Center Stage: New ASU production "EVERYBODY" determines roles by lottery

Actors must memorize the entire script and be ready to play any role on any night

Reporter Peter Vezeau chats with three members of the cast of "EVERYBODY," a new ASU production where the cast takes on randomized roles every performance. 


Zach Van Arsdale

A quick editor's note before the podcast: Noah Delgado used to work for The State Press and holds no staff position at the time of this podcast.

Peter Vezeau

Hello, I'm Peter Vezeau and welcome to State Press Center Stage, the podcast where we highlight performing artists and creative minds here at Arizona State University. Joining me today is Tanner Conley, Sheilah Utley and Noah Delgado, three theater students who are working on a new show with randomized roles and using a new method called "Theater of Radical Compassion" in their new production, "EVERYBODY."

Tanner Conley

Well, I'm Tanner Conley. I am 22 years old. I am a senior at ASU and I am a theatre major and I'm playing one of the Somebodies in "EVERYBODY." 

Sheilah Utley

Hi, I'm Sheilah. I am 20. I am a theatre acting major and a musical theatre minor, and I play a Somebody. 

Noah Delgado

I am Noah Delgado. I am a ... I wanna say like a fourth year, but my graduation timeline is all messed up. But I am a double major in journalism and theatre, specifically in the acting concentration. I'm one of the Somebodies.

Peter Vezeau

Thank you guys so much for being here before we get into talking about your show coming up, "EVERYBODY," let's talk about what got you into performing arts in the first place. Would you guys mind elaborating a little bit on that?

Tanner Conley

Yeah, absolutely. 

Sheilah Utley

Yeah, I'll go first. So I actually was a sports prodigy growing up. I did competitive snowboarding, basketball, soccer, volleyball. Actually I tried to join the football team, but my mom said no. So, I had to take a fine arts credit in high school. And I managed to get cast as Cherry Valance in "The Outsiders," and that is really where my theatrical career started. I just started screen acting this past semester. 

Noah Delgado

I mean, I did a little bit of musical theater stuff in elementary school, but they were like dumb kid musicals. Like, I don't know if any listeners will know about this show, but I at one point did a show that was about King Arthur giving up swords in Camelot in favor of those like weird tube instruments. You know what I'm talking about? It's a weird musical. If you're out there and you know it, shout out to you.

Sheilah Utley

"Spamalot?" 

Noah Delgado

No, no. 

Sheilah Utley

The other one that's not "Spamalot," but it's a lot like "Spamalot?" 

Noah Delgado

Oh, I know it was "Joust." Yeah, I did that back in elementary school and then I like, stopped for a few years. And it was around high school when I was like, you know, I want to get back into theater. I looked around and I found an audition for a local youth theater. They were doing a production of "Frankenstein." I auditioned and got in and the rest is history.

Tanner Conley

I didn't really start actually getting into anything theater or acting related until like my sophomore year of college. Probably my first semester, I've always been around theater. My sister was in a bunch of plays in high school. She did like "West Side Story" and she did "Mamma Mia." She did a couple of other ones. But also like, my parents love Broadway. So we went and saw "Wicked" with Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth. I've seen, of course, "West Side Story." Just like a bunch of different productions. "Lion King." I remember seeing that. That was so, so fun. So good.

But then I started trying out. Took an acting course with Blake Edwards at ASU, shout out to him. He's dope. He's from Ohio, like me. So it was actually funny cause I was like, oh, you went to Ohio State. And I was like, I'm going to take his course. And then I ended up doing it. He really liked my performance and he said, hey, you should do THP 307. So I just kind of did a work with like Bill Partlan. So then I also went into a part-time acting school for screen acting to see if I could do it with the big boys, and that's basically it.

Sheilah Utley

And he can do it with the big boys.

Tanner Conley

He's figuring it out, slowly but surely.

Peter Vezeau

Let's talk about the show, "EVERYBODY." It's a new show coming out. What can you tell me about the plot of "EVERYBODY?"

Noah Delgado

How does one sum up the plot of this show succinctly?

Tanner Conley

Right.

Sheilah Utley

I think it's a bunch of abstract constructs, like pushed together, because you have to deal with like, friendship versus your materialistic items versus your siblings versus just your outwardly family. And the concept of dying alone, which is something no one really wants to talk about. 

