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Empress Theatre stages drama ‘12 Angry Men’

The cast of ‘12 Angry Men,’ from left: Jesse Giesbrecht, Patrick Harris, Frank Robertson, Dave Ranson, Chris Adamiak, Tyson Forsyth, Michael Dyck, Ian Croft, Jarett Rigaux, Colin Bluekens, Monty Orr, Ben Wilson and Darrell Croft.

Summer theatre returns to the Empress Theatre this week when the cast of 12 Angry Men takes the stage for four performances.
Maren Coates, who last year co-directed Black Comedy with Amberly Plourde, said Fort Macleod audiences are in for a treat.
“I think people will enjoy the fact that it’s something a little different,” Coates said. “It’ll make you think. A common trend in small communities is that we tend to rely on comedies and musicals to bring in an audience and we don’t often get to see dramas.”
“Plus this story is just a classic, it was first written for television, than the stage, then film and there have been several versions and adaptations of each of them,” Coates added. “People can’t get enough of it.”
12 Angry Men runs at 7 p.m. from July 10-14, with a 1 p.m. matinee July 14.
A three-act drama, 12 Angry Men is about a dozen jurors who just heard a murder trial and must now decide the fate of the 19-year-old accused man.
As they debate the case, tensions and conflicts, as well as personal issues, arise among the men.
Coates has wanted to stage the play since watching the 1957 movie starring Henry Fonda.
“The 1957 film is completely immersive, it sucks you in from the very beginning and doesn’t let you go until the very end and I loved that experience,” Coates said. “I’m a big fan of shows that make you think as you’re watching and then leave you thinking at the end. A good drama should do that, it should make you want to talk about the content for days afterwards and that movie definitely does.”
Coates, an F.P. Walshe school graduate who earned a Bachelor of Dramatic Fine Arts/Education from the University of Lethbridge and now lives in the city and works as a substitute teacher, found challenges in directing a play that relies heavily on dialogue, rather than action.
“The lines in this show are specific and technical making them somewhat difficult, so they’ve given some of our actors a real run for their money,” Coates said. ” Sometimes in directing you can really rely on your text to gives hints as to how the blocking should go but this show was really open to interpretation.”
Casting 13 men for a community theatre production in a small community was also challenging.
“Putting together an all-male cast was absolutely a challenge — hugely so,” Coates said. “I knew that it was going to be challenging from the beginning.”
“The casting for this show actually ended up being quite different from what I initially imagined. Before I even proposed this show to the Empress I had an idea of a few people I hoped to work with again but as you can imagine things happened and quite a few of them ended up with other commitments that they couldn’t get out of.”
The cast features Colin Bluekens of Lethbridge as the foreman and Frank Robertson, who splits his time between Lethbridge and Cranbrook, as the guard.
The jurors are Michael Dyck, Chris Adamiak, Jarett Rigaux, Monty Orr and Patrick Harris of Fort Macleod; Dave Ranson and Tyson Forsyth of Lethbridge; Darrell Croft and Ian Croft of Taber; and Ben Wilson and Jesse Giesbrecht of Coaldale.
Coates said about a quarter of the actors joined the cast through auditions and she had to hunt down or ask for recommendations from others for the rest.
“These gentlemen are simply phenomenal. Period,” Coates said. “They have been working like dogs to get this show put together. They’ve worked around family and work schedules. They’ve struggled through obnoxious colds and unnerving health issues They’ve given up free time outside of rehearsals to have costume fittings and dialect coaching.”
“They’ve spent hours driving to rehearsals and memorizing lines. They’ve rallied one another and been concerned for each other’s well-being. To top it all off they have a killer sense of humour. I’ve been super blessed to work with this cast, I really do appreciate them.”
Coates said it was an experience directing an all-male cast ranging in age from early 20s to around 70 years of age.
“I’ve found out that the collective age of 13 men . . . is about 15 years old, that each one is going to want to extensively ‘try out’ the knife props when they arrive, and that they can clean up and take down a set faster than any cast I’ve ever seen,” Coates said.
“That being said I also discovered, even in an all-male cast, that my rehearsals were still just as likely to be derailed by giggling fits, and that a few actors will still have pouting sessions because they want to wear a specific costume.”
Coates approached directing the men the same way she would a mixed or all-female cast.
“I can say they’ve been extremely receptive to a young female director and a young female stage manager. But is there something different about an all-male cast? I would say yes and it think it’s in the way they interact with each other. They have an incredibly unique chemistry that I adore and I think you’ll understand what I mean when you see them onstage.”
Emily Kenney of Lethbridge is stage manager.
Coates said it has been a pleasure returning to her home community to direct community theatre.
“I can’t tell this community, my cast and crew, the theatre, and everyone else who’s jumped in to lend a hand when I just truly couldn’t do it on my own, how much I appreciate them,” Coates said. “It’s been a good opportunity for me to jump in with both feet, make a few mistakes, and learn and grow. All of us have worked really hard to bring a good show to performance. I hope everyone can find an opportunity to come out and see it and I hope you enjoy the show.”

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