UVA Drama Continues 2023-2024 Season with Branden Jacobs-Jenkins Pulitzer Prize-finalist Play 'Everybody'

The “Somebodies” [from left: Mary Hall, Darnell Glover, Katia Ramirez, Sean Miller, Lilla Woodard]  Photo Credit: Michael Bailey
The “Somebodies” [from left: Mary Hall, Darnell Glover, Katia Ramirez, Sean Miller, Lilla Woodard] Photo Credit: Michael Bailey

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA –October 17 The UVA Department of Drama continues its 2023-2024 season with the 2018 Pulitzer Prize-finalist play Everybody. The play, by acclaimed young playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, offers a contemporary take on the 15th-century morality play “The Summoning of Everyman.”

Everybody, directed by Dave Dalton, opens on November 2 in the Ruth Caplin Theatre.

Everybody offers a darkly comedic twist on a tale about the meaning of life, death, and all that lies between. In the play, Death summons a character called “Everybody,” telling them it is their time to meet their inevitable fate and give an account of their life. Everybody asks a crowd of metaphorical friends, including emblematic figures of Friendship, Kinship, and Stuff, to join them on their journey. While it is a trip we all have to make, Everybody learns that volunteers are few and far between.

“This is based on one of the earliest plays we have in the English language,” Dalton said. “I love how open it is and how metatheatrical it is. There is a lot of interaction with the audience, and the playwright uses a lot of humor to explore what can be difficult subject matter. It is a fun evening in the theatre that happens to deal with topics we would love to avoid, but we all end up facing sooner or later.”

The play features a unique casting practice, as each night the role of Everybody is determined by a random onstage lottery that is incorporated into the play. One of five actors playing the role of “Somebody” is chosen for the role during each performance and has approximately 30 seconds to prepare themselves. The other four actors are also assigned their roles by lottery. This means that there are 120 possible combinations of performers and roles every night. For the actors, this makes the show exciting, and more than a little daunting.

“Usually when you read or audition for a play,” said fourth-year Sean Miller, a Math and Computer Science major and Drama minor, “you find that there are several characters you think would be interesting to play. In this case I thought, ‘Well, if I get this role, I will play all of them!’”

“I’m very excited for the challenge,” said UVA third-year Cognitive Science and Drama major Katia Ramirez. “I love being able to push myself and I am finding that the added randomness adds so much to the process, especially as we are discovering different things by seeing and hearing the other actors interpret a line or a scene in their own ways. I love that.” Second year student Lilla Woodard, a prospective Politics major and Drama minor, calls it “an out-of-body experience, like you are watching a version of yourself perform those lines, and it allows you to explore so many different meanings.”

The unique structure is just one progressive creative element of the play. Student choreographer Meixin Yu is combining traditional and virtual choreography that she is creating under the guidance of Mona Kasra, Associate Professor of digital media design. Yu choreographed a group of dancing skeletons by wearing a motion capture suit and will put them together in a digital presentation that will be projected onstage, allowing the actors to dance along with them.

Members of the largely-student cast enjoy the humor of the piece, but also find powerful parallels to their own lives. “I am in my third year,” said cast member Mary Hall, a third-year majoring in African American and African studies, “and I find myself thinking about how much time I have on this earth, and how I can better use it. It’s not about looking at it from a morbid perspective, it’s about the fact that I can spend my life doing the things that I love and helping the people I love feel loved.”

Darnell Glover, a second-year Archaeology major, added, “There is so much we can learn from this play, recognizing that nobody is perfect, and this is a good reminder to think about what it is you want to be remembered for.

Tickets for Everybody are sold through the UVA Arts Box Office and are available online at www.artsboxoffice.virginia.edu, by phone at 434-924-3376, or in person at the UVA Arts Box office located in the lobby of the Drama Building.  Hours of operation are noon to 5PM, Tuesday through Friday. Free parking for UVA Drama performances is available at the Culbreth Road Parking Garage, conveniently located alongside the theaters. Everybody contains strong language and deals with sensitive subjects including but not limited to death and dying. The play also contains sections where characters accuse one another of racist behavior.

For more information on UVA Drama, visit https://drama.virginia.edu/current-season

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