Diversity in “Everybody”

An Interview with Kevin McClatchy, Associate Professor of Theatre


Written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins in 2017, Everybody is a modern adaptation of the 15th century morality play Everyman. The play uses a lottery system to define the roles of “Everybody” and the four “Somebodies” (each of whom is randomly assigned the role of Friendship, Strength, Kinship, Beauty, Cousin, Mind, Stuff, or Senses on the night of the performance).

The DEI Committee sat down with director Kevin McClatchy to discuss the play. 

Could you tell me a little about how this structure influences casting decisions? 

“The figures in the play each personify abstract ideas and states, which opens the cast in exciting ways. I mean, it would be ludicrous to do a play called Everybody with nine actors representing any one type of people, whether that group be based on race, gender, or something else. The play is talking about communalizing the experience, so we’re really taking Branden Jacobs-Jenkins at his word.” 

And the cast of Everybody reflects this openness? 

“Definitely. We have a great cast, which includes gender neutral/fluid actors, as well as actors who belong to historically excluded or marginalized groups. And we want the cast to bring a large dose of themselves to the roles, especially since they don’t know what role they’re going to play until the night of the performance. We’re kind of asking the impossible of them, which will require them to find different sides of themselves, as opposed to putting on a cultural mask to play a role that doesn’t really need a cultural mask.” 

 Do you think that these roles reflect larger themes in the play? 

“It’s a good gateway for making the specific feel universal. We’re doing the play in the River Den, which is an intimate space, so we’re foregrounding bodies in space and performance. The intimacy is going to allow us to explore—collectively—the question, “how do we want to live our lives?” in the context of “how do we deal with death?” 

“But in our approach, we aren’t aiming for aesthetic distance because that’s not what’s needed. This is an urgent, immediate, play that addresses things that are tearing at our fabric. For instance, the play raises the topic of climate change explicitly and gun violence implicitly. Overall, the message is to be nicer to each other, to meet one another in a place of empathy as opposed to a place of conflict and confrontation. And this message has clear implications for the othering of people based on race, gender, sexuality, religion, and so on. 

It sounds like a great final act for the Drake Performance and Event Center. 

“I think so. The underpinning for all of this is ‘how can we promote a diversity of voices?’ both in terms of the playwright and acting opportunities. It’s a part of the continuing conversation about how the department can continue to become more diverse, which we’ve been undertaking in earnest in the past couple of years.”

Everybody is scheduled for March 1-9 in the River Den of the Drake Performance and Event Center. For details, see the Department of Theatre, Film, and Media Arts Event Calendar.