Sarah Everett

For those of you who don’t know or remember, a few years ago “J.Maddy Girl” was one of the primary spectacles of spirit on the James Madison University campus. Football games, philanthropy events, spirit days, you name it—James Madison was there in the flesh. But who is the mysterious face behind the costume you ask?...Sarah Everett! Now JMU alumni, Sarah willingly agreed to share a little bit about the inspiration behind the famed reenactment. So, without further adieu, James… I mean, Sarah Everett.

At what age/when did you decide to first dress up as James Madison?

I was 20 years old when I decided to dress up as/interpret James Madison, in 2009. I had been studying Madison for over 3 years before that, from my days in high school, 2006. I graduated high school in 2008, and knew that I wanted to take my studies of Madison further but didn't know a way to go about it.

In fall 2008, I went to James Madison's Montpelier's Restoration Celebration, and met scholar Ralph Ketcham as well as Madison interpreter John Douglas Hall. Seeing Mr. Hall inspired me, but it was Mr. Ketcham who came up with the idea, saying, "You know, Sarah, you are the youngest Madison scholar I know! You have grown so passionate about Madison, why don't you consider doing what Mr. Hall does? You resemble Madison rather closely."

Coming home, I told my parents and they agreed. Why not combine my love for theatre and James Madison by bringing him to life in character for audiences of all ages? This idea stuck after time, despite my initial reservations. By spring 2009, I was interpreting Madison in Juneau (my hometown), then when I got into JMU as a transfer student from UAS, in the fall 2010, I bravely took Madison with me to continue dressing up/interpreting while at JMU.

This somehow caused a unique phenomenon on campus that I had not expected, and I was warmly embraced by JMU, though as a stranger in a different state, I thought I would be shunned. Turns out, it fit. I was even there for the great JMU win against Virginia Tech of 2010.

What inspired you to dress up as James Madison?

What inspired me to dress as Madison was firstly as I mentioned, Ralph Ketcham and John Douglas Hall, as well as encouragement from my family, but also my desire to enhance my drama studies by taking on the art of historical reenactment, and at the same time creating for myself an expression of my knowledge and passion for Madison in a tangible way. To share him. Bringing him to life from the books I know and love, essentially pulling him up from the pages into reality. I became a vehicle, so to speak.

What runs through your mind while channeling the character of “J. Maddy”?

I am a student of theatre, and I rely heavily on method acting, Stanislavsky, etc. I also use Sanford Meisner, and my favorite actor (whom I one day hope to be like) is Christopher Lloyd, from Back to the Future. But when I dress up as Madison, what runs through my mind is primarily the plethora of book knowledge that I've learned. I've read just about every book on Madison, and at the time of my years at JMU, all that knowledge was fresh and on fire. The biographies, the novels, his writings, all become the blood. My dressing up as Madison means nothing unless the power of fact and imagination is there, combining together.  I do not think that anyone should dress up as any historical figure for any reason without having a solid knowledge and appreciation for that figure. So as I walk about as Madison, I recall vividly who he was, how he behaved, his experiences, his faults, his hopes, his dreams. I recall my love for him, my passion, and how much like him I am also like.

As an actor, it is about being in the moment always, responding to people accordingly as they speak to me. Taking what I know about how Madison was, and translating that into a persona. Although my acting experience gives me my foundation, historical interpretation brings acting up a notch; you do not have lines, you are not acting for an audience for a certain time frame on a stage. You are becoming/being that person through their eyes, transforming yourself. Knowing everything about that person is essential. Every single available detail, because then anyone can ask anything and I know what Madison would say/what the factual answer is. Inspiration and imagination are the first principles of dramatics.

What are you currently involved with now that you have graduated JMU?

I am currently a board member and actress for my local children's theatre here in Juneau, Alaska, Theater at Latitude 58. We've done some very successful shows these past couple seasons since I  began working with them in 2013, including "The Miracle Worker" (I was Helen Keller's father, Captain Arthur Keller), and "Calamity Jane" (I was Lt. Danny Gilmartin). We are now in production of "Anne of Green Gables" (I am Matthew Cuthbert, Anne's guardian/kindred spirit).

My background with Madison helps me transform that same idea into other male roles, therefore, even though I am a woman. I have been told that I am extremely believable, in any role I play. But especially men because of Madison. I can't explain it any other way. It is a mystery even to me! I have also self produced/directed my own theatrical skit showcase, "Calico: A collection of original skits," which premiered last May 2014. I am now in production of my second installment of the same idea, "Calico 2: Reloaded," with more skits, which will premiere this upcoming May. So my theatre activities in acting/directing/producing/teaching is all keeping me quite busy. I also have a part-time job. I enjoy my black cat Misty of 16 years, and two male betta fish - Jim Ignatowski and Tesselink.

Do you still dress up as James Madison?

Yes, I do still dress as Madison. Not as often however. On occasion, I will be called in to the Juneau School District to be Madison for a few classes for a day, either at one of the elementary schools or a middle school. But sadly, demand for Madison in Alaska is very slim. I hope one day to be back in Virginia to continue. Actually, in "Calico 2," I will be reprising Mr. Madison onstage in a skit I wrote about the nature of historical interpretation - a farce. Perhaps I can get that to the JMU campus when we finish performances.

How do you react to your legacy as “J. Maddy Girl”?

How do I react to my legacy as the J. Maddy Girl?.....Well, I miss it for sure. It had come upon me when I least expected it in 2010-2012. I have been told that once I graduated in Dec. 2012, after only 5 semesters at JMU, most students didn't know I'd left! I am humbled that JMU still thinks of me. Having a legacy is still a dream of mine.

What is/was your favorite thing about dressing up?

My favorite thing about dressing up/interpreting Madison is interacting with others. I love when students come up to me to ask for a photo, or especially when they engage me in debate or conversation. I never had much trouble with people, who generally quickly understood that I was James Madison, and not Sarah Everett, when I was walking about in character. At times, students tried to make me break character. But nope. I never did. Mr. Madison surely misses his friends at JMU.

What do you miss most about JMU?

What I miss most about JMU is the spirit. The spirit of community. We at JMU love each other. I miss the Christian community, who are true followers of Christ if I ever did see them. My faith has everything to do with who I am and what I've done. God is good!...I miss the food! OH! D-Hall, joy! OH! PC Dukes! Those were my two favorite places to eat on campus. I loved living at Bell Hall, then at White Hall. I was so blessed and fortunate to have been at JMU. I have many fond memories, and would not trade anything for my time there. I love you guys. I hope one day, perhaps this upcoming fall 2015, to return to JMU for a week or so during Homecoming. If there is enough interest for me to "rise again", I will surely do so;) But start a movement! I won't come if there is not an interest for me to do so.

Let me just say, also, now that I've passed the tests, won the college race....current JMU students, a strong word of advice. Please try to secure for yourselves a way of living or a job or some foothold before you graduate, so after that day you cross that stage, you have something to leap on. Our current economic situation limits us to opportunity, so make your own opportunity! Follow your passion, your heart! Dream! There is indeed a such thing as a brand new start. That will happen the day after you graduate. Make it mean something to you. In the words of Doc Emmett Brown, "Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one." By the way, it is 2015! Back to the Future fans know what I refer to.

Want to know more about Sarah?

You can find out more information about my Madison work, and my theatre work, on my website Videos, photos, etc.