Everybody-Making the Danse Macabre

Everybody by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
directed by KT Turner
dramaturgy by Ariana Burns

(Section of frontispiece from edition of Everyman published by John Skot c. 1530.)

The Danse Macabre allegory discussed in a previous blog post probably claimed antecedents in pagan traditions of dancing in burial grounds. Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ script called for a Danse Macabre after Everybody meets with Love and before Death returns to begin the journey.

The University of Idaho Theatre Arts Department planned Everybody to be a virtual production from the start. With this knowledge, director KT Turner and her designers began pushing what they’d learned over the school year working in Zoom. What grew out of those meetings was a hybrid production that involved prerecording elements in the studio and on the Hartung stage which will be fed into live performances.

The big set piece is the Danse Macabre which involved efforts from the entire design team (set, lights, sound, costumes). Choreographed by Victoria Zenner, it was filmed on the Hartung stage. We had access to the Hartung for only a few days for rehearsal and filming.

The rest of the time rehearsals were on Zoom from the actors’ homes and offices.

Typically for Zoom productions here, a backdrop is provided for the actor performance areas. For Everybody, the backdrop would be a combination curtain and green screen to display an image of the set on the Hartung stage.

While Zoom rehearsals went on, lighting and scenic (set by Brindle
Brundage) were testing ideas at Hartung. The curtains at the proscenium limited upstage lighting positions to back light performers.

They looked to where they could and couldn’t reach and how to use that to their best advantage. They also tested different plastics for the upstage curtain to create silhouettes on.

Our theatrical rehearsals were the first at Hartung in almost a year when the pandemic shuttered The Moors one day after its opening. For the short period we were there, strict safety protocols were in place along with constant reminders to watch out for each other.

Besides the Danse, there were also a couple other elements that needed to be worked out and filmed like transitions between the live performances and the short recordings. And through the rehearsal process, the show continually develops and changes.

After watching the dance, KT decided to interweave the actors into it instead of having them be outside observers. Victoria began teaching them the routine.

Then Idaho-always known for unpredictable weather-brought a snow storm which closed campus and we lost a precious rehearsal day at Hartung. The actors were still learning the routine. We would not be able to make up the day before shooting that weekend.

Composite image of Zoom rehearsal. Victoria Zenner top left coaching the actors through dance steps.

The decision was made to have dance practice on Zoom. The above composite image captures the humor and the frustration as the company met the challenge head on. Two days later, we returned to Hartung and were ready for filming.

After several days filming, Christian is now editing the footage for technical rehearsals which begin on Saturday. This is the final process of stitching the production together for audiences to see starting March 5.

More information about ticketing can be found at the University of Idaho Theatre Arts Department’s webpage:


Everybody-Dramaturgy Packet-Sisyphus

Everybody by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
directed by KT Turner
dramaturgy by Ariana Burns

(Section of frontispiece from edition of Everyman published by John Skot c. 1530.)

Let 'em go. They're right. I don't have time for this. I've already spent my entire life dealing with this crap. I refuse to spend the last moments of it pushing the same rock up the same hill. --Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Everybody

The above quote from Everybody is a description of the Greek legend of Sisyphus, a king punished in the underworld to push a boulder up a hill for eternity.

Sisyphus by Friedrich John (1769–1843)

A cunning trickster of legend, when Death came to fetch him, Sisyphus chained Death up instead. This resulted in the sick suffering more so since they were unable to die. The world was thrown out of balance because nothing died. Ares finally freed Death because war was no fun if people didn’t die. Sisyphus was sent to Hades.

Prior to his leaving, he had told his wife to leave his body unburied. He was able to use that as an excuse to get out of the underworld which he did to punish his wife. Once free, he lived a long life until dying a second time.

 When this death came, Hades was ready for him and had a special punishment for cheating Death: pushing a boulder up a hill again and again and again. A torment that has stayed with us through the ages, surviving through art, poetry, and remaining in common speech as a never-ending and futile task. Homer mentions it in the Odyssey:

Aye, and I saw Sisyphus in violent torment, seeking to raise a monstrous stone with both his hands. Verily he would brace himself with hands and feet, and thrust the stone toward the crest of a hill, but as often as he was about to heave it over the top, the weight would turn it back, and then down again to the plain would come rolling the ruthless stone. But he would strain again and thrust it back, and the sweat flowed down from his limbs, and dust rose up from his head.

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Sisyphus”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 10 Jul. 2020, www.britannica.com/topic/Sisyphus. Accessed 9 February 2021.

Homer, The Odyssey, translated by A.T. Murray. www.theoi.com/Text/HomerOdyssey11.html. Accessed 9 February 2021.