“I better watch a boxing match tonight and not a game of golf,” shouts Jason Pasqua, theater instructor at Laramie County Community College.
He’s standing at the head of the LCCC Playhouse during a key rehearsal for the upcoming student production of “12 Angry Jurors.” Opening night is just a little over a week away, and he wants to see a dynamic performance – not just 12 people sitting around a table.
That’s all the input Pasqua has for now, however, because this isn’t technically his show. Sophomore Olivia Saulsberry is the director of this production, and as she takes her seat in the front row, she’s laser-focused on the actors in front of her.
Saulsberry joined the program last year as an assistant director for LCCC’s production of “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” and then again in the same role for “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” the latter for which she won the Meritorious Achievement distinction from the Region 7 Kennedy Center/American College Theatre Festival.
“I wanted to take a step back from directing and let a student do that,” said Pasqua, who’s run the LCCC theater program for 14-some years. “She’s a go-to person and demonstrated that she was willing to do the work.”
The pair met before casting to go over their visions for the production, which included what themes they wanted to get across and what kind of cast they were hoping to find. Pasqua noted that the program is lucky to have a surprisingly diverse group of students in terms of race, ethnicity and sexual orientation, which has given a special modern touch to this otherwise slightly dated play.
“In 1957, the name of the play was ‘12 Angry Men,’ and they were noticeably white men,” he said. “(Now) there’s this very cool thing that you can do … there are two versions of the script, one for men and one for women, so we merged the two.”
Saulsberry noted that not only is the cast diverse, it’s abnormally large for an LCCC production. There were so many talented actors that came to auditions that she and Pasqua decided to double cast the show, meaning the first weekend they’ll have one group, and the next weekend will feature some people who weren’t in the previous weekend’s productions.
Originally, they were thinking about using understudies, she said, but she was too impressed to let some of these performers risk never getting stage time. Pasqua asked her if she was up for the challenge – two casts means twice the rehearsal time – and she said yes.
“Different actors as different people really change the show as a whole, so hopefully if people want to come back to both weekends, they’ll see two entirely different shows.”
Directing two casts is challenging and fun at the same time, Saulsberry said, because the two groups have completely different strengths and weaknesses. Directing is problem solving, she added, so most of her job involves learning from both groups and seeing how one can help the other.
Two of the biggest challenges other than the dual casting, the pair agreed, were pacing and blocking. It’s jury duty – people want to get out of the room as quickly as possible and get on with their lives, Saulsberry noted. So it has to be quick, and it has to be more than just 12 people sitting at a table talking.
Asked why she was interested in directing, Saulsberry made a face before letting out a big laugh.
“I’ve been told I’m very bossy,” she said with a chuckle. “And my high school theater teacher told me I have a very interesting way of looking at things, so I took that and ran with it.”
Directing also involves vision, Pasqua said, so another part of her job is reading the script and imagining what the possibilities are. That script is technically just a set of instructions for what to put on stage, he added, and works of theater are the only form of literature for which the written word is not the final word, so Saulsberry’s task is to find the interesting opportunities that the script presents and then bring them to life.
“You’ve got this language in there like ‘you know how those people are,’” Pasqua said. “The kid on trial, we assume, is a minority … well, that reads one way as a room full of white men, but then you go back to that diversity we put on stage, and all of a sudden now someone says ‘you know how those people are’ and one of ‘those people’ is sitting right next to you in the jury room. Those are the kinds of rich things you can look for.”
Saulsberry and Pasqua contacted the Laramie County District Court to ask for a picture of a jury room for inspiration while they were planning for this production, and after looking at it, they realized that it was just a boring room. That’s how they landed on the following motto for this production: “democracy happens in boring rooms.”
“The audience should go home and be talking about it,” Saulsberry said. “Just today me and some of the other cast and crew members were having a full discussion saying ‘so ... do we think he’s guilty?’”