Periwig Club's First Fall Play Reading: Everybody

Launching its new Jean S. Stephens Play Reading Series, the Periwig Club will perform virtual readings of Everybody by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins this Friday and Saturday over Zoom to accommodate Covid-19 restrictions.

Launching its new Jean S. Stephens Play Reading Series, the Periwig Club will perform virtual readings of Everybody by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins this Friday and Saturday over Zoom to accommodate Covid-19 restrictions. Auditions were held in late August to avoid overlaps with the planning of Winterfest, and the cast list was released in early September. The play features lead actors Naa Kwama Ankrah '23, Caroline Bednar '22, Kajal Dongre '22, Vicente Gil '21, Bernice Hightower '21, Eddie Newsom '23, Quinn Thierfelder '22, Luke Trowbridge '22, Anoushka Sharma '23, and Allison Williams '21.

While this year's production of Clue: On Stage allowed Director of Theater and Theater Teacher Matthew Campbell to continue the School's theater program, he hopes that through Everybody, Lawrentians can explore other styles of play performances as well.

"The play reading series [seeks] to give Lawrentians another performance opportunity and also provide a space for varsity athletes who can't do the musical and want something else that is an artistic, collaborative opportunity but isn't necessarily a huge demand," he commented.

Campbell initially chose Everybody because it offers insight into the significance of mortality and transience of life. He thought it was a perfect fit for "what we, as a nation, are going through in response to social injustice, in response to what is humankind."

According to Campbell, the play is essentially about "the journey of humankind as they travel to death." Virtual stage manager Autri Basu '23 also added that it "is intended as a discourse between ['Everyone'] who is being asked by God to die for him, [in which 'Everyone'] is abandoned by all others except Love." The play is a modern adaptation of the 15th-century play Everyman, which features characters who are personifications of major human ideas such as Love, Death, God, and Time.

Although Everybody does contain many dark, transcendent themes, its comedic plot and characters still make it relatable for the audience. Its tangs of humor allow the actors to better convey the moral message of the story as it makes the play more engaging and interactive. Dongre, who will play the role of 'Somebodies,' mentioned how she could "see [her] personal life in every role."

Given the series of changes in the theater department this school year, the rehearsal process has been experimental for both students and faculty. Trowbrige, who plays 'Death,' describes the preparation as a "fast-moving process;" the cast and management team have had six rehearsals, only one of which had been in person. Something else unique about the play is its lottery system, which keeps the five actors of 'Somebodies' unaware of which specific character they play until the final show, before which they conduct a lottery-like draw to determine their final roles.

Given the absence of "group spirit" due to virtual rehearsals, the actors are collectively giving their all to try and mirror the environment of an in-person rehearsal. They focused on using their faces, voices, and upper bodies to better portray their characters on-screen. Nevertheless, the dynamic nature of the play has made this task harder than expected, the script of Everybody was inspired by an ancient Greek style known as stichomythia, which requires actors to speak in alternate lines or verse, making the actors' timing especially important.

Hightower, who will play the role of 'Usher/Understanding,' commented, "We're struggling with keeping the pace of the play up because there are long chunks of monologue that [during which we need] to keep the audience captive while also maintaining the message of the play."

However, despite the barriers that Covid-19 has imposed on rehearsals, the preparation process has also had many bright sides. Due to the reading being virtual, the actors, especially the characters involved in the lottery, don’t have to be completely off-book. Williams, who will be playing 'Love,' mentioned that the reading's flexibility gave her "a chance to [fully] explore the character." The Periwig Club was also highly motivated by the visit of the playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins himself, who watched one of their readings and hosted a talkback with the cast and crew.

The production team is incredibly hopeful about the performance. "There's something valuable in thinking about the lasting impact we want to have in the time that we do have," commented Campbell.

"I think this opens up a new opportunity for people who don't really do a lot in Periwig to get their feet wet and try some new things," said Hightower.

Williams further commented on the reading within the context of the larger theater world: "A lot of other theaters and plays have had to adapt virtually to doing their readings. We're replicating what people are doing outside of school, and it really shows how things are changing and how we can adapt to that."

This inaugural play reading, according to Dongre, is a performance to be especially proud of because not only is it "flexible to the remote students and families," but also "the first step Lawrenceville is taking to participate in [a] new world of theatrical entertainment."

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