In the eight performances of West Texas A&M University’s upcoming production of “Everybody,” five of the actors within the production have the possibility of playing the titular character, who serves as the representation of humankind, or four other characters, which represent personifications humans go through on a daily basis. This results in more than 120 combinations of roles the actors could go through, creating a different show each go-around.
The production, written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is, according to a news release, a contemporary retelling of “Everyman,” a play written in the 15th century. “Everybody” represents the journey humans take from life to death.
There will be performances at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 6-8 and Feb. 13-15 and at 2:30 p.m. Feb. 9 and 16. All performances will be in the Happy State Bank Studio Theatre in the Sybil B. Harrington Fine Arts Complex on the WTAMU campus.
Five actors play the character of “Somebody,” said Derek McDaniel, a senior theater performance major from San Antonio. At the beginning of each performance, the Usher, played by Rejene Phillips, instigates a drawing, determining which track each actor, who plays “Somebody,” takes during the performance.
“We don’t know what we are playing until we are on stage and we draw those letters,” he said.
Steven Crandall is the director of the play as well as the department head for art, theater and dance at WT. He said through the rehearsal process, he has structured it in such a way where each of the actors are prepared to perform any of the characters they draw. But because they will not have enough time with each character, each performance is going to be a unique experience.
“They are not going to have enough rehearsal time with each character,” he said. “They are working through it, in a way, so they have enough time to get the lines down and to develop an initial sort of approach to each character, but in many ways, I think it’s going to feel very impromptu, improvised as they get into it. The randomness of it, the chance to play this or that, is never going to be known.”
During the performance, the actors find out the characters the others are playing through the delivery of the lines, said Cheyenne Haynes, a senior theater performance major from Amarillo. She said this results in the most collaborative experience she has ever had in a theater production.
“None of us know what the other one has until the first line, which is insane,” she said. “In the first scene when we find it out, it’s in the dark. We only hear each other’s voices … It never feels monotonous. It doesn’t ever feel like a job. It’s terrifying … but I think it’s the most freeing thing. We have eight opportunities to make completely different choices. It’s incredible … It is a completely different show each night.”
Each person’s approach to the various characters in the production are completely different, McDaniel said, showing how if a director gives the same direction to five actors, they will take it in different directions, breaking down actors to their fundamental level.
The randomness of the roles showcases how random death is, Bella Walker, a freshman theater performance major from Melissa, said, personifying the journey humans take through life.
“You don’t know what you are going to get, physically and worldly,” Walker said. “We need to stop trying to control that, stop trying to control your life. The subject matter is supposed to make the audience feel a little on edge … and it’s just so profound and interesting and very fun to watch.”
Walker said she hopes this production opens the community’s minds to topics they have not thought about before, initiating the start of an important conversation.
Through the process of this production, McDaniel said he has thought about the values he has as an individual and learned to think about the relationships he has more deeply and what they mean to him.
People who come to a performance of this production will be changed, McDaniel said.
“This is a show that will not let you walk away from a theater and not change,” he said. “That is what you want in anything. You want people to come because you want people to change. I think you will not leave this theater without thinking about at least one aspect of your life you haven’t been giving enough attention or thinking about enough. I think anyone who sees this show will, inevitably, become a better person because of it.”
Haynes said this production has changed her life.
“Out of all the shows I have done at WT, this is the one that I think made me a better human being,” she said. “That’s why I love theater. It makes me a better human being, and it makes me understand the world more.”
The production is rated R for strong language. Tickets for the performance are $12 for adults and $8 for seniors and non-WTAMU students. Tickets can be purchased online at www.wtamu.edu/theatre, by calling (806) 651-2804 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.