And since I think it's based off of a morality play, the "Everyman," it being like, hey, you have to do good stuff before you die. Whereas with "EVERYBODY" and the new take that the new playwright has mentioned takes on a new toll of, instead of it being solely about Christianity, it just challenges your morals.

Noah Delgado

If we want to get into like the literal, like beat by beat plot of the show, it's sort of a modern adaptation of the play "Everyman," but it's by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, the same guy who wrote "An Octoroon" and a few other plays. And it's about this character named Everybody who gets summoned before God and Death to give a presentation on their life and to defend their life.

Everybody, being frightened of the prospect of doing this alone, asks to bring someone along with them. The plot of the show is essentially Everybody going to the various people that they've known throughout their life like their friends, their family, their material possessions, things like that. It follows them as they attempt to get ready for this presentation.

Tanner Conley

I didn't have to sum anything up. I honestly hate answering that question, because I'm like, I don't want to.

Noah Delgado

It's like, it's so hard to answer because all the characters are concepts. They're not people.

Sheilah Utley

The other, I think, thing that adds onto it, not only for the lottery being like oh, death is random. It's also like, oh, what it means to you is also random. Like, Noah playing Stuff has a different value to me than Tanner playing Stuff, because they both bring different aspects to the table. And none of us play the characters the same — we all have different accents, different motives. So I think it also furthers the plot of, like, everybody's life is different.

Peter Vezeau

Yeah. And you mentioned something about a lottery system. You guys seem so excited to talk about it.

Noah Delgado

Well, it's the cornerstone of the show, but it's also the most exhausting part of it, from a performing perspective.

Tanner Conley

Right?

Peter Vezeau

So can you elaborate on what that lottery system is, for our viewers?

Tanner Conley

Yeah.

Sheilah Utley

Yeah, Tanner. Would you like to do it?

Tanner Conley

I can. So the lottery system is actually written within the script. It basically takes place on center stage. One of the characters comes down and is speaking, but while basically the cast of us that play Somebodies are up on the stage, we are basically walking up, taking a random pick out of a cup with tickets and each individual character that we have been chosen to play are written on these pieces of paper. So we just pick one, see who it is. We find out then before the show starts which character we play, and then we get set up and go. I mean, we could explain, like, should we explain the actual breakdown on this?

Sheilah Utley

Yes, but there's one thing I want to correct of what you just said. We don't know before the show, we know during the show.

Tanner Conley

That's right. Sorry.

Noah Delgado

Yeah. It's before the show starts proper.

Sheilah Utley

It's like an usher moment, which is part of the script. But, we're still us. We're still actors. We're not in this show yet.

Noah Delgado

It's an interesting thing because basically how it works is we don't know who we're going to play on any given night. We've memorized basically the entire script and we're ready to jump in at a moment's notice and figure out who we're playing. It all happens on stage, live, in front of the audience, which means there is a chance things could go horribly wrong and we have to be prepared for that.

Sheilah Utley

And also it means we had to establish relationships with every character, with every other character, like A, B, C, D, Usher, God, Death, Time and Understanding. Because the way that I act, isn't the same way that Nick acts when he's Everybody, and that's the same way for you both. So it's like, you have to re-establish every single time we play a different character a new role, because like, this is the first time tonight that I'm playing Everybody in a week and a half.

And Ashley had to come up to me. Yeah. Ashley had to come up to me two days ago to be like, "Hey, how do we do this again?" Since her and I are the most physical in our scenes and like, yeah. It's interesting.

Tanner Conley

It's definitely something that is very exhilarating, I think. It's super fun to just kind of have that last minute, like you're getting your assignment, like submitted type feeling. Like you just have to make sure. You're like, OK, I got it now. All right. OK. Got it. We're ready to go. But it's definitely nerve wracking, I think, especially for the upcoming for show. It didn't really hit me until like recently, but I'm just kinda like, shoot, it's coming up soon. It's really exciting though, because I think it's honestly — I think we're gonna have a really fun time. We're going to kill it. I don't care.

Noah Delgado

The audience is going to be so confused when they listen to this because we're explaining it as best as we can, but none of this makes sense. We all need to like collectively recognize, this doesn't make sense.

Sheilah Utley

But it builds character. It builds character.

Noah Delgado

And it does make sense. But it also doesn't.

Sheilah Utley

But that process of like being second to last and watching you guys move to the spots on the floor. I'm like, ah, Friendships taken. Ah, Stuff's taken. Oh, someone took Everybody. It's very interesting. Yeah. That's a lot of fun.

