On Stage

Jennings County Players
to close season with iconic play

The theater group performs
at Parke Theatre Civic Center

NORTH VERNON, Ind. (April 2014) – The Jennings County Players are closing their 2013-2014 theatre season with Reginald Rose’s legal drama “12 Angry Men,” the story of 12 jurors deliberating the case of a 19-year-old boy accused of murdering his father. Josh Shafer of Vernon, Ind., will direct the production.
Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 4-6; and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 7, at the Park Theatre Civic Centre, 25 N. Madison Ave. in downtown North Vernon, Ind.
Shafer read the play in high school but was not involved in theatre until after he and his wife moved to Vernon in 2001. When he discovered the rights to “12 Angry Men” were available for amateur theatre, he immediately began planning the show for the Jennings County Players.

Twelve Angry Men

Photo courtesy of Josh Shafer

From left, Don Goecker, Albert
Stormes and Paul Fox practice
their lines for the upcoming play,
“Twelve Angry Men,” to be
presented at the Parke Theatre
Civic Center in north Vernon, Ind.

“Personally, I love the premise,” he said. “These 12 men are locked in a room together, and they have to decide whether or not the boy on trial is guilty. When they take their first vote – very quickly – there are 11 for guilty and only one for not guilty. Everyone is frustrated and ready to get it over with except for one juror who believes they owe it to the boy to talk about it for a while.”
Shafer said he looks for plays that are both fun and informative. He previously directed the satirical comedy “MASH” for the Jennings County Players in 2008. A play like “12 Angry Men” requires a different directorial approach. 
“I told the guys up front, ‘Character, character, character.’ A lot of plays are built so much around the dialogue, and this script is so much more about the individuals,” said Shafer. “There are some key lines they have to hit or everything falls apart, but I’ve been instructing my actors to put their characters first, then develop the lines as written.”
The cast of “12 Angry Men” includes both veterans and newcomers to the Park Theatre Civic Centre. “These guys are very jovial, but they can turn that off and get right to work when it’s time.” 
Originally conceived and produced for television in 1954, the script was adapted for the stage in 1955 and has since been remade as a feature film and Broadway show in addition to a 1997 TV version. Shafer believes the show has a timeless quality that makes it highly adaptable.
“It’s interesting to see what changes were made,” he said. “It’s a very personal thing, too, because as you’re sitting in the audience you start to pick up an idea of whether this kid is guilty or not guilty. It definitely allows you to think for yourself. That can really hit you as an audience member.”
In Jennings County, audiences want that kind of interaction. Connie Rayburn of North Vernon, Ind., sits on the board of directors for the Jennings County Players. For 10 years, she has helped plan the Players’ three-play seasons and worked with stage directors to ensure successful productions.
“Known plays tend to draw more people here,” she said, “and the Christmas plays always do well. If we bring something people haven’t heard of, we don’t quite get the attendance we normally do.”
The Jennings County Players formed in 1970 and, according to the group’s Facebook page, encourages “dramatic and music appreciation and to provide an opportunity for worthwhile recreation and expression of talent in Jennings County, Indiana and the surrounding area.” Shafer said the Players include a good group of actors who regularly audition for productions, “but we do encourage new talent.”
The Park Theatre Civic Centre runs on unpaid support as well. “We rely on volunteers for ticket sales, ushering and cleanup,” said Rayburn, adding that there is a lot of interest from the community. The theatre offers a membership system through which, in return for paying dues toward the Centre, members receive free tickets to future performances.
“We have a good base, with well over 100 members,” said Shafer.
“12 Angry Men” follows “Smoky Joe’s Café” and “A Christmas Carol” in the Jennings County Players’ latest season.

Tickets for the play are available from the box office from 3-6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $8 for adults in advance or $10 at the door; $3 for students K-12; and $1 for preschool students. Tickets also may be purchased at the door prior to performances. For additional information, call the Park Theatre Civic Centre at (812) 346-0330.

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