It only takes one person to make a difference.
That’s the lesson Grade 10 student Siddhartha Minhas says we can all learn from his character, Juror No. 8, in the upcoming L.V. Rogers drama production of 12 Angry Jurors.
The play begins as 12 white jurors enter the jury room after a trial. All but Minhas’ character have already decided that the accused young black man is guilty of killing his father. They think they’ll be out of there in an hour.
But Juror No. 8 raises objections and ideas that keep them there much longer and reveal a complex mix of frustration, racism, and fear among the jurors.
Twelve Angry Jurors is an adaptation of the 1950s play 12 Angry Men. It’s best known as a 1957 movie starring Henry Fonda.
Things they’d rather not say
Some of the teenage actors have lines they’d rather not say and their characters have feelings they’d rather not explore. But they do, and they learn from it.
“My character has a very bigoted and racist view,” says Emerald Lockhart, Grade 10, who plays one of the jurors. “It is hard because I am not like that.”
Grade 12 actor Noah Srahulek-Kingsley’s character is a very angry man.
“He has a lot of resentment toward life and he is filled with hatred and emotions that blind a lot of his opinions and decisions. As someone who is almost the opposite — I am not an emotionally expressive person — it is interesting to to channel anger and perform it, and see what it is like to be constantly making rash decisions.”
Teacher-director Robyn Sheppard says “Sometimes when I hear these kids saying some of these things, I cringe. But there is merit in stepping away from your own values, surrendering to this new person, and ultimately you will come away having more insight to the different kinds of people who live on this planet.”
The summer of 1963
Sheppard says she likes to choose plays that teach students about different times in history. She set this version of 12 Angry Jurors in 1963.
“It was a very intense summer. Malcolm X had just spoken at Unity Rally in Harlem, and Martin Luther King’s famous I Have a Dream speech was given that year. It is set in this heated time.”
Sheppard had her students research the U.S. social and political scene in 1963 and present the information to each other, “so there has been a lot of discussion. They have been on a journey to discover these characters and discover the time, and really came together in rehearsal with a lot of the background done.”
Zohra Byrne-Mason, who plays “a high class citizen, very wealthy, the wealthiest person in the room,” agrees the group bonded around the subject matter.
“We have all really worked hard on this play,” she says, “and set aside a lot of hours developing our characters.”
Audience will surround the jury table
The 12 jurors are the only characters in the play, which takes place entirely in the jury room.
But not on a theatre stage. Instead, the audience will be seated surrounding the jurors at their table, in a venue resembling a jury room.
“I wanted to do a site specific piece, meaning not in a traditional theatre,” Sheppard says. “I was looking for an environment that might represent a 1963 jury room. Then I found the Chamber of Commerce meeting room, and it was perfect. They even have a big jury table, big old windows, a train just out the window.
“I wanted the audience to be in the round, as if they are sitting at that table. No special lighting, no sound effects.”
One lesson learned from the production, Sheppard says, is that some things have not changed much.
“I think our racism and prejudice now is still there, but we are more politically correct now, we don’t say things. This is a morality tale we should heed still today.”
Sheppard has taught drama at LVR for the past 13 years, and for 17 years at Mount Sentinel Secondary before that.
“I am committed to this play,” says Minhas, “because I absolutely love acting and the theatre. And because of our director Robyn Sheppard — she is amazing, she is great.”
Twelve Angry Jurors runs Feb. 28, March 1 and March 2 at 7 p.m. and March 3 at 2 p.m. at the Chamber of Commerce meeting room above the visitor centre in Railtown.
Tickets are $10 for students and $15 for adults at L.V. Rogers Secondary or at the door. There will be limit of 60 tickets per show.