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Stanford offers a production for 'Everybody'

Play explores the mysteries of life, death and casting by lottery

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Every theatrical venture comes with its own challenges, but Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' play "Everybody" has an especially intriguing premise: The cast members are chosen for their roles by lottery at the start of each show, making each performance a unique experience for audiences and performers alike.

"Everybody," the winter offering from Stanford University's department of Theater and Performance Studies (TAPS), is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated 2017 adaptation of a 15th-century morality play called "Everyman."

"It's a play about death and life and the choices you make," director Michael Rau said. "Mostly, it's a way of thinking about death, which sounds very serious, but I promise it's also a comedy."

With the title character standing in for all of humankind and the others (called "somebodies") representing allegorical concepts such as "friendship" and "family," it's a play that's not afraid to explore some pretty big ideas, especially the biggest question of all -- What is the meaning of life?

By using a different actor to embody "Everybody" for each performance, the show not only becomes a more diverse representation of humanity, it also gives the five actors in the cast the chance to play five different roles over the course of the production's two-weekend run. Of course, it also presents the challenge of having to memorize the entire script and know each and every character's lines and blocking.

"After they get their lotto ball -- that is 100% completely random -- they figure out, 'OK, great, so I'm going to play this character tonight,'" Rau said.

"It is literally impossible to rehearse every single variation, so what the audience will see on each night will probably be some version of the play that I've never rehearsed."

And though he was careful in his conversation with the Weekly not to share too much detail, preferring to keep as many elements as possible fresh and mysterious for audiences, he did reveal that the cast does not consist solely of Stanford undergraduates.

"Because this play is called 'Everybody' it was important to me that we have different representations of the wider Palo Alto community," he said.

The play's unusual format also poses interesting opportunities for the rest of the creative team.

"The challenge for me was to figure out a space that could transform many times. ... It's clear that our understanding of the world that we're sitting in should change, over and over again," scenic designer Sara Walsh said. "It changes sometimes because the characters realize something about the world and that is reflected back (in the set)."

The energy and anxiety inherent in watching a show come together that has never happened before and likely never will again also helps bring vitality to the production, according to Walsh.

"What you're seeing that night is unique," Rau said. "The show you are getting that night will be unlike any other show."

Costume designer Becky Bodurtha had the task of coming up with costume pieces that could work for each hypothetical combination of actors and roles while still allowing each performer's personality to shine through.

"How do you create a design that can accommodate every single actor in all of these roles and also make it really evident every single time that they put on a costume piece to create a character, that it is that character? And help them sort of sketch and form that character," she mused. "It's kind of a great challenge."

Rau also brought in choreographer Aleta Hayes to create a cathartic "Danse Macabre" sequence, performed by a group of dancers known as "anybodies" (Danse Macabre is a medieval allegorical depiction of the universality of death regardless of one's station in life, often shown as a circle or parade of skeletons).

Like the acting cast, Hayes is working with some performers who may not typically identify as Stanford dancers, offering another opportunity to represent a more diverse community.

"All dance within a theater piece, it's not about dancing by itself, it's about how does the dance or the music serve the narrative," Hayes said.

With so many possible iterations, the character of Everybody, as well as the tone of the show overall, can also vary.

"Last night (at rehearsal), it made me think Everybody is more like 'Seinfeld,' almost like the straight man that other people interact with," Hayes said. "I was surprised by how funny it was. I did not expect to laugh as much as I did."

Audience members able to attend more than one performance can compare and contrast how Everybody's journey is different depending on how the casting shakes out, and how much of the experience is universal.

"Everybody's" willingness to explore death -- a topic many, especially younger people, try to avoid -- is also part of what makes it special to the creative team.

"This is not a conversation that is had with young people, ever," Hayes said, despite the fact that "it happens to everybody."

Death, after all, is the great equalizer. "There's nothing to do but laugh at (death) because one, it's a complete mystery and two, it does feel quite random; you can't control it," Hayes said.

Though it's a sometimes-uncomfortable subject, "What theater can do is create a space for us to sit and think about something that maybe we're not ready to go through but offers us a way to explore those ideas in a safe environment," Rau said.

"As scary as death is ... how frightened or angry or sad it can make you, the only rational way to think about death, in my opinion, is to approach it with an attitude of gratitude. ... To say, 'Oh I know that I'm going to die ... that means I need to now start thinking about how to live the life I have.'"

What: "Everybody."

Where: Roble Studio Theater, 375 Santa Teresa St., Stanford.

When: Feb. 27-29 and March 5-7 at 8 p.m.

Cost: $5-$15.

Info: TAPS.

