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Whether they’re rehearsing Shakespeare, a musical, or a contemporary play, STC’s rehearsal hall is always an intense and focused place. The director, actors, and stage management team go in every day knowing what needs to get done and what their role is. But how do you rehearse a play where several of the actors don’t know their role? In Everybody, a nightly onstage lottery determines the parts for five of the nine actors. That means that those five actors—known as Somebodies—need to memorize the entire script, wear every costume, and be ready to play any part, from a smaller role to the title character of Everybody. But how do you rehearse a play where the roles will keep changing?
Director Will Davis knew that rehearsing this play would be a challenge and gave it a lot of thought before rehearsals began. “As it turns out,” he said at the first rehearsal, “there’s no way to actually rehearse all the permutations of this. I mean, I’m terrible at math, but even I can see that.” With 120 possible line-ups of the cast, and a finite number of rehearsal hours, it would definitely be impossible. Instead, Will reframed the process: he and the actors will “co-author” the characters during rehearsal.
Avi Roque, one of the Somebody actors, explains, “Will’s plan is that the Somebodies choose roles by lottery before starting every rehearsal. It’s helping me to get used to not knowing what will happen, or, if you believe in this, what the Universe has in store for me that day.”
This helps the actors stay on their toes, but also allows all the actors create the characters together, while still being able to make a performance their own. Will explains, “Tomorrow, for example, we might start a scene that Friendship is in, and we might get halfway through it. Then we’ll come back the next day, do the lottery again, and someone else is playing Friendship, and so we’ll pick up where we left off.”
Avi said, “During the first pass blocking each scene, we just play and feel it out. Then, we swap, allowing one another to step in and get an opportunity to workshop through the whole scene. They can explore what it is to, for example, play Everybody in one scene, then Kinship, then Cousin. It is delightful to see how all us, such unique beings, are building off each other and inspiring one another in the creation of each scene.”
The plan isn’t completely without its hiccups, though. Another Somebody actor, Elan Zafir, said, “Ayana [Workman, another Somebody] keeps picking the same character, and two other actors were not picking Everybody, so we had to force certain things last week.” But overall, the unique system seems to be working, even if it’s a bit exhausting for the actors who need to memorize the entire script. Elan said, “We focus on character instead of actor—the type, feel, vibe of the character. And then we emulate that in our own unique ways…At the end of the day, I am exhausted. I can barely read at night anymore. I get through two pages and I’m out.”
For such a challenging show, it seems like a good solution, and Will is optimistic about the actor’s preparedness when performances begin on October 15. “It feels like there’s something deeply refreshing, respectful, and forward-thinking about how we are actually, literally, going to work together,” he said. “I’m not going to just show up with a book and be like ‘Meh, stand over there.’ You know? I would never do that.”