Please join us for Western Reserve Academy’s production of “12 Angry Jurors” at the Knight Fine Arts Center (KFAC).
Friday, Jan. 27 | 8 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 28 | 8 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 29 | 2 p.m.
Admission is free. All are welcome!
In the U.S. Court’s “Handbook for Trial Jurors,” you’ll find the following description:
“Jury service is a high duty of citizenship. Jurors aid in the maintenance of law and order and uphold justice among their fellow citizens…In a very real sense, therefore, the people must rely upon jurors for the protection of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
This decree sets the stage for “12 Angry Jurors,” initially released in the cinema in 1957 as “12 Angry Men” and later adapted for stage. A classic courtroom drama, the play follows a dozen jurors into a deliberation room where they must decide the fate of a boy accused of killing his father. Inside, tensions rise as idealism and fairness war with cynicism and prejudice, but the verdict must be unanimous.
Though it’s been more than 65 years since its initial airing, the discussions and themes within the play are evergreen. Still, there are no modern adaptations to script or story, and the time period remains fixed in the 1950s.
“It’s been so fun to watch these kids really deliver those — what some might consider — corny lines with a lot of vim and vigor,” shared Fine & Performing Arts Department faculty member and Director Donalee Ong. “I love it. They’re doing such a great job.”
Ong, Technical Theater Director Brandon Davies and Fine & Performing Arts Department Chair and costume designer Carol Parker Mittal pulled inspiration for costumes, colors and tones from an era classic, Norman Rockwell’s “The Holdout (The Jury),” (which, according to some, was inspired by “12 Angry Men!”) You’ll see bold choices on stage — a rich, dark red set, for example — a fitting parallel to the height of emotions played out by the characters and the scorching heat inside a stuffy, un-airconditioned room.
One of the unique challenges for a show like “12 Angry Jurors” is the endurance required for the cast members. Every juror remains on stage for the duration of the 90-minute production, with no intermission or exit cues. It’s akin to a marathon.
“You need to be present and you need to stay in character, even when it's not your turn to talk,” explained Donalee. “Some of the characters don’t speak as often as the others, and to me, that’s even harder.”
Those with fewer lines than their fellow jurors are no less consequential, bringing great substance to scenes while saying very little. It can be difficult to accomplish this, particularly when you don’t know that much about your character.
“Over the holiday break, I gave the cast a little character questionnaire to fill out,” explained Donalee. She asked cast members to fill in answers for questions like, how old is their character? Are they married? Where do they come from? "A few came back to me and said they couldn’t find that information in the script — and I said, ‘I know! You get to make it up.’”
Such an exercise can help actors bring fullness to their performance. For example, deciding your character's age, and knowing the play is set in the mid-1950s, you have an idea of what year they were born. You know what they lived through, the presidential terms, the wars, the economic ups and downs. Details like this can fill in gaps and decide things like a character’s posture, nervous tics, their reactions to confrontation — adding new depth and cohesion to a scene.
On the cast list, you’ll find several of our seasoned performers — such as Phoebe Dix ’24, Rachel Ott ’23, Nora Namiotka ’23 — and a few new to the stage! And for those who remember WRA’s first staging of the play in 2017, you’ll be tickled to see Finn Frato-Sweeney ’26 stepping into the same role as older brother Noah Frato-Sweeney ’20.
“I didn’t plan it!” swore Donalee. “Their personalities both just really fit that same juror.”
Finn admitted he did initially reach out to his brother for insight and advice, and Noah sagely encouraged him to have fun and explore the character, knowing that he would develop his own unique interpretation and performance. New to the KFAC stage, Finn has relished learning so much so quickly from Ong, as well as other cast members. They, along with the crew, have worked very hard to put together a wonderful show, and he’s looking forward to opening night with dueling nerves and excitement.
“I hope everyone comes out and sees it!” he shared. “It’s 15 people coming together to do something they love, not to mention the crew who works so hard behind the scenes. We’ve all put so much time and dedication into [this show]. It would be amazing to have everyone else's support.”
Break a leg, Pioneers!