Area of Study: Master of Fine Arts in Acting
Year: Second year

This week, students in Case Western Reserve University’s Master of Fine Arts acting program with Cleveland Play House will take to the stage to ponder an age-old question: What happens when we die? 

Among them will be Joshua Bates, a second-year graduate theater student, who will be playing a rather unique role—that of “every person on earth.” Bates and his castmates are performing Everybody, a 2018 Pulitzer Prize finalist in drama by Brooklyn, New York-based playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. 

“Death has come to arrest everybody, to give an account to God on how and why they have lived their life the way they have lived it,” explained Bates. 

Directed by Karamu House President and CEO Tony F. Sias, the performance presents a dark comedic look at the inevitability of death and the meaning of life. It’s a heavy question to ponder, but the comedic elements provide plenty of relief.

“My fellow cast members have caused me to genuinely laugh on stage, which has been such a gift,” said Bates. “It will actually be a challenge to not break on stage during the performances.” 

For Bates, this dynamic among the cast is part of what drew him to theater in the first place. He’s never been one to shy away from the spotlight, but the second-year graduate student’s ultimate decision to pursue theater stemmed from his love of connecting with people to understand them and tell their stories. 

“It’s a strange phenomenon that in a room full of strangers, there exists a thread of familiarity and compassion,” Bates explained. “I also think it’s such a medium for joy. I am passionate about making people smile and laugh—this lets me do that.” 

At Case Western Reserve, Bates relishes the opportunity to delve into real-world applications of classroom training and performances alongside professionals, a feat made possible by the Department of Theater’s long-standing partnership with Cleveland Play House. He hopes to use these experiences not only to build endurance in his craft, but to further refine his focus on his own growth as opposed to that of his peers. 

“The greatest struggle I’ve faced in getting to where I am today has been not knowing where I’m supposed to be,” he explained. “Releasing myself from the expectation of where I should be in life is what has allowed me to decisively get to where I am today.”

Motivated by his family, friends and faith, Bates hopes to move to New York City and pursue a career in acting, writing, and performing. Until then, he continues to perfect his acting, voice, speech and other theatrical skills within various roles, from contemporary to classical genres. 

Everybody opens Wednesday, Oct. 12, at 7:30 p.m. at The Helen theater at Playhouse Square and will run for two weeks. Tickets are available on the Cleveland Play House website.