Don’t We All Prefer to be Mystified? – Greg Curtis

Twelve Angry Men was one of those shows that was performed twice:

  • a 9 show run in the Firehall, September/October 2012, done in the round. My favourite place to do a show, where the audience is so close, they and the performers often become one;
  • and a one time performance, a play reading at John Joint’s farm in a lovely outbuilding.

It was interesting doing a show with 12 guys. I can’t think of another quite like it. A long table with 12 men, and an audience 3 feet behind us, and 3 feet behind the guy we were facing. Where do you look?

Valerie Russell orchestrated our movement as Director. Tim Russell, Tim Houghton, Neil Torrie, David Hoare, Jamie Hunt, Dave Clark, Jack Boyagian, Matt Kowalyk, Jamie Spereman, Rodger Henderson, Scott Thereault, myself and John Kennedy as Bailiff. But well into rehearsals, Matt had to drop out when his son Atticus was born, and Jeff Schissler came in. One of those make or break moments. But Jeff is a quick study and was ready in 3 weeks for showtime. A catalyst that makes everyone bear down, dig deeper.

The cast of Twelve Angry Men.

Val didn’t want a play with 12 guys sitting at a table. It’s boring. We were all up and down from the table at Val’s direction. She wanted 12 unique individual personalities, moving to their own impulse. And we had to always be conscious of the audience behind us, that we gave them something to see too. So unique theatrical problems to solve. We were all committed and focused. Our performances felt great, and were well received.

But this play had a further life. John Joint of Port Hope has a lovely out building and likes to put on shows in this space, single performances for friends and acquaintances. The Players agreed to do a play reading, on a Sunday afternoon. Rehearsals began again, but some of us weren’t available; this time Matt Kowalyk could join us, as well as Derrick Cunningham, and we commenced recreating our show.

John was adamant about seeing our last rehearsal 2 days before showtime, and we were rough, to put it mildly. Val had to calm John down, assuring him it would be fine. I’m not sure she believed it. The next night we ran it again, with John in attendance once more. It might have been incrementally better. Now John is really flipping. Of course he does this with Val in private, but we knew this wasn’t good. We sucked. What sucked the night before was better, but what was better last night sucked today.

We gathered at John’s lovely property around noon on a cold sometimes rainy day. We were in the guest wing in the basement, with a few of our Players’ friends, mostly those involved in the original production. About 15 minutes before we were to walk over to the outbuilding, it got pretty quiet. All the energized banter tailed off. Alone in our thoughts. A scary moment of truth. For some reason this one was deeper, bigger. Was this owing to the new space? Or the fact that we had nothing last night?

Suddenly we are walking out in the fine cold stinging rain, to our show space.

The performance space at John Joint’s farm.

These Twelve Angries were really angry. It is the most energized matinée cast I’ve experienced. This one went way out there.

Every time I bump into John, he still brings it up, mystified by how profound the difference between the rehearsal and the performance. I tell him that we need the audience, the energy they bring. With an audience, everything is on the line, our credibility, our ability, the fear that brings it all into the room. We can’t pretend these things into existence in a rehearsal. This doesn’t satisfy him.

He prefers to be mystified. Don’t we all?