UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 18 Spring 24 Library
Death (Guy Aiken) looks on as Love (Meredith Hicks) tries to help the character of Everybody (Sean Miller) continue their journey. Everybody, Fall 2023, UVA Department of Drama. Photo by Tom Daly Photography.


Last November, the UVA Drama Department combined cutting-edge theatrical technology with a creative and unconventional storytelling approach to tell a tale first written in the 15th century.

Everybody, by the acclaimed young playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, is a 2018 Pulitzer Prize-finalist play that offers a contemporary take on Everyman, one of the first-ever recorded English language plays.

It’s 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 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 must make, Everybody soon learns that volunteers are few and far between.

The production helped to launch a different sort of journey for student choreographer Meixin Yu (College ’24). Yu worked with Mona Kasra, associate professor of digital media design, to create a dynamic and otherworldly dance scene that paired cast members with virtual, projected skeletons onstage. The process included the use of a motion capture suit featuring approximately 20 sensors located all over the body, including the head and neck. 

Cast of Everybody, (left to right: Megan Kuo, Meredith Hicks, Colleen Scales, Mary Hall, Lilla Woodard, Sean Miller, Darnell Glover, Katia Ramirez, Katie Haines, and Guy Aiken). Directed by Dave Dalton, Fall 2023, UVA Department of Drama.
(Photo: Tom Daly Photography.)

“Mona is so humble, and she was so encouraging in how she guided me through the process,” Yu said. “We did a calibration so that my body’s data was captured, and I could then see a real-time, whole-body model in front of me that captured each movement.” Using the suit, Yu was able to first choreograph and then record the piece so she could teach it to the cast.

The experience sparked such passion in Yu that she began looking for an MFA program that would allow her to further explore incorporating next-gen projection and AI technology into theater design. She was recently admitted to the Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama Graduate program to pursue an MFA.

For director Dave Dalton, assistant professor in the Drama Department, the play offered rich territory to explore for his student cast, as well as for audiences. “I loved how open and metatheatrical the play is,” he said. “There is a lot of interaction with the audience, and the playwright uses a lot of humor to explore what can be very difficult subject matter. It’s a fun theatrical experience that happens to deal with topics we would love to avoid, but we all end up facing them sooner or later.”

Dancing with skeletons was hardly the only new challenge for the show’s cast members. For each performance, the casting of the actor playing the lead role of “Everybody” happens right onstage via a random onstage lottery that is incorporated into the play. 

Skeletons (Mary Hall, Darnell Glover, Katia Ramirez, and Lilla Woodard) come alive in the Danse Macabre, surrounding Love (Meredith Hicks) and the character of Everybody (Sean Miller). Everybody, directed by Dave Dalton, Fall 2023, UVA Department of Drama.
(Photo: Tom Daly Photography.)

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 roles via lottery. This means there are 120 possible combinations of performers and roles every night of the run. 

Third-year Cognitive Science and Drama major Katia Ramirez said, “I loved being able to push myself, and I found that all of the randomness added so much to the process, especially as we discovered different things by seeing and hearing the other actors interpret lines in their own ways.’

“It was an out-of-body experience,” said fellow cast member Lilla Woodard (College ’26), a Politics and Drama major. “It’s like you are watching a version of yourself perform those lines, allowing you to explore so many different meanings.”

Keep up with the many exciting happenings in the UVA Drama Department here.

Cast and Crew of Everybody, directed by Dave Dalton, Fall 2023, UVA Department of Drama. Back row (l to r): Sarah Poole, Brett Estess, Meixin Yu, Meredith Hicks, Mary Hall, Lilla Woodard, J. Patrick Adair, Sean Miller, Darnell Glover, Dave Dalton, Katia Ramirez, Caroline Cook, Guy Aiken, Latrice Lovett, Livia Sinani. Front row (l to r): Ryan Song, Kayleigh Hoang, Colleen Scales, Megan Kuo, Angelique Vizzard, Katie Haines, Xuled Stiff.
(Photo: Tom Daly Photography.)
Read the next story