“A delightfully funny play about depression”
It’s no surprise that the Guild theatre’s first indoor play of the season is about connection. It’s also about chronic depression, but it’s not depressing.
The Guild’s artistic director, Brian Fidler, and production manager, Odile Nelson, are co-producing Every Brilliant Thing. They are both excited to offer audiences a play which addresses “this idea of connecting in isolation, which has kind of been the theme of 2020,” Fidler says.
Every Brilliant Thing is a one-person play featuring a narrator telling their story and engaging the audience in the process. For the Guild production, two actors – Jane Gaudet and Michael Oliphant – will be taking turns playing the narrator.
The play’s title refers to a list that the narrator begins compiling as a child when their mother is ill from chronic depression. The list comprises 10 brilliant things that make life worth living. The list continues to grow as the narrator becomes an adult and experiences their own mental health challenges.
As part of their work to stage the play, Nelson and Fidler reached out to the Yukon division of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) “to ensure what we present is aware and sensitive to the subject matter and how it could affect people,” says Nelson. Christine McKee of the CMHA met with them and attended two rehearsals. She appreciated the opportunity and praised the Guild for reaching out.
“I loved it because it shows they’re really actively thinking about mental wellness and interested in playing a supportive role in what can be very challenging topics,” McKee says.
And what did McKee think of the play?
“I found it to be this super awesome mix of humour and sensitivity, and a great normalization of mental health. And [it’s] really interactive which is an excellent way to do it because it keeps everybody present and involved.”
McKee adds that the play “offers a really non-intrusive platform for raising awareness and to share strategies for healing.”
“The more [mental health] is talked about in supportive ways, in creative ways, I’m very hopeful that people can feel safe in seeking guidance and support…I think it can only be a positive thing if it’s done with compassion, which it is in this play. I think it’s wonderful.”
McKee’s enthusiastic response is similar to Nelson’s description of Every Brilliant Thing.
“The subject matter sounds really heavy and yet the experience of the play is so joyous and fun,” Nelson says, “That is really how it is.”
Nelson, who is also directing the play, says that the structure of Every Brilliant Thing contributes to its appeal.
“It’s hilarious and it’s delightful and it’s funny and it’s engaging,” Nelson says.
Audience participation is key, but not terrifying or obtrusive.
“It’s done in a very kind and gentle way and definitely by invitation,” Nelson says of the narrator’s engagement with audience members. “Their participation is integral, but what they’re asked to do is fairly minimal.”
Nelson explains that the play is structured so that a relationship gradually builds between the narrator and the audience members, both as individuals and as a group. By the end of the play there’s a sense of connection shared amongst everyone in the theatre – a feeling that “we’re all in this together.” “We can still find for ourselves lots of small joys in life, and those small joys can really help us in dark times,” says Nelson, “And that’s the really uplifting side of the play.”
One of Brian Fidler’s small joys is having audiences return to the Guild’s indoor stage after Covid-19 shut down productions last spring. There are some Covid-related adjustments; for instance, audiences are seated cabaret-style. People have a “nice little table,” Fidler says, and a “spot to put their drink.” “It’s almost a little more civilized,” Fidler suggests, comparing the tables to the usual riser seating. “You don’t have to ask anyone to move.”
Most importantly, the Guild is able to bring theatre to Yukoners.
“My overwhelming feeling is excitement that we can still do this,” Fidler says. “We’ve had to cut our audience size down by quite a bit but that just means it’s going to be a wonderful, sort of intimate experience for our audience where they get a show just for them.”
In the end, Fidler suggests the audience may be inspired to create lists of their own brilliant things. Nelson also is optimistic about audience response to the play. “I hope people come out feeling joy,” she says. “Hope and joy.”