“Make It Matter”: Bringing Everybody to the Coca-Cola Stage
Co-Directors Susan V. Booth and Tinashe Kajese-Bolden discuss EVERYBODY’S unique staging, timeliness, and challenge for its audiences.
This play [feels] like a fresh start,” says Co-Director Tinashe Kajese-Bolden. “It proposes a reset while also giving us some landscape to reflect on how we got to where we are today.”
Everybody, masterfully written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and inspired by the 15th century play Everyman, tells the story of Everybody, a happy person, a free person, a person who believes nothing but the best lies ahead. Then Death comes calling, and Everybody must go on a journey to find what has had lasting significance in their lifetime.
“Sounds odd to talk about joy when you’re talking about mortality,” adds Co-Director Susan V. Booth, “But the tone and impact of this piece is so, so joyful. And in a time of ever-multiplying senses of division, a piece that reminds us of the most basic of human connections seems so very necessary.”
And she’s right. The only other story that comes to mind when thinking of a tale where the central character is Death is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. This play, like that book, must masterfully balance the weight of the driving theme (the fact that the audience is watching the main character die) with a sense of humor that lightens the mood.
Recent events — namely the pandemic — have brought mortality to the forefront of our minds like never before. Co-Directors Booth and Kajese-Bolden kept this in mind when planning to bring Everybody to the Coca-Cola Stage.
“I’m not sure this play would resonate the same way if [the pandemic] hadn’t happened,” says Kajese-Bolden. “We are still searching for avenues to process what we all went through. This play invites not just the audience, but the artists, to explore the meaning of life through humor and physical play that hopefully leaves us thankful for another day to live on purpose.”
Since its origin on Signature Theatre’s Irene Diamond Stage in 2017, this play has captivated audiences with its cutting wit, hard-hitting questions, and, most notably, its unique storytelling device. Very rarely do actors (apart from swings) enter a theatre space not knowing what role they will be called upon to play, and yet that is exactly what Everybody asks them to do.
At the beginning of the play, five of the roles are decided by lottery, live before the audience. Most of Booth and Kajese-Bolden’s cast of “beautiful humans, inside and out” have each learned every single part in the show. “We knew we needed fearless performers,” Booth says, “who bring their full and authentic selves to the stage.”
“The thrill of the unknown is super delicious,” Kajese-Bolden adds. “No show will ever be the same because every night the roles are cast by lottery and there are 120 combinations. Crazy!”
Another way Everybody breaks boundaries is that the scenic design completely shatters the expectation of what the Coca-Cola Stage will look like. In addition to typical seating, the artistry of the woodwork in the house and additional seating have been added to the stage, creating an incredibly unique theatre-in-the-round experience.
“Lex Liang, our brilliant scenic and costume designer, has imagined an environment for this piece that truly celebrates the beautiful architecture of the Coca-Cola Stage,” Booth says. “And our actors will be inhabiting a whole lot more of it than just the stage.”
“It’s exciting when you get to play with the familiar, but in a whole new configuration,” Kajese-Bolden continues. She’s eager to see how the audience reacts to seeing how the Coca-Cola Stage has been transformed. “We are approaching this stylistically in a way that one might for a smaller space, so that excitement is making this gorgeous vast space feel intimate and safe.”
“There might be a dance break that involves the whole audience,” Booth adds. “I’m not saying there is, I’m saying there might be…”
Kajese-Bolden and Booth also got to play with their own sense of familiarity in codirecting the show. Both had co-directed before but were hesitant to try it again; especially with such a quirky, off-the-wall show. However, once they dove into the project, they both swiftly changed their minds.
“To have this brilliant brain/heart/ visionary partner in the work of conceiving this event has been pretty glorious,” says Booth.
“It’s an experiment in working at the top of our game without having to sacrifice meaningful events [and] relationships in our lives that so often get sidelined when you are working on a show,” Kajese-Bolden adds. “We also said our number one rule is to keep the joy meter on high, which is the only way we want to work after a pretty stressful couple of years.”
Coming full circle to that ever present topic of joy, the codirectors also hope the audience will walk away from the show with “a feeling of communal connection and a deeper engagement with their own purpose and passions,” says Kajese-Bolden.
Booth agrees, adding, “Make it count. Right here and right now; make it matter.”