Anxiety, depression, suicide, each of these words are all too real for many teens today. However, the Utah Shakespeare Festival is taking a different approach and opening a fresh perspective and dialogue about suicide through a dynamic and interactive play. The Utah Shakespeare Festival production of “Every Brilliant Thing” debuted in July to rave reviews, giving audiences an intimate, uplifting, and life-affirming take on a heavy subject—depression, and suicide. The production set a tour and offered the play to every public high school and college in Utah throughout September and October.
“Every Brilliant Thing” takes a significantly different dramatic approach to suicide, following media guidelines to not sensationalize or normalize it or present it as the solution to a problem, according to its writer, Duncan Macmillan. “Every Brilliant Thing” doesn’t simplify depression or suicide. In an hour’s time, it goes through highs and lows. It takes the subject matter seriously and shows the complicated nature of depression. But in all of that, it also takes the time to show why life is worth living,” states Macmillan.
The production has received high praise from not only its audiences by also from Utah Lieutenant Governor Spencer J. Cox.
“Suicide has become far too prevalent in Utah and has especially affected our youth….Young people need affirmation that they are not alone in this fight and that there are many reasons to stay with us. As a young man, I too had thoughts of suicide,” Cox said in a public message. “Many youth today do not have adequate support structures and demand our attention and encouragement from efforts like this. I believe this production will save lives.”
Wasatch Academy students took part in the interactive play on October 30 as part of the Residential Life Curriculum. “Every Brilliant Thing” is a one-actor show that follows its narrator as he or she compiles an ever-growing list of reasons to live, starting with item No. 1: ice cream. “This inventive, beautifully rendered theatrical experience is unique in the way the audience becomes a support community for the narrator and gains rich insights along the way about the things hiding in plain sight that make life worthwhile,” a release from the Utah Shakespeare Festival states.
The story unfolds as the character deals with his mother’s depression, starting when he is seven years old. The character starts a list of everything worth living for, and the single actor, Doherty, invited the audience to participate; at times, members shout out one of the nearly one-million items on his list. When Doherty shouted out numbers during the play, students shouted back with the brilliant things listed on their corresponding cards. They brought the list to life. They became characters in the story — a father, a college professor, a veterinarian, a school counselor. They became a community.
After the performance, there was a Q&A. Senior Sydney Bladen raised her hand and talked about how this play has inspired her and that she was excited to write a college essay about the topic. This was a sentiment that many students expressed following the play. “It was rewarding to hear from students that this was a valuable experience for them and that they each found ways they could relate to the residential life curriculum,” stated Amie Mondragon, Dean of Girls and Dean of ResLife.
“This production has been a big endeavor, but I think it’s some of the most important work we do,” stated Frank Mack, Utah Shakespeare Festival’s Executive Producer. “Youth suicide is so tragic, it’s so painful, and it’s difficult to talk about and deal with. This show, it’s not therapy, it’s not treatment … but sometimes when we see somebody else’s story, we gain a new perspective on how valuable life is.”