Peter Vezeau

And it's interesting because you guys have to come up with that during the show. It's not like something gets released for the audience saying like oh, tonight will be played by Sheila as Everybody, Noah as Stuff, Tanner as Cousin. It's completely random and during the play itself. Is that not like a little terrifying to you guys? It definitely seems like a massive challenge or obstacle to overcome.

Noah Delgado

Oh, it's horrifying. It's horrifying. Especially when you know people who are coming to see the show who have no idea what's going to happen. And I'm like, I can't reassure you of anything. I can't tell you who I'm going to be playing. Because I don't know. That's why we're credited as "Somebodies" in the program, because we don't know. We're somebody.

Tanner Conley

I actually didn't even realize, like while auditioning for this, that it was going to end up being a role that you have lottery randomly select a character to play. And so it took me by surprise. I was like, when I found, I was like, why do I have — why is it like seven, eight or nine different characters on this casting? And they're like, oh, yeah, you're going to play like one of these. And I'm like, oh, that's cute. Am I going to have to memorize the whole thing? Yep? OK. And then took a minute with it. I think that script is just a beast of a script.

Noah Delgado

It is a beast of a script that has so many like, granular things with it that you have to follow. But it's a short script. Like I want to clarify for the audience, this is like a 90 minute show. It's not long. There's no intermission. It's one act. There's a lot in there.

Tanner Conley

It has a lot of stuff, it's a lot of just content. I think it touches on a lot of different subjects. It tries to combine a lot of ideas and even like issues that you can find out for yourself I guess if you, like, you take what you want out of what the play gives you, I think. So, it gives you like a variety of things that you can kind of just, oh, I'll take that. Oh, I'll take that. That makes sense. I relate to that. Something like that.

Peter Vezeau

So, you mentioned these characters A, B, C, D. Can you tell me a little bit more about them, these letters that are people?

Noah Delgado

How do we not spoil the show though?

Tanner Conley

I would say the best way is, A, B, C, D characters, you can almost say they're like, maybe like the consciousness, like devil's advocate and not devil's advocate, the angel or devil on your shoulder. Just kind of there to either question or give advice, kind of like a chorus in a way. 

Noah Delgado

It very much depends on who is observing these characters because the script doesn't specify who they are. You can apply so many different ideas to these characters. Like for example, all of us in the cast have our own interpretations of who those characters are and we have talked them over with the actors who were playing those characters. 

Now the audience, when seeing us perform these scenes with these characters, probably won't have the same interpretation. And that's part of the fun, I think, of the show. It's very open to interpretation. I guess you could say it very much depends on what conversation you have with the play when you come to see it.

Tanner Conley

Yeah. This play, it's a talker.

Sheilah Utley

That she is. 

Noah Delgado

When you come to see the show, you better be ready to have a conversation, not with a person, but with a play.

Sheilah Utley

That is so true.

Peter Vezeau

What are some moments in the play, without really spoiling it, that you're either really excited about, maybe a little anxious about, or just have some strong feelings and you think the audience might get some kind of a strong reaction out of?

Tanner Conley

I'm really excited to see the opening first, like first act, first scene. I think that it's going to be super interesting. It's fun. Super interactive. It's fun.

Sheilah Utley

I am really looking forward to, I think it's scene nine with Rishabh. It is a scene that you wouldn't expect, especially out of a college play. So I think that it'll build a lot of character and if you come see it, which you should, I think it will be a moment that you really reflect on yourself and how you've been living the way you have.

Noah Delgado

It's probably one of the most challenging scenes in any play that I've ever done. Like I've done some challenging material, but that scene is heavy. And it's preceded by another really heavy scene. And that's the one that I kind of wanted to talk about because it also comes with a rehearsal story. 

The scene that proceeds the one that Sheilah is referring to is a scene between A, B, C, D and Everybody. And it's a really tense moment with a lot of very high emotions flying between the characters. I don't know about y'all, but from the beginning of rehearsals, I was struggling with that scene only because I was like, I don't know how to make this honest, you know? It's easy to just go into a scene where two people are arguing and just scream. But it's much harder to find some honesty in that. When it finally clicked was when we assigned our interpretations of who A, B, C and D were. When I played the scene, there's a specific interaction that I have with Ashley who plays A in the play, who by the way is phenomenal. There's an interaction I have with her in that scene that when it finally clicked ... 

