Sunday, March 4, 2012


This is very late, as the play was done last August, but I just realized I had not put any pictures up.

Last summer I directed the late medieval morality play EVERYMAN for The Shakespeare Institute Players. First a little background, that way you can be bored and take a nap before getting onto the rest of the story.

EVERYMAN was first printed in the 1510s, and is either a translation of the Dutch play ELCKERLIJC, or ELCKERLIJC is a translation of EVERYMAN. It tells the story of Everyman being approached by Death, who is sent by God. Everyman does not want to die (duh!) and convinces Death to give him time to amend for his life and find someone to go with him to the grave.

Thus begins his journey (I love the word THUS, we must bring it back into common use)! Everyman visits Kindred, Cousin, Goods, Knowledge, Good Deeds, Discretion, Strength, Confession, Fellowship, Beauty and Five Wits. Medieval plays love allegorical characters.

All those who he visits say they will not follow him to his grave, except Good Deeds, who must be released from his prison through contrition and penance. Once this is done, Everyman must go through all the stages of preparation for death that a good Medieval Catholic would. In the end Everyman is taken to Heaven by an Angel, for his good deeds, penance and contrition.

(Everyman lays in her grave, watched over my Knowledge, as Good Deeds accompanied her)

That is a very brief introduction to the play. I did the play as part of the research for my dissertation on the use of churches as performance spaces in medieval and early modern England. We performed in the chancel (eastern end) of Holy Trinity Church, in front of Shakespeare's was a kind of a geeky/amazing thing.

The performances went well, with one reviewer saying it was the best production she had seen by The Shakespeare Institute Players.

(Kindred prompts Cousin to pretend he has a cramp in his toe in order not go with Everyman)

Here is a blog by a former PhD student at Warwick University, Pete Kirwan:

"August 20, 2011

The Summoning of Everyman (Shakespeare Institute Players) @ Holy Trinity Church

Everyman is a genuinely powerful text. Whether you’re religious or not, this anonymous medieval morality play gets to the absolute nub of the big questions. What can we take with us? What is the point of life? And at the end of it all, are we ultimately alone?

The Shakespeare Institute Players made a virtue of their usual performance venue being out of commission by doing a site-specific piece in Holy Trinity Church. Director Jason Burg is researching the use of churches as performance spaces, and this production drew on its surroundings throughout.

("No, by Our Lady, I have a cramp in my toe!" Cousin refuses to follow Everyman. Since the actors for Kindred and Cousin were both southern we gave them southern accents; it was fun!)

Good Deeds lay crumped under a blanket leaning against the altar, the Doctor waited to welcome people into the main space, Five Wits referred to the church’s presentation copy of the Bible, and Knowledge gestured to the glorious stained glass windows that dominated the space. It was an evocative space for a religious message, and one which the production treated respectfully.

(The chorus takes Everyman's coffin out of the chancel)

The staging was simple, and made the most of the episodic structure of the play. Harriet Laing's Everyman entered the choir from the nave surrounded by the rest of the company, who voiced God collectively, standing round the edges of the space. Helen Osborne's black-clad Death swaggered into the space shortly thereafter, addressing God with a deferential yet slightly mocking tone, emphasised by a quiet chuckle as she prepared to claim Everyman's soul. Formal patterning organised the progression of characters: Victoria Mountford's Good Deeds was huddled up under a blanket at the altar, Cecilia Kendall-White's Knowledge strolled around the altar space, and the assorted kindred and flaky qualities passed from the choir into the nave of the church as they forsook Everyman, returning to worldly places - where the Doctor finally emerged from, as well as Everyman's wicker coffin.

Everyman was played as a woman (Chaka Khan jokes were restricted to the programme), a decision which saw the company use obvious materialist stereotypes to comic effect - Everyman was entranced by the pair of beautiful shoes that John Curtis's Goods held up for her, slipping into a longing voice even as she admonished Goods. The obsession of this Everyman with appearances and possessions was made obvious from the start, as she appeared adjusting her bright red top. She was gloriously oblivious to Death's intent, and her initial selfish shock progressed through the piece to anger and panic, and finally to something approaching transcendent acceptance.

(Death circles Everyman, waiting to take her)

The play is powerful in itself. The gradual forsaking of Everyman by her kin, her Fellowship and her Goods was a straightforward series of vignettes, made comic by the Texan drawl of Red Smucker and Drew Hippel as Kindred and Cousin, and the fey performance of Curtis as Goods. It was with the appearance of Knowledge that the play began to take on its more forceful and harrowing aspects. The scene of penance, presided over by the clerical Confession, saw Everyman kneeling and flogging herself hard with a quite nasty-looking piece of rope, while Knowledge looked coldly on. The subsequent emergence of Good Deeds added an impression of safety to the subsequent scenes, framing Everyman's journey within an instructive context, but this made the second set of abjurrations all the more hard. Beauty, Strength, Five Wits and Discretion were presented as a formidable set of companions who Everyman placed her faith in. As they began leaving, one by one, her terror was moving. The fear of death, prompted by the appearance of the coffin, was effectively captured in these scenes; and, as Laing lay down in the coffin, one felt the import of the issues that the text was confronting.

The experience of seeing a secular production of a didactic and Catholic-inflected theological piece in an Anglican church was an unusual one, and in some ways it feels odd to put on such an instructive play as a piece of historical interest when it still holds such a powerful vernacular message about the importance of good deeds and of recognising one's own mortality. A thought-provoking evening, and one that left me wishing I had a chance to see Mankind in the near future too." (

(All those who say they will go with Everyman to the grave, except Knowledge and Good Deeds, are about to abandon her and leave.)

The play went well and so did my dissertation, on which I got a distinction (translation for Americans: very good!).

(Good Deeds, in front of the high altar, is unable to move, weighed down by the bad deeds done by Everyman)

(This is me and Shakespeare's grave. UM, WOW!)

(We received an email from this woman, saying she and her husband were in town and had to leave the day before we opened. They tried to extend their hotel stay an extra night just to see our show, but where unable. She saw a production of EVERYMAN about 50 years ago in Oxford, and had always wanted to see it again, but never had the opportunity. They asked if they could watch a rehearsal, and we obliged. They were so cute to watch)

(The cast and crew in front of the Shakespeare monument)

Thus endeth this blog, imprinted on Rother Street, by me, Jason. (If you have ever read the play, this should be funny to you).

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