In January of 2019, following a successful reading of Reginald Rose's play "12 Angry Men" performed by a cast of 12 Broadway actresses, producer Lauren Schneider announced the 12,000 voices initiative. The initiative calls for staged readings of "12 Angry Men," performed by 12 impassioned women, to take place all across the United States. The initiative's main focus is to increase voter awareness and registration as well as provide more opportunities for women performers.
The 12,000 Voices initiative brought me to a frigid lab theatre on a Sunday afternoon where thirteen women, myself included, have just concluded our final rehearsal for Texas Tech's staged reading of 12 Angry Men. The cast is comprised of TTU theatre and law students, university staff, and community members. Each cast member entered into this project inspired by the notion of showcasing strong female voices, with none more inspired than director and first-year MFA student Briana Moody. Moody spent a great deal of her graduate time at TTU studying gender statistics within society and, more specifically, within theatre.
"I knew that I wanted my thesis work to be centered around the opportunity differences based on gender, sex, and age," says Moody.
The original play by Reginald Rose depicts a jury of twelve white men who are tasked with deciding the guilt or innocence of a 19-year-old "street thug" in the fatal stabbing of his father. As testimonies and evidence are re-examined by the jurors, the audience learns that the play is less about the guilt of the defendant and is more a commentary on social justice and our court system. Because 12 Angry Men was written in 1954, nineteen years before women were permitted to serve on juries in all fifty states, there is a shocking juxtaposition between the text and the females playing the roles.
Moody addresses the fact that having women play these traditionally male characters could be viewed as a hyper-feminist move designed to "stick it to the man," but for her, the main point is the interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of the project.
"I am most interested in these strong women from different backgrounds, theatre and law, coming together to show women making the same hard-hitting decisions as men and it doesn't make us any more or less emotional."
As someone who currently studies gender statistics, Moody is keenly aware of the inequalities in pay and opportunities between men and women: "Statistically, female performers outnumber male performers across the board, yet we are still writing and producing works that overwhelmingly feature male characters."
As anybody who knows Briana can tell you, she is an incredibly passionate and excitable person, so much so that it is impossible to be around her and not get caught up in her excited, frenzied, terminator-esque determination. With that in mind, it is no surprise that she was able to head this collaboration between schools in addition to marketing the event and establishing a panel of esteemed Texas Tech faculty. The panel, including Professor Tracy Pearl, Dr. Sarah Johnson, and Dr. Elizabeth Sharp from the Schools of Law, Theatre, and Human Development, respectively, addressed issues relating to courts, prejudices, and equality. Moody hoped most to accomplish further the continued collaboration between women of different backgrounds and the creation of stronger roles for women in society.
The April 9th staged reading of "12 Angry Men" was one of the sixty-two readings performed around the country.