Oh, I mean, it hurt my heart. It really did. And then it immediately goes into that scene that Sheilah was talking about. So it's heavy material and I am so excited to get to play that whole thing because there's just something beautiful about a tense scene clicking.

Tanner Conley

Yeah. And kind of just like touching on that, I think it's really a lot easier because I think at first, when we kind of dove into just getting started with the rehearsal process, especially with this first scenes with A, B, C and D, I didn't really know how to approach it either. I mean, I knew it was an argument, but I didn't really take it as a super serious argument. I didn't really listen to what the text was saying. And then when I kind of finally put a face to the character, and then kind of attaching the words of the text to just having that translation over to a person, you kind of have to assign just like, who is this person to me? And why would I be saying these things in order to kind of, I guess, make them react that way? Because I mean, what A says is some pretty heavy stuff. So, it can hit, so it hits.

Sheilah Utley

I also think on top of it, getting to know the actor behind the character has been huge for me because going into this show, the only people I knew were Noah and Hannah. And we've been doing this show for, what, a month and a half now and I already feel as if you guys are family. And having that moment with Ashley, where we like met outside of rehearsals and hung out and I drove her home and all these other things. It gave us the moment where I could understand Ashley and I could get glimpses into where she was pulling her character from. And I could merge that with where I was pulling mine from. 

And that's why like, with her and I, when we play that scene, we kind of get physical. Whereas she's not that with any of the other Somebodies, because that's how we met on a personal basis outside of the character. So, I think, going full circle, that's a big thing, is getting to know the actor behind the character.

Noah Delgado

Oh yeah. You mentioned something about how this cast really does feel like a family. That's partially a testament to the incredible leadership of our creative team in Kristina Friedgen, our fantastic director, Jacob Buttry, our rehearsal facilitator ... I'm inevitably forgetting names here.

Sheilah Utley

CeCe.

Noah Delgado

CeCe, yes. Oh. We have a phenomenal team here. There is something that I think is overlooked in a lot of rehearsal processes, because a lot of them view the putting on of a show as this is work. We got to get the work done, got to put the show together and we got to get it on the road. This didn't feel like work at any point. What this felt like was play.

That is how a rehearsal space should be run. I've never been able to play like a good, honest scene with a scene partner without knowing them intimately as a friend. Like, if I am not able to view this person, not just as a peer and a coworker, but as a genuine friend, this scene's not going to go anywhere.

We have to have the freedom to play with each other. To mess around, try things, experiment. And that's what was so great about this rehearsal process and so I'm so glad you brought that up, Sheilah, because that's exactly it.

Tanner Conley

Yeah. It is. I think it has been an awesome experience in its entirety. I think from day one and opening the floor to make it seem very, very inclusive and open could be probably a lot of the reasons why it's become such a very open and creatively fluid area in space that allows for us to really dive into the craft. Really be comfortable to just work with each other. Because the only way that you can do really exciting, fun, new things is by being bold and it's hard to be bold if you don't feel comfortable. But I think it honestly did help us a lot. And I think that, I mean, Kristina and Jacob and them have done such an amazing job, just keeping everybody very much so on the same page and wanting to work with each other to do new or fun, exciting things, and just try things out. Kristina really made the process about us. I think, especially with the cast. It kinda pushed us to be part of the creation, I would say.

Noah Delgado

There was never a hierarchy with this team. You know, a lot of times you have a cast that sort of fills out like a hierarchy. You've got like, your ensemble, your supporting, your leads, your director, your stage manager. It looks like a tree like it goes top-down. This didn't feel like that. And that's partially why I struggled to find the names of everyone in our creative team, because it never felt like everyone had a clear leadership role. It felt like we all were a unit coming together to create this.

Peter Vezeau

I think that's really interesting what you mentioned earlier, Sheilah, is that you and Ashley have this very specific connection for when you play that specific role. And from what it sounds like everyone kind of creates their own dynamics based on who's playing what role that night, how those dynamics mix and match from each other with the abundance of possibilities that can come from this random lottery. 

One thing you mentioned, Tanner was the TRC facilitation. Can you guys elaborate on what TRC stands for and what that has been like in the rehearsal process?

Noah Delgado

TRC stands for theater of radical compassion. Defining the specific phrase for it is difficult. The way I've always talked about it is it's this sort of new experimental theater pedagogy that has been sort of introduced by our director, Kristina Friedgen, and our rehearsal facilitator, Jacob Buttry.

