Prepare for emotional roller-coaster in GCU's '12 Angry Jurors'

A confrontation breaks out between Juror 3 (Nicholas Wilshire, left) and Juror 8 (Christian Shepherd) in the Grand Canyon University Theatre Department's production of “12 Angry Jurors."

Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow

Guilty or not guilty?

Suspense and tension will fill Grand Canyon University's Black Box Theatre as the College of Arts and Media’s Theatre Department presents its second show of the semester, “12 Angry Jurors."

The drama, which the cast prepared for by visiting a real courtroom, is based on the 1957 film classic “12 Angry Men” and features a dozen jurors deciding the fate of a 19-year-old on trial for his father’s murder. Audiences can count on high emotions, strong opinions and short tempers from its characters when the play is presented at 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Director Joanie Colson talks with a cast member during a dress rehearsal.

“The theme is working together and serving something greater than yourself,” said director Joanie Colson.

The play is set in one courtroom where the jurors, gathered around a large table, delve into the evidence of the case. Heated and flustered dialogue bounces back and forth between them for hours as they try to reach a final verdict.

The nature of the situation and the characters are simultaneously simple and complicated, Colson said. And the stage setting is minimal so the focus can be on the aggressive atmosphere and emotional aspect of those moments.

“When it comes to acting, it’s important to know and understand the emotional process,” said Kenzie Huether, who plays the foreman. “I have to flip through my script a lot, revisiting the circumstances that are in the text to really have them embedded in my mind.”

With a quick turnaround – the first rehearsal was just a month ago – students relied heavily on the preparation process.

The jury foreman (Kenzie Huether) is concerned about the deterioration of talks in the GCU Theatre Department's presentation of "12 Angry Jurors."

“The process has to do a lot with understanding the imaginary background of your character. What is possible for this character? What happened to him that caused him to be the way he is?” said Nicholas Wilshire, who plays Juror 3.

The nature of jury duty being without bias and prejudice, the script intentionally leaves personal information of the characters a mystery. Colson explained how students studied characters by pausing through specific scenes and examining the way jurors would respond, what that reveals about them, what they feel and why.

Additionally, Colson said visiting a courtroom helped put the student actors in the right headspace.

Judge and Commissioner Jeffrey Altieri, a fan of the film, volunteered to show the cast around the court. Students got a glimpse of the jury duty experience and a feel for what the expectations and responsibilities would be like in a real case.

“It was interesting to see the inside of a court without actually being on trial,” Wilshire said. “We went into the courtroom and sat in all the juror seats. I got to sit where my character would actually sit. The main thing we got to experience is how small the room is and thinking in the aspect of being in there for six days.”

The jury votes on a verdict in GCU's "12 Angry Jurors."

Students got to practice their lines behind a jury room table and within their respective juror seats. Reenacting scenes from the movie in the exact same setting and hearing about the history of the court system and juror selection process helped the cast understand the mindset and emotions of their characters.

“Beforehand, we couldn’t really understand the concept of being stuck in a room with someone else for days. As a juror, you have to show up and make that your priority until it’s done. This really sunk in when we sat in those chairs and were surrounded by everyone in a crammed space. That made it feel real,” added Wilshire.

Playing characters with limited knowledge of who they are and simultaneously incorporating personal interpretations of who they may be was not the only challenge the cast faced. They were also faced with the challenge of pretending not to know each other and putting on a persona of being complete strangers, even though they have been working together for some time.

“We all made character biographies of our own because the script doesn’t reveal a whole lot about who each character is,” said Juror 8, Christian Shepherd.. “Pulling back to that bio helped put myself in the shoes of someone else. This is how I got in the mindset of where I needed to be for the show.”

Juror 10 (Micah Buchanan) offers his opinion in "12 Angry Jurors," opening tonight at the College of Arts and Media's Black Box Theatre.

While some plays require an exact replica of the original characters, "12 Angry Jurors" leaves room for personal interpretation because of the anonymity behind jurors’ identities, in the play and real-life cases.

“Sometimes when you see a production or a different interpretation of your show beforehand, it is easy to go back there and pull from what someone else has done. If I avoid watching it, it is easier to have my own ideas and decisions about how to represent the character,” added Shepherd. 

Stage sets and designs serve an important role in assisting the cast to interpret the scene and characters accurately.

“Everything is black and white, but the walls are gray because the whole show is about finding the gray. The hallway is tan, a different color, because it’s separate from everything,” said Jami Kratz, the student set designer. 

Though a very simple design mixed with neutral colors, every detail is symbolic and far from random.

“The jurors come in to decide the fate of a person, but the door of the room locks behind them. Really, they are the ones kind of in a prison. This is also why I designed the window to resemble a jail cell window,” added Kratz. “I measured the jury room table and made ours the same size. It even purposely wobbles because the scales of justice are always tipping.”

GCU staff writer Izabela Fogarasi can be reached at [email protected]

What: "12 Angry Jurors"
Where: Black Box Theatre, College of Arts and Media, Room 100
When: 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: Click here

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(Moses addressed Israel, reminding them of God's deliverance of them from Egypt, and His commands given to them:) "You saw with your own eyes the great trials, the miraculous signs and wonders, the mighty hand and outstretched arm, with which the Lord your God brought you out (from bondage and delivered you.). The Lord your God will do the same to all the peoples you now fear." (Deuteronomy 7:19)

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