Bucknell Students Stage Innovative Production of 'Twelve Angry Men' Inside Prison
2019 Dec 17
It takes a bold, visionary mind to reimagine a 65-year-old staple of eighth grade English class in a way nobody has tried before.
It takes someone like Mackenzie Gross '21.
The theatre and comparative humanities double-major from Poolesville, Md., directed a first-of-its-kind staging of Twelve Angry Men inside SCI Coal Township, a prison located about 45 minutes southeast of Bucknell.
The 12 jurors were played by six female Bucknell students and six "inside students" - men who are prisoners at SCI Coal Township.
"Twelve Angry Men is a play that I've known for a very long time, but I thought it would be remarkable to have it spoken by prisoners," Gross says. "When you have a murder trial being performed by individuals who may have committed murder or may have been involved in a crime in some way, it changes the dialogue and gives the words more impact."
Each week throughout the fall semester, the 12 cast members, along with eight other Bucknell students who served as the backstage crew, gathered at the prison to rehearse the play and - just as important - discuss the significance of a piece published before any of them was born.
"We talked about what it means to have words that were written for white men in the '50s to be said by black men and white women," Gross says. "We take these conversations very seriously because we all come from different backgrounds and perspectives."
But long before the makeshift curtain (infirmary sheets draped over folded-up tables on wheels) parted on opening night, Gross had to get buy-in from three important constituents: her professor, the head of the prison and the inmates themselves.
The performance was at the end of the fall semester, but Gross' journey began a semester earlier in a Bucknell class called Sociology 239: Deviance and Identity, taught by Professor Carl Milofsky.
In that class, students traveled to SCI Coal Township every other week to talk with the prisoners, who were eligible for the program because they hadn't gotten in trouble while incarcerated. There, Gross met some of the men who would later take center stage.