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Comments

2 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 29, 2020 at 4:39 pm

Go, Aleta. This also made me think of the small group of performers I’ve booked over the years who have transitioned. Chiefly Henry Butler and Lisa Fay Beatty.
EarthWeiss no doubt: or, take five
Posted on February 26, 2020 by markweiss86
BLUF: I have five shows in March and five more in April, although my plan for Earthwise Productions of Palo Alto, in the second year of its second 25, is two shows per month at The Mitch. Mother Hips, Mother Hips, Parlour Game, CJ Chenier, Akira Tana Otonowa, Laura Veirs, Amendola VS Blades, Trance Mission, Wayne Horvitz, Myra Melford Snowy Egret, Marcus Shelby.


Allison Miller, shown with Earthwise founder Mark Weiss in October, 2018, returns to The Mitch with Jenny Scheinman and Parlour Game, Monday March 16

I also got a call from an agent who wants his client to be “first hold” April First for an act whose big song has 47 million views, no fooling.

Also: I am sort of like LD in that I freelanced at the ad agency he was at before his rap career took off; but I live by the concepts that he mocks in his “We love the Earth/It is our planet” video, seen by 200 million.

You know, Wired had a story, not sure if they were kidding, that claimed that if you are an American and you run for public office, the Russians have definitely hacked your phone. So sometimes — beyond my general befuddlement with smartphones and email and the proliferation of semiconductors — and the fact that Apple deliberately changes the ground and upgrades something such that it looks different out of the blue instead of my preferred mindset which would be to build up a familiarity — although in some ways, and I just got into this yesterday with the daughter of a prospective client or partner, a singing octogenarian and former college professor from Texas, and his daughter an astrophysicist PhD at Stanford — the redshifting of the universe — meaning we are not just moving thru time but it is moving thru us at the same time — I wonder if the little fuckery in my writings are someone deliberately trying to disrupt. (And I’ve never used “fuckery” as a word but saw it in an interview the other day with an artist, I think it was Brittany Parks pka Sudan Archives…)

If it’s not the Russians, it could be wearing progressive lens…but yeah, I just noticed a bunch of edits I missed or popped up as I fixed the previous draft, or I just didn’t proof. I used to be great at proof-reading…

There’s probably some fact check things, the exact dates of things from 20 years ago.

Take 3 — if I get to “Take 5” you can chuckle…

Bill Bragin was the talent buyer for Joe’s Pub, the nightclub stage at Public Theatre of New York, and he told Stew (Mark Stewart, or Stew and Heidi Rodewald who performed as a duo or band called Stew) that a song cycle thematically linked (“the Drug Suite”) from their recent — 2002 – album, mixed with the funny stories Stew would tell on stage between songs, was the type of thing Broadway was looking for. George Wolfe signed them to a development deal, via Tony Taccone at Berkeley Rep to coproduce and workshop; roughly five years later it debuted at Bellasco on Broadway. I managed Stew and Heidi and Stew the band and The Negro Problem band for the six months directly preceding that. I was not affiliated with “Passing Strange” but ever since have had a very strong interest in where new works come from. Something about your company’s history caught my eye.
Mark Weiss
Earthwise Productions of Palo Alto
Since 1994

