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A lottery picks the cast each night in production of Everybody

February 24, 2020
four actors sitting on chairs on stage listening to a director.From left, Isabel Hudson ‘22, Jayda Medina ‘21, Hernan Sanchez Garcia ‘21, Oti Yonwuren ‘22, and Daniela Shapiro ‘20 take on different roles for each performance in the International Theatre Program production Everybody. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

This spring, the University of Rochester’s International Theatre Program dives into the work of Everybody, and it is certainly not your typical theatrical production. The allocation of most of the roles is decided each night by a lottery in front of the audience.

Inspired by the anonymous 15th-century morality play Everyman, this modern re-telling by playwright and MacArthur “Genius” Fellow Branden Jacobs-Jenkins explores the complexity of death and its impact on the title character, Everybody. “I have a love and appreciation for the classics,” says Pirronne Yousefzadeh, who directs the spring production. “But I tend to be more drawn to how we can examine universal and timeless questions through a more contemporary lens.”

Pirronne Yousefzadeh.

Pirronne Yousefzadeh. (Christine Jean Chambers photo)

“They’re really doing a great job in finding their way into all of the roles,” says Yousefzadeh of her cast. “Jacobs-Jenkins is really interested in how our ideas of identity change because of the lottery. Because of that framing on the playwright’s part, while some roles that feel more familiar or closer to the actors, they also know that the distance between themselves and certain characters is actually part of joy of what this process is asking them to explore.”

Yousefzadeh recently moved to Rochester and joined Geva Theater in 2018 as the associate artistic director and director of engagement. Prior to that, she served as freelance director and worked on several projects including the world premiere of Kid Prince & Pablo by Brian Quijada at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. She has also worked on a previous University of Rochester production at Todd Theater, Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation in 2016.

“We’re delighted to welcome Pirronne back to Todd,” says Nigel Maister, the Russell and Ruth Peck Artistic Director of the International Theatre Program. “It’s exciting to have her voice in this community, and the challenges presented by this funny and moving show are catnip to our actors.”

In addition to the eight undergraduate student actors, the cast includes a sixth grade student and Esther Winter, a professional actor from the Rochester theater scene who as appeared on stage at Geva Theater and Blackfriars Theater.

“It’s unlike any show I’ve ever done,” explains Jayda Medina ’21. “It’s taken a lot of effort, but seeing how all the work translates into our runs each night is rewarding.” Medina is a computer science major and a member of the Strong Jugglers student group on the River Campus.

The show’s scenic design is by Frank Oliva. Based in New York City, Oliva’s work was recently featured during the 2019 Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design. Costume design is by Avery Reed, who recently worked on designs for Indeed, Friend!, a Clubbed Thumb production at the Robert Moss Theater, and Sweeny Todd at Piper Theater.  Lighting design is by Seth Reiser. His recent works include David Dorfman’s Come & Back Again and Yara Travieso’s El Ciclon. Sound design by Tyler Kieffer. He has worked on sound design in many productions at various theaters including the NYU Tisch School of the Arts, The Flea in New York, Yale School of Drama, Hamilton College, and the Strathmore Music Center. The voice and acting coaching is provided by Alexa Schott-Flaherty, an adjunct lecturer at the University. She is a member of the Labryinth Theater Company in New York City. She has worked as a coach on new plays since 2003, and as an actor.

The show runs from Thursday, February 27 through Saturday, March 7. Tickets are available online and at the Common Market at Wilson Commons, or one hour before performances at the Todd Theater box office. The cost is $15 for the general public, $12 for seniors (65+) and for University faculty, staff, and alumni; and $8 for students.

two actors on stage, playing pool.

Oti Yonwuren ’22, left, and Daniela Shapiro ‘20 in the International Theatre Program production of Everybody. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

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Category: The Arts