The Ohio University School of Theater kicks off the new year by presenting Everybody, a melodrama known for its randomness and powerful message.
Everybody was originally written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and published in 2018 as a morality play. Jacobs-Jenkins based his work on one of the first recorded English plays, Everyman.
Both plays present Death as an individual character that is impatient and stubborn. The original play portrays Everyman as a character that confronts Death and attempts to evade its rules. Everybody differs from its predecessor because it uses a lottery at the beginning of the show to determine the roles of the play, and it concludes with a discussion on race.
The randomness of the lottery is used to reflect the randomness of death, proving death does not discriminate on worldly circumstances such as socioeconomic standings and background.
To complete a Master of Fine Arts, or MFA, students enrolled in the Professional Directing Program direct a fully supported main stage production. Roberto Di Donato, in his final year as an MFA student, was immediately drawn to this play when it came to selecting his production.
“I tried to find something that addresses a discussion on race, as well as is a comedy, as well as is as close as anything could be to all-encompassing,” Di Donato said.
In addition to the topic, the script also appealed to Di Donato. He said the lack of definition of location and time excited him. The quirkiness of the acting style also caught his eye.
“The acting style is very different from things that have happened at OU,” Di Donato said. “The route we’re trying to go down with this script is like camp, or, to be more precise, melodrama.”
Eli Chamberlin, a senior studying acting as well as a member of the cast, was attracted to the idea of differing from the university’s usual performances.
“We do not do a lot of comedies at OU which I don’t think is necessarily a bad thing, but I think it was a chance to finally have fun and a chance to make big choices,” Chamberlin said. “A chance to be able to be part of something that is so meaningful and detrimental to society that they need to hear.”
Chamberlin’s castmate, Jaimie Henderson, a first year in the MFA Acting program, enjoys the unconventional style of the play that allows it to be more experimental.
“The whole show really is one big playground for these characters that are playing a multitude of tracks,” Henderson said. “It has been really fun to get to dive into.”
Although the lack of structure in the storyline was exciting to all participants, the fact that the actors don’t know what role they will play when they step on stage proved to have some challenges.
“We had to practice double time; we had to practice twice a night in order to have people play the role multiple times a week,” Di Donato said.
Henderson said that she thinks each individual actor has crafted a total of 14 characters.
“Having to memorize pretty much the entire script in preparation … it was very overwhelming at the start,” Chamberlin said.
Regardless of the extra work, both actors were adamant that Di Donato’s directing style made the process much easier to navigate, as well as more enjoyable.
“I’ve adopted, with permission, this thing called ‘calling-in’ at the end,” Di Donato said. “The cast surrounds an individual and that individual gets affirmation from every single person in the room.”
Di Donato also views his responsibility more as a curator. Instead of having the actors conform to his specific vision, he approaches the individual and has them present their ideas to him.
“I’m treating each of them as individual artists, and my job is to curate the gallery space of the stage,” Di Donato said.
The cast views Di Donato’s method as extremely effective.
“Roberto has been one of the most understanding directors that I’ve probably ever worked with,” Chamberlin said. “He has been so open to whatever choice we want to make and really has been so encouraging to make bigger choices.”
Everyone involved is grateful to have a leader like Di Donato at the head of the production.
“He really, really, really holds space for everybody in a way that I think is extraordinary,” Henderson said.
Tickets for Everybody are on sale now, and the show will run from Feb. 17-19 and Feb. 23-26 at 8 p.m., with a matinee performance Feb. 26 at 2 p.m.
“I hope people have the best time; I hope people feel like it’s a party … and I hope that it spurs conversation and that they start to think about how they’re showing up in the world,” Henderson said.