“It made me realize, oh my goodness, it’s about how important each of our voices are.”

Associate Professor of Theatre Arts
Kathy Privatt

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

The voices of thousands of women will ring out from stages across the country from April 5 to 8, part of a nationwide effort to draw attention to the power of one’s voice when it comes to participating in the electoral process and speaking up for justice in the judicial system.

The 12,000 Voices project is an opportunity to push for voter registration — it’ll come on the heels of the April 2 election that has Wisconsinites voting on, among other things, a State Supreme Court justice as well as Court of Appeals and Circuit Court judges — and to remind people of the powerful responsibility that comes with being an American citizen, not the least of which is voting and jury duty.

In Appleton, the effort is being led by Lawrence University’s Kathy Privatt, the James G. Ethel M. Barber Professor of Theatre and Drama and associate professor of theater arts, and Maria Van Laanen, president of the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center.

Privatt will direct a reading of 12 Angry Men, featuring 12 women from the Fox Cities in the roles of the jurors, set for 3 p.m. April 6 in the Kimberly-Clark Theatre inside the Fox Cities PAC.

It will be one of many such readings taking place at performance centers, college campuses, high schools and community centers across the country during that four-day period.

12 Angry Men focuses on a single juror who stands up for a defendant he believes is about to be wrongfully convicted. The film was released in 1957, 16 years before the last of the 50 states allowed women to serve on juries. The message in these readings with all-female casts — the dream is to eventually get 12,000 women involved — is about embracing all of our responsibilities as citizens.

“It’s about how we live our lives, and in this case, how we live our political lives,” Privatt said. “But in a completely nonpartisan way. We live in a democracy. That means that jury duty is important. It means that voting is important, that that’s part of being an American.”

Kathy Privatt and Maria Van Laanen hold a 12,000 Voices sign.
Kathy Privatt (left) and Maria Van Laanen are leading the “12,000 Voices” effort in Appleton.

In the movie, which would later debut as a Broadway play in 2004, the holdout juror in a murder case raises his voice for justice against intense pressure from his jury peers.

“It made me realize, oh my goodness, it’s about how important each of our voices are,” Privatt said of the classic film. “And that that’s what democracy rests on, that we’re willing to engage with our voices, that we’re willing to be in conversation with each other.”

Van Laanen, who spearheaded local participation in the project, will be in the cast, joined by 12 other women (12 as jurors, one as the guard), all in local leadership positions:

Kimberly Barrett, vice president for diversity and inclusion and associate dean of faculty at Lawrence

Becky Bartoszek, president and CEO of the Fox Cities Chamber

Tracy Bauer, music director and teacher at Mishicot High School

Lisa Cruz, president of Red Shoes PR

Alison Fiebig, corporate communications manager of U.S. Venture

Karen Laws, longtime community leader and philanthropist

Lisa Malek, co-host and producer at WFRV-TV

Linda Morgan-Clement, the Julie Esch Hurvis Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life at Lawrence

Karen Nelson, diversity coordinator for the City of Appleton

Colleen Rortvedt, director of the Appleton Public Library

Jennifer Stephany, executive director of Appleton Downtown Inc.

Christina Turner, president of the Trout Museum of Art and the Building for the Arts.

Maria Van Laanen, president of the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center

The 12 Angry Men reading with an all-female cast was first done in New York a year ago. It drew such a buzz that organizers floated the idea of stretching it across the country.

“When I heard talk in New York about this program and what it achieved when it was done a year ago, and the fact that they were going to try to make it a nationwide effort, it just really rang true to me,” Van Laanen said. “It is so important that we understand that one voice does make a difference, and we need to make sure we are finding a place where we can speak our mind and yet be open to being influenced by other people.

“And 12 Angry Men is a great example of that. You have 12 people with divergent views coming in and really working through, conversationally, how you discuss differing views, and then take that information and find a consensus.”

The League of Women Voters is partnering with the Appleton effort. Attendees will have an opportunity to register to vote or confirm their voter registration information at the April 6 event.

These are fractious political times. Advocating for participation in the process, for sharing your voice in constructive conversation, for raising your hand to participate is part of the message coming from the 12,000 Voices project.

“One of my favorite quotes of all time is from Tennessee Williams when he talks about theater being truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion,” Privatt said. “To me, that’s the heart of theater right there. Whatever it is, whether it’s a happy story or a sad story, whether it’s a rip-you-to-shreds kind of story, once we put it into the fictional, all of a sudden, it’s a little bit more palatable. And this feels like one of those moments where we can absolutely use the pleasant disguise of illusion to talk about something that is really central to who we are as a nation, and who we perhaps aspire to be.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

On Stage

What: 12 Angry Men, a reading performed by 12 impassioned women, part of the nationwide 12,000 Voices project

When: 3 p.m. Saturday, April 6

Where: Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, downtown Appleton

Cost: Free (RSVP on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/events/400996640712037/ or at http://foxcitiespac.com/events-tickets/tickets/events/12,000-voices

More information on 12,000 Voices: https://12000voices.com/