1) When was Earthwise founded? And what were a few of your first events?
Earthwise Productions is a spin-off of Bay Area Action Earth Day at Stanford from 1993 — I had recently moved back to my parents’ house in Los Altos Hills and a pivot regarding being an advertising copywriter in San Francisco; I was freelancing for a company that did ads for Chevron when people my age were in the streets shouting “No blood for oil!” as the U.S. had invaded Iraq in dubious circumstances. And I was concerned about the connection between consumerism and pollution and war, the seeds of “global warming” that people talk about more commonly today. Dr. Cindy Russell (M.D.) was co-director of the Earth Day event — I had heard about it on KFJC or KZSU — and she saw that I was reading Jerry Mander’s “In the Absence of the Sacred…” which has to do both with how technology is overhyped– he, like myself, is a former advertising guy although he was much more famous –he was Howard Gossage’s partner in the 1960s— and also deals with native cultures and their views on the environment. There was a concert element of Earth Day of course with Michelle Shocked and Peter Apfelbaum but I did not work on it; I remember being really moved by the performances; it was kind of a rainy day, very grounding. They already had a selection of native groups– indigenous people– some dancing, some information tables, a “sunrise tobacco ceremony” and I was the coordinator of those segments based on Dr. Russell noticing my reading that book, which was a front-list title at the time — in fact I stood in line at a signing/reading and even had lunch with Jerry once. Two of the groups asked me to do subsequent bookings or events for them. Plus I did a couple shows in Berkeley actually for the Berkeley rainforest project, the Berkeley Borneo Project (that is both
cold stop, hard pivit {an edit, by MBW, a few days later}, or hard pivot:
I have 10 shows on sale in the next 60 days, and roughly $50,000 worth of inventory — the tickets are $20 to $25 each, the room holds 200, do the math. So far, the first 15 shows at The Mitch, two were sellouts: Molly Tuttle and Elvin Bishop. From the door –which is a misnomer or archaic phrasing since 90 pecent so far have been advance tickets on EventBrite — I pay the musicians, the City of Palo Alto for the room, the sound company, the ads in the local newspapers and then maybe me. So, arguably writing 2,500 blog posts as Plastic Alto is counterproductive in terms of those metrics. Sure, this is the best source of info about my work but I can tell that no one is reading this, and none of you 100,000 who have landed somehow on this site go to these shows. I mean, there’s “the long tail” but also Puff the Magic Dragon. Nevertheless (or neverneverland, or Nevermind):
The Mother Hips, Friday March 6 AND Saturday March 7, or about 150 hours away: first of all, it’s a first for me doing multiple nights of anything. Why did I bother? Because they are a personal fav, and their fans are used to going all in. (They do multiple nights at Slims or GAMH and have a picnic and a cruise, I think). They played five times in the previous segment of Earthwise: twice at The Cub – -I think both the theatre and the aud –; at CoHo as a duo; at City Hall post race free and outdoors; (They also played the Edge numerous times, likely also SCON). They have roots in Palo Alto to some extent because they met while backing Allie Weiss a Paly grad who was in their dorm at Chico, in 1990 or so. I would say I know about 60 percent of their catalog, by melody or a snatch of lyric here and there. That’s about 50 songs. Myself, I would say Green Hills of the Earth is my favorite session, because it came out in the heart of my time with them. They also cover Neil Young and what I thought of as a Jamaican song but may well be by Taj Mahal, “Johnny Too Bad” — it’s on their box set rarities from the Chico radio station during their freshman year. Tim Bluhm and Grego Loiacono –someday I’ll learn to spell all that and pronounce it flawlessly — are a phenemon of teamwork and brotherhood in song. Come Friday and if it does not meet your expectation, you have a second crack at it the next night.

I probably should not go there in print — even in this obscure corner of the information superhighway — but my fantasy is that they open with “Johnny Too Bad” and say it is dedicated to California Poet Laureate Al Young (who lived here, is the father of Michael Young, and is friends with the writer of such, Taj Mahal –the song itself might be about gangsters but here it is about a Ganster of Love);

Akira Tana Otonowa March 13, with Akira Tana, Ken Okada, Masuru Koga, Art Hirahawa and a special guest

C4F2EB3E-F11D-4A3B-B98E-D080B50A4547

a Sister Cities program and an Earth Island Institute subsidiary, of David Brower’s group — I’m sorry if this is too granular, feel free to edit obviously). And also simultaneous to all that –wanting to back away from being a marketing guy for corporations – my initial training was journalism and I had worked for two daily newspapers including the Peninsula Times Tribune here in Palo Alto, in their training programs, and one back east, plus I was an editor of the student daily at Dartmouth — I had been the editor -in-chief two consecutive years at Gunn High School. By the way I was never an arts writer: sports, general news, I was just a casual music fan usually going somewhere if my friends suggested it would be cool, like a bunch of us went to see the Rolling Stones in 1982 at Candlestick and I was the designated driver having borrowed my dad’s company’s van. My dad was the founder of Key Chevrolet in Cupertino and his dad was a partner in an auto agency that sold Chevys in Chicago dating back to 1919.


Trumpet player Takahiro Dai acknowledges the power and poignancy of 3/11 events — he is flying in day of show for the earthwise concert in Palo Alto, plus 3 more shows — this is scraped from G_ and Asahi Shimbun

So I had run into a friend of mine from high school named Mia Levin her father ironically is Henry Levin a former head of the education department at Stanford. She was living in San Francisco but had missed our high school reunion and when I met her she told me she been playing in punk bands for at least 10 years Mudwimin and Frightwig most prominently. And also the Mia Zapata murder, of The Gits and all of Mia Levin’s friends and some of the fringe young people I
I hope Mia rests in piece. This year is the 28th anniversary of her death at 28.


2 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 1, 2020 at 7:11 am

Also reminds me of my cousins Dick Ruda, z’l, David Ruda z’l and Bip Ruda — the bass player in this band, who coincidentally also art directed a film about Cubberley High School and Ron Jones:
Web Link


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