I think it's like part of their master's research. Yeah. They're just experimenting with ways to really emphasize playful unity within a cast. Obviously, I'm putting this into my own words because I don't know the specifics of what they're looking for. How that took form in our rehearsals was we regularly would split into groups and do work getting to the essential truth of certain scenes from the play.

And we would create little vignettes that informed our blocking, but also bolstered our cohesion as a cast. It's a whole process where we're trying things that are always in service of treating everyone in the cast like a human being. I've been in so many casts where I just wasn't treated like a human being. Look at the news that just came out with "Jagged Little Pill" on Broadway.

Sheilah Utley

Oh, yeah.

Noah Delgado

I mean, this is industry deep. Like, there's something toxic about a lot of commercial theater that just seems to treat performers and workers like set pieces.

Tanner Conley

Very true.

Noah Delgado

And so a lot of the work that we did in this process is trying to deconstruct that.

Tanner Conley

The blocking and the vignettes and just, like, the body movements and the things that we've done to kind of incorporate that into the play shows that, you know, we're a base piece of the building of the play. I mean, we have taken our own interpretation and how those would fit on the topics of the play and the essential truths, and that we incorporated those into different ways. And I think it's really cool because I haven't really caught any, like, dissatisfaction from the cast. We like what's been put into it. We don't feel like anything has been really left out too much.

Noah Delgado

Well, what helps to make it not feel superfluous is that everything we did was in service of putting something in the show. We were all a part of creating the show. That usually doesn't happen. Usually, you get a director who comes in with a clear vision of what they want. In this, we had a director who came in and said, let's figure it out together. And that's amazing. Cause you know, like I said earlier, when it comes to audiences having a conversation with the material, we as actors also had a conversation with the material and now that we've had ours, it's time for the audience to have a conversation with the material.

Sheilah Utley

In the beginning, I was so irritated every time I'd go to rehearsal and we would be doing TRC work. I felt like it was a waste of time and that we could have spent all that time blocking and then just doing run-throughs. So this whole, I haven't played Everybody in a week and a half matter, would never have happened. 

Now that we're on stage and we're actually going through the scenes, I'm seeing Kristina's vision getting pieced together and I'm understanding it. I do think that for the show, for the cast and for the creative team that we had, that if we would have done it the way that I know I'm used to — you have a table read, you start blocking the very next day, and then you just do run-throughs — I don't think that would've worked.

I also think with TRC, it truly forced us to pull our own weight, especially with a show like this one where we have to hold each other to the same standards since we are all playing the same character. And with TRC, it gave us all the first understanding of how we were playing each character and why we were playing that character that way. Because my Friendship is different than your Friendship and your Stuff is different than his Stuff. But TRC gave us that, like, solidified notion of a beginning of where to start.

Peter Vezeau

I do see that we are running a little late on time. You guys need to go to rehearsal and finish up your work. Is there anything before we go that you guys want to tell the audience?

Sheilah Utley

Get your tickets fast because from what I've been told, tickets are selling really well right now. 

Noah Delgado

I did not hear that, that's cool.

Sheilah Utley

Also to all the little freshmen who are about to write papers about me, make sure you get my good side. 

Tanner Conley

Yeah, I would say, please come with an open mind, open heart. Be very, very open to just letting the show, show and let it be a play. Play with it. Have a conversation with it. Have fun with it. We put a lot of work into it. I'm really excited.

Sheilah Utley

I think one last thing to say is this show is exactly what you make it out to be, because everyone's interpretation of the plot, how things are written, the word play, the grammar is all going to be understood differently by different people who have different backgrounds. 

Noah Delgado

Whatever conversation you have with the play is valid, but have a conversation with it.

Peter Vezeau

Well, thank you guys so much again for being here. It was really wonderful having you guys on. Have a good rehearsal, OK?

Noah Delgado

Awesome. Thank you.

Tanner Conley

Thank you so much, Peter. We appreciate it.

Sheilah Utley 

Thank you, Peter. Thanks.

Peter Vezeau.

My thanks again to Tanner, Sheila and Noah. Be sure to catch "EVERYBODY" at the Lyceum Theatre on Oct. 15 through the 17 and the 21 through the 24. You can go to their Instagram @everybodyasu for information about the production and how to get tickets. For The State Press, I'm Peter Vezeau.


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