Classifieds | Place a class ad | PDF Edition | Home Delivery
By DANELLE LANDIS
Daily News Staff Writer
Joining a nationwide event this weekend, First City Players will be performing “12,000 Voices: 12 Angry Men read by 12 impassioned Ketchikan Women” at the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center.
“12 Angry Men” is a script originally written by Reginald Rose for a 1954 television program. In 1957, the script also was made into an award-winning movie starring Henry Fonda.
In September, 2018, a group of New York City actresses performed the script as a reader’s theater production, but with an all-female cast replacing the original all-male cast.
Online information about the original production at 12000voices.com states that the intent of that show was to promote the power of citizens’ voices and the power of voting.
The drama follows the discussions, sometimes heated, between 12 jurors in the murder trial for a 16-year-old defendant.
“This script is about the importance of having a voice,” said FCP director Bridget Mattson.
Mattson and FCP Executive Artistic Director Elizabeth Nelson discussed the upcoming reader’s theater production Monday afternoon in the Main Street office of the theater organization.
“It all started last fall before the election,” Nelson said, adding that the idea of performing the script — originally written for an all-male cast — with an all-women cast was borne of their larger passions.
She explained, “Their whole focus with these 12 Broadway actresses was for voting registration.”
They decided to put out a call for 1,000 theater groups across the nation to join them in April 2019 to perform “12 Angry Men” with women actors on the same day.
The focus of that original group wasn’t the story about the legal system, Nelson added, but “about making people aware that their voice matters.”
Mattson explained that the choice to replace male actors with women was connected with that idea of showing women how strong their voices really are.
It’s critical “in the context of where we’re at politically, to understand that we are powerful and we do have a voice,” Mattson said. “When this was originally written and it was an all-male cast. Women weren’t allowed on the juries for 19 years in every state after that.”
Promoting the exercise of the right to vote is the second critical aspect of the “12,000 Voices” project. At each performance across the country, voter registration forms will be made available to audience members after the show.
Mattson said the all-female cast “talks about the power of a female vote, and the impact we have in society.”
Mattson, who has been involved with First City Players for 10 years, said she and Nelson had been looking at the script for a long time, but hadn’t yet decided how to approach performing it until they saw the call for companies to join the “12,000 Voices” project.
As a reader’s theater performance, it was set up to have only a one-week rehearsal time, with a simple set and a hand-picked cast, rather than casting by audition, Mattson said.
One of the actors hand-chosen by the pair was Shauna Lee, who plays a volatile and racist juror.
In a telephone interview, Lee explained why she was excited to participate, after several years of inactivity with the theater group.
“I believe it should be the law that every person should be required to vote,” she said.
She added, “I feel really passionate about people voting in the United States. I think it’s a real shame that it’s not the law. I think it’s a shame that it happens on a day where everybody’s at work. I think it should be a national holiday. It is a holiday in many other countries. Everybody gets together — it’s like a big party — they have barbecues, and people vote.”
She said performing a script meant for men has offered some insights.
“The voices of each character are written, of course, as men,” she said. “It’s so odd, because there’s a way that women speak than men don’t.”
She said, “We tend not to voice our opinions — perhaps as aggressively.”
Lee further explained that one wouldn’t find the quick jumps to aggression by the characters that are seen in the “12 Angry Men” story, among a group women.
She reflected on the character she portrays in the play.
“It’s weird to sit in that character, and try to vocalize in a way that doesn’t come across as a jerk — as a woman, I’d be trying to soften what I’d said.”
Mattson explained why she’d been interested in the script for so long.
“The thing that I love about this 1952 play, is that it is so current. It is half a century later, and we’re here,” she said.
“What I would love for people to take away,” Mattson continued, “is that we don’t all have to see it the same way, and we all don’t have to agree, but we can all have a conversation and we can all try and see things from a different perspective, whether or not our opinion changes. Just being able to understand that there are different perspectives and it’s OK to look at issues from a different way — and I think that’s really, really timely.”
A core realization of each character in the story is that they need their voice to be heard.
“In the play, there are just some powerhouse voices,” Mattson said. But, she explained, the story shows how important it is that even the most shy, or least eloquent of individuals have valuable things to say.
“That’s what really makes America better, right?” she said. “We’re all here, and we all have a part. We’re supposed to be the land of opportunity and we’re supposed to be someplace where you have an opportunity to pursue your happiness.
“Everybody brings something,” Mattson said.
Nelson said, “What I think the biggest schism in our whole country right now is, that we are so tribal we can’t hear what anyone else says. So, we just throw out terms of hate instead of trying to understand why somebody else’s experience makes them the way they are.
“And, it breaks my heart every day,” Nelson said.
Mattson and Nelson used their own long-time friendship as an example of how people can overcome their political and religious differences, for example, to connect on a deep level.
“We value the same things the most,” Mattson said. “We value humanity, so we have more in common.”
She said she has seen a lack of understanding between family members that has torn families apart as well.
“You don’t have to agree” with people to respect them, Mattson said. “You don’t have to agree with someone to love them. You don’t have to have the same ideology to find value in another human being.”
Mattson continued, “That’s kind of the message,” in the “12 Angry Men” story, “There’s more in common that what you have that divides you.”
Nelson said she feels that if people took a little bit of time to talk to others, and to listen to them while considering that everybody’s life experiences shapes them, people could become more united.
“It’s a message we needed to hear 50 years ago, and we still need to hear it now,” Nelson said.
First City Players will perform “12 Angry Men read by 12 Impassioned Ketchikan Women” at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 6, at the Discovery Center, at 50 Main Street. Some mature language is used in the play, making unsuitable for younger attendees.
Tickets are available at firstcityplayers.org until three hours before the play opens, or at the door.