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12 of 12,000: Detroit Lakes' Holmes Theatre, League of Women Voters team up to present '12 Angry Men' — with all female cast

The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution will turn 100 years old in 2020 — and many people think that once this amendment gave women across the U.S. the right to vote, equality between the sexes followed shortly thereafter.

Yet the Equal Rights Amendment, which was first introduced in 1923, still has not been ratified and adopted into federal law, and it wasn't until 1973 that women in all 50 states were actually given the right to serve on juries.

In other words, we still have a long way to go, baby. To call attention to this fact, the Detroit Lakes Area League of Women Voters (LWV) and its parent organization, LWV Minnesota, are teaming up with the Historic Holmes Theatre to present a special staged reading of the classic play "12 Angry Men" — with a cast made up of "12 impassioned Becker County women." The reading is set for this Friday, April 5 at 7:30 p.m.

The performance is part of a nationwide initiative known as "12,000 Voices," which was the brainchild of Broadway producer Lauren Class Schneider.

"I saw this article in Broadway World about the 12,000 Voices campaign, and a little while later, it occurred to me that this was something we could do in Detroit Lakes," said Amy Stoller Stearns, executive director of the Historic Holmes Theatre.

So she approached her friend and longtime local community theater participant Sharon Sinclair about the possibility of directing it — and Sinclair, who is also a member of the Detroit Lakes LWV chapter, thought it might be something in which the League might want to participate as well.

"After each performance (of '12 Angry Men') they have voter registration, and a discussion," Sinclair said. "I thought, this is exactly the type of thing that League would do."

So she went to the next monthly meeting of the local LWV chapter and proposed the idea, which was warmly received. From there, the word spread that they were looking for "12 impassioned women" to do the reading, and with nary a single audition, the play was cast.

"Everyone we asked was excited about being a part of it," Sinclair said.

Besides Detroit Lakes Newspapers' own publisher, Melissa Swenson — who will be portraying the role of the jury foreman — the cast also includes Amy Erickson, Amber Schwarzrock, Patty LaBarre, Sheila Welle, Mary Haney, Carol McCarthy Fischer, Lauren Oseien, Angei Koltes, Chandler Esslinger, Kristal Kadrie, Wendy Spry, Sharon Josephson, and Colleen Froke.

In addition, Stearns herself will be playing the role of the stage manager.

"Because this is a staged reading, a lot of the 'action' that takes place during the play will have to be explained," Stearns said. "That's my part. I'm basically the narrative voice."

"There are some very important action moments that happen during the play that the audience won't get to see, or understand, without a little help from Amy," Sinclair added.

For those who aren't familiar with the play, "12 Angry Men" tells the story of 11 jurors who are convinced of an accused murderer's guilt — until one holdout convinces them to look at their consciences and prejudices. While written in 1954 — 19 years before women across the country obtained the right to serve on juries — the play only debuted on Broadway in a production from Roundabout Theatre Company in 2004, starring an all-male cast.

This past fall, Schneider was inspired to produce a star-studded, all-female staged reading of "Twelve Angry Men" on Broadway — and its success further inspired her to launch her "12,000 Voices" initiative.

The idea behind it was to invite women in law schools, universities, high schools, community and regional theaters, and community centers across the country to raise their voices — scripts in hand — in readings of Reginald Rose's original play over the weekend of April 5-8. As with the 2018 reading, which was produced by Schneider, the national grassroots initiative is calling for all-female casts to perform the play, after which, there will be an opportunity for participants and audiences alike to update their voter registration.

The name 12,000 Voices comes from the idea that they are planning for 1,000 staged readings of the play over the four-day weekend, Stearns noted. "Besides Detroit Lakes, the three other Minnesota communities that are hosting readings of the play are Duluth, Red Wing and St. Paul," she added.

As is the plan at other venues, the local LWV chapter will be offering voter registration after the reading, Sinclair said, along with a short discussion of its themes that will hopefully include both play participants and audience members.

Friday's show is free and open to the public, though free will donations will be accepted to help support the production. For more information about the 12,000 Voices initiative, please visit www.12000voices.com.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 18-plus years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Detroit Lakes School Board. 

(218) 844-1454
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