This fall term students in Waterloo’s Theatre and Performance program are working alongside professional artists, faculty, and staff, to produce a meta-theatrical experience that challenges everybody to ponder tough questions about the meaning of life.

EVERYBODY by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, is a contemporary adaptation of the medieval morality play Everyman and was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for drama. Opening November 22, the Waterloo production is directed by Tanja Jacobs, award-winning actor and veteran in Canadian theatre whose recent directing credits include productions at the Shaw Festival, Canadian Stage, and Soul Pepper Theatre.

The play is a surprisingly funny look at death and how Everybody — the character, and everybody else — must account for the life they lived. Jacobs-Jenkins, who is African American and the director of playwriting at Yale University, has written a secular take on the journey to one’s demise with sharp wit and plenty contemporary references that ground this morality play in the present.

The theme of chance in life and death is amplified by an onstage lottery where six brave actors are randomly selected to play a different role for each performance. With 144 possible casting combinations, each performance is unique for everybody on and off stage.

cast of Everybody reading script at long table

Director Tanja Jacobs (far left) and the cast of EVERYBODY at their first readthrough of the script.

Student Patrick Cooper writes in the online program that “the characters of Everyman and EVERYBODY are quite similar and distinctly human… regardless of your age, race, gender, or socio-economic status, you are still faced with the same challenge… to confront the morality of the way you have lived your life.”

From the absurd to the profound, relationships come into sharper focus as the protagonists confront their mortality. In fact, the character Everybody is reluctant to confront Death on their own and seeks the company of their friends Stuff, Kinship, Friendship, Cousinship, and Love to make the trip bearable. 

Emma-Leigh Simonot who is in both the production’s dramaturgy course and is a cast member, says that the playwright is “challenging us to re-think our relationships, to take stock of who and what we have in our lives and what meaning these relationships hold. Much like there is no life without death, there is no meaning without connection […].”

The Theatre and Performance program in the Department of Communication Arts stages productions to a professional standard which gives students in multiple courses opportunities to work with visiting theatre artists along with faculty and staff. In productions such as EVERYBODY, students gain hands-on experience in every aspect of creating, building, and presenting the play from the technical aspects (set, costumes, sound, lighting) to performing to dramaturgy to audience engagement and publicity.

Two students in set workshop

Row of students in hardhat raising the stage lighting grid


Wanda Kidd, a senior Theatre and Performance student who is in the dramaturgy class and heads wardrobe for EVERYBODY, writes an extended land acknowledgement for the production in which she challenges us to confront our place in history and on the land along with our mortality.

“I suggest taking a moment to reflect on our living history of colonialism and reconciliation. You’ve heard it before, and you will hear it again: our work on the production and every performance takes place on the Haldimand Tract, land promised in Treaty in 1784 to Six Nations […] You work on Treaty land, you live on Treaty land […] I think of acknowledging all these small moments and how they add up as being similar to reflecting on death, living, and dying. In the small moment, at the end of an email signature or the top of a syllabus, a land acknowledgement holds very little meaning until you individually decide it has a bigger meaning to you.​”

Top banner photo: cast of EVERYBODY, from left to right (skipping repeats), Jaime Borromeo, Ada-Maria Nita, Connor McKechnie, Lilian Adom, Matthew Wiebe, Emma-Leigh Simonot, Quinn Andres, Colleen Macaulay, Nadia Khan, and Zaniq King. 

EVERYBODY is on November 22 – 26 at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee on November 25 at 12 p.m., in Theatre of the Arts. Doors open 30 minutes prior to the performance so the audience can engage with a series installations created by the dramaturgy students to become immersed in the world of the play. More information and tickets.