of the remaining shows, would you? overshadowed.org
Even if you have seen the show before, the beauty of live theater is that it is never the same. Every night has a new audience and a new energy and most importantly a new moment to experience. I see the show night after night and love every second of it.
As we begin this weekend, we are tired, but it is a good tired. We are filled with the joy we have shared with audiences, the satisfaction of a job well-done and the feel- good sensation when you learn and grow from an experience.
We would love to share this joy…this story…this experience with you. We have lots of tickets left for tonight, friday night and two shows on Saturday…and it’s air -conditioned. (It’s a win-win.) Won’t you shake off the Covid hibernation and join us? Let’s get back to the joy of live theater.