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BHS to present '12 Angry Jurors'

Brainerd High School theater students cast in the “12 Angry Jurors” are Jacob Hanson (front left), Travis Sawyer, Ethan Marichalar, Serena Schreifels, Sam Dirks, Gemma Peterson, Madi Aberle, Emily-Rose Severson, Ben Schlegel, Hunter Armstrong (back left), Sage Martinson, Atticus Obsborne, Eli Duininck, Max Dwyer, Skyler Fox, Olivia Dilley, Noah Barnhart, Grace Carruth and Isabel Haglin. Not pictured are tech crew members Lizzi Ortmeier and Selena Johnson. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Juror No. 8 votes not guilty in a case in which a 19-year-old man is accused of murdering his father in the play written by Reginald Rose and Sherman Sergel in "12 Angry Jurors," also called "12 Angry Men."

Sam Dirks, a 2017 Brainerd High School graduate who plays the lone juror, said his character—played by Henry Fonda in the film "12 Angry Men"—believes there is reasonable doubt and therefore the man is not guilty. Juror No. 8 argues his reasoning with the other 11 jurors who believe the 19-year-old is guilty. By law, all 12 jurors must be in agreement.

Brainerd High School theater students and two alumni will perform this play 7 p.m. July 26-28 in the Little Theatre at BHS. Tickets can be purchased at the door an hour before showtime. Ticket prices are $5 for students and seniors and $7 for adults.

BHS Theater Director Karla Johnson said the play takes place on a hot summer day in a jury room where jurors get in a heated discussion.

"All the characters are really diverse and opinionated and in the end they have to come to an unanimous decision, and you have these characters with so many different backgrounds," Johnson said. "I think it is incredible as this is what I assume it would be like in a real court case to come up with a decision.

"This entire play is in the jury room. We don't see the courtroom. They have to decide if the 19-year-old man is guilty of killing his father. Eleven of them think he is guilty and they have a long debate."

Johnson contacted the dramatic publishing company of the play to see if BHS could perform "12 Angry Jurors" instead of "12 Angry Men."

"They were very gracious to allow this," Johnson said. "They told me they get this request often. I wanted to change it up to have some diversity in the play to have men and women.

"I love the film and Henry Fonda plays the main character, Juror No. 8, and I love the script."

Johnson said there is one stationary set with the play and BHS teacher Dave Borash helped make the jury room set. Johnson said having one set always poses as a challenge for the actors.

"All 12 actors are always on stage," Johnson said. "They never leave the stage and are always engaging with each other. It really is a demanding role for all of them. Usually characters get to go backstage in between scenes.

"This is a dramatic script and there is some yelling."

Johnson said students auditioned for the play before the end of the school year. Rehearsals began in June four days a week and and in July they began rehearsing five days a week.

There are 15 students in the play who are high school students and two are BHS graduates.

Dirks, who performed last at BHS his senior year in "Hello Dolly," said he wasn't able to be in the summer play last year, but he was able to be in it this summer.

"It is so surreal," Dirks said of being back at the high school. Dirks is attending St. Olaf College and is spending his summer in Brainerd. "Walking these halls again is like a dream. Everything is different and alien now and I don't get the jokes anymore."

Dirks did his research before auditions of the play and he was drawn to Juror No. 8. He said the role is a challenge as it is intense and requires him to always be in the moment.

"Because there is reasonable doubt, all the other jurors find out they have an emotional connection to the case," Dirks said. "They are projecting their own issues with their son onto the kid on trial. ... Juror 8 works to remove their emotions from the case and I have to get everyone to look at the case logically.

"Juror No. 8 thinks that all the other jurors are over-emotional and are unsympathetic, but at the same time he feels sympathy for every juror on the stage. Sharing this compassion can be difficult. The easiest thing has been channeling his passion. His passion for showmanship and putting things together is something I love to do as a person so a lot of parallel there to portray."

BHS Junior Travis Sawyer plays Juror No. 3.

"Juror No. 3 is the main antagonist," Sawyer said. "He is extremely opinionated and he doesn't have time to hear the other characters' arguments. I enjoy playing this role. I wouldn't say I am like this (character). This role is more aggressive and I have had experience with this type of character, so that is easy.

"Getting the lines down has been pretty easy. I'm good at memorization."

Sawyer, who has been in four plays so far at BHS, said this play is new in that the actors are on stage the entire time.

"It is a little more challenging to keep up with that character and that energy for the entire production," Sawyer said. "The biggest challenge is maintaining all the expressions and composure and not looking tired or bored while on stage listening to people talk for an extended amount of time."

Juror No. 4 is played by Emily-Rose Severson. This will be her eighth play as she started performing as a freshman. The BHS junior said she went into the auditions not knowing much about the play but thought she would be best at playing Junior No. 9, who is an elderly character. However, Johnson had other plans for Severson. Severson said all the students watched the film and said it helped her understand her role as Juror No. 4.

"Initially, I was struggling with the character's intentions and exactly why they said the things they said and felt the way they did," Severson said. "But as I was watching the film and watching my character act it out and saw their mannerisms and saw how he walked and spoke it helped me fully understand their intentions.

"Ms. J knows me better than anyone and knows what role is best for me."

Severson said Juror No. 4 is very analytical, cares about the facts and is not as aggressive as Juror No. 3. She said during the play things do get a bit aggressive against one of the jurors. The junior said this act can be pretty challenging for her as she tries to get past the character's analytical role to the more aggressive part of her role.

Severson said the easiest part of her role is Juror No. 4 is a leader and she also is in real life. She said it is a little challenging to be on stage during the entire play, but said it is wonderful practice to stay in character. Severson said throughout the play her job is to mediate the facts and what the people are saying emotionally.

"Theater is my absolute passion," Severson said. "Doing theater is my escape and time to talk with my friends. I am always committed to theater. ... It's what I like to do."

Lighting for the stage will be by Music General, as the school's lightboard is no longer is working. Johnson hopes to apply for a grant to get a new one to use in upcoming plays.

There are 112 seats in the Little Theatre, so Johnson encourages people to come early to get tickets. The high school's previous plays have sold out quickly.

The cast

• Foreman: Ben Schlegel.

• Juror No. 2: Gemma Peterson.

• Juror No. 3: Travis Sawyer.

• Juror No. 4: Emily-Rose Severson.

• Juror No. 5: Noah Barnhart.

• Juror No. 6: Eli Duininck.

• Juror No. 7: Madi Aberle.

• Juror No. 8: Sam Dirks.

• Juror No. 9: Serena Schreifels.

• Juror No. 10: Jacob Hanson.

• Juror No. 11: Grace Carruth.

• Juror No. 12: Ethan Marichalar.

• Guard: Max Dwyer.

• Voice of the Judge: Sage Martinson.

• Voice of the Clerk: Hunter Armstrong.

• Understudy for male characters: Atticus Osborne.

• Understudy for female characters: Isabel Haglin.

• Tech crew: Skyler Fox, Olivia Dilley, Selena Johnson and Lizzi Ortmeier.