When You, the Jury begins, even the actors on stage don't know how the play ends. The story is based around the court case of a boy accused of robbing his employer, and audience members are selected to sit on the jury. Much of the questioning by the prosecution and defendant is improvised, and it's up to the jury to decide the verdict.
"On the first night we performed the play, my son was found guilty, which was very upsetting," says Deborah Counts, Burke's Community Education director who plays the mother of the accused boy. "I got very mad about what they said about my son."
For most of the participating actors, stage is a new pursuit. Despite having a comfortable, modern auditorium, Burke does not have an active drama program. Auditorium manager Whitfield Sims, a New York theatre veteran, saw the opportunity for a high-quality production and recruited ten students and countless Burke community members. The cast, which includes the assistant principal and several teachers, worked tirelessly to prepare in the afternoons last fall.
You, the Jury debuted at Burke in January and they were quickly invited to participate in Piccolo, a first for the school. "Our goal is to get people inspired to start an active drama group," says Counts. "People hear 'Burke' and get a negative taste in their mouth, so we're hoping this thing will infuse into the community and continue to provide opportunities for kids to learn about a craft and get involved."
Although the topic is serious, the play is considered a comedy due to the off-kilter questions asked by the judge and lawyers. "I was trying to find a piece that would involve the community, and knew it had to be something that was very humorous," says Sims. "25 audience members are involved every night, and you'd be surprised at how they'll tell their life story when the judge asks them a witty question."
Sims hopes that the play will raise enough money to update Burke's equipment and continue to produce polished shows. Starting out with literally nothing, the school has done quite a job to put themselves on a distinguished Piccolo schedule this year. "You don't always get the opportunities you'd like to have in life," says Counts. "We're trying to be an inspiration for folks."
YOU, THE JURY • Piccolo Spoleto's Theatre Series • $15, $10 seniors and students • (1 hour 30 min.) • June 3 and 9 at 4 p.m.; June 7 and 8 at 7 p.m. • Burke High School Auditorium , 244 President St. • 554-6060