Eyewitness Testimony: 10 Questions with Director Daniel Rich of 12 Angry Men
Q: What drew you to produce this show for Flowertown Underground?
A: Honestly, there’s a couple of big factors. One, the 1957 Sidney Lumet movie had a very deep impact on me when I was a kid starting to get into movies. It’s a very tight, well-focused, claustrophobic movie that keeps you trapped in with the actors, and it’s something I never really experienced before. So when I saw that, I remembered those feelings of claustrophobia, of wanting to get out, and I realized how great this space would be for creating those feelings. How uncomfortable it is to sit in a room for an hour and forty minutes and watch people fight, watch people dig their nails into each other, tear each other apart. I really want to push that idea.
Q: What makes 12 Angry Men a good fit for our new studio space?
A: It’s a single-set show. It’s in real time, there’s no scene changes, no lighting cues, it’s a very good show because all you have are the people and the space. And they both complement each other in such a wonderful way.
Q: You’ve made a few structural changes to the show, most crucially the omission of the intermission, and the decision to stage the show in the round. What lead you to make those choices?
A: It’s the idea that, an intermission, let me start with that, an intermission kills the momentum. There’s no intermission in a jury room except when you get to go home, so why would you, at the height of the story, decide “okay, let’s take fifteen minutes!”? And as for being in the round, again, it’s that feeling of claustrophobia, you don’t get to escape them, they don’t get to escape you. There’s never a break for anyone. That’s why it’s important for it to be in the round, as opposed to a traditional stage. You’re more involved as an audience member.
Q: Why keep the title as is?
A: Because the title’s good. It’s way better than 12 Angry Jurors, or really just anything non-gender-specific. 12 Angry Men implies there are people in here that will make rash decisions, and they will come to conclusions that will not be based in logic.
Q: Related to that last question, does the makeup of this cast change the context of the play in any way you’ve noticed? There are certainly new subtexts I’ve picked up on while rehearsing.
A: Yeah. It becomes about people’s identity. Because you come in here, and you have no idea who any of these people are, so you have to put the story together through the dialogue and your own preconceived notions. And when you see number 3 belittle number 8 for her belief that this person might be innocent, you can infer all sorts of things from that that you wouldn’t be able to had the genders all been uniform.
Q: 12 Angry Men is over 60 years old. Have there been any efforts to modernize it on your part?
A: A couple of dialogue changes. I was very, very careful because to me, it’s one of the better-written scripts that I’ve seen, in terms of how it conveys information, how it tells its story through the stuff we’ve learned and put together. So I was very careful to only alter stuff that I felt needed to be altered.
Q: What do you think this show has to say in today’s world?
A: It’s about doing what’s right, no matter how many people are telling you it’s wrong. It’s about enacting the moral change yourself, staring down a room of people who have nothing but ill-intent and being able to stand up and say “no.” It’s about strength: strength in yourself, in your belief, in other people. And ultimately, faith that the good things you think will happen will happen if you fight for them.
Q: Personally speaking, how would you vote on this case, and why?
A: Personally? He’s guilty. I mean, there’s like six or seven different lawyers, when I researched this case, who did their whole thesis on why the movie, legally speaking, is not great from a legal standpoint. I wanna make sure I emphasize that. It’s because people don’t realize how important evidence is in relation to convicting criminals. The idea that this play just sort of glosses over the suspect buying a knife two hours before his father died from the same knife and expecting us to be like “oh, it’s okay!” It’s not, really. It presents a very optimistic view of how justice should work, but realistically? This kid did it, or else someone who was very competent at what they do framed him for some ulterior motive.
Q: What’s been the highlight of the rehearsal process for you? What’s been most difficult?
A: Honestly, the highlight’s working with everyone. It was important to get to know my cast during this run because we’re in such an intimate setting. You have to work with them on some level, and you have to be, I guess, open with them. If that makes sense. And also, I am very excited about the lights and stuff we’re using. We’re taking a step away from traditional theater lighting to take a more unique approach. We’re employing the use of softboxes, which are giant rectangular boxes that distribute lights evenly. I’m hoping to create a lot of interesting shadows and textures on people and see how that plays into the show. And difficulties, there haven’t really been many. With this being our first show in the round ever for Flowertown Underground, there was difficulty in how to stage it, what to do with the chairs and risers, how to light it. It became this list of things of, if it were a traditional stage, it’d be “oh, I can do it this way!” But it’s not traditional. It’s a lot of experimenting and finding out what doesn’t work to ultimately find out what does.
Q: Give me your best sales pitch: Why should people come see 12 Angry Men?
A: I mean, what do you want? Why shouldn’t you, honestly? If you’re a fan of the Sidney Lumet classic, come see this. We’ll give you something completely different and have you feeling totally different about the show. If you’re not familiar, it’s a great story. There are very few stories as tightly written as this, and especially very few characters that are so put together as the ones in this show. If you’re a fan of theater, it’s good theater. It’s in the round, it’s unique.There’s a void that needs to be filled with unique and interesting theater, and I think this show does it, and does it in a way that’s ultimately satisfying. Come see this show. These people worked hard, they’re [expletive] great, it is incredibly exciting, and I’m excited for the final product.
12 Angry Men begins its limited run this Friday, September 21st. Tickets are available HERE. Contact the box office for further information at 843-875-9251.