‘Every Brilliant Thing’ debuts this weekend at the WPAC

The Wilson Performing Arts Center will be debuting a very unique show on its stage this weekend.
“Every Brilliant Thing,” by Duncan MacMillan and Johnny Donahue, will take place Sept. 29-30 at 7:30 p.m., and Oct. 1 at 2:30 p.m. The one-person show will be performed by Ciara Schierkolk, and is directed by Larry Brandstetter, who has directed numerous shows over the years.
“I’ve probably directed about 20 shows, going back to Theatre Off The Square, and at the Wilson Performing Arts Center,” commented Brandstetter.
The show was initially set to be debuted in 2020, and 10 days before the opening, everything shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After the COVID-19 pandemic eased, Brandstetter said they ran into scheduling issues until they were finally able to include the show in the 2023 season.
The show originally featured a different actor but shortly before rehearsals were set to begin, the actor had to bow out. Brandstetter said it was then that Schierkolk was able to step in.
“Ciara called and had learned about the opening, and while the original actor was male, I knew the show could be performed by a man or a woman, so I said let’s do it. And Ciara has really worked hard to get the memorization done in a reduced time frame,” stated Brandstetter.
Brandstetter saw the show performed at the Blue Barn Theater in Omaha Neb., and fell in love with it.
“It was about how one person made a choice to focus on positive things in their life and in the world. She ends up writing down a lot of brilliant things. It was a process that she determined herself, on how to fight her own depression,” Brandstetter said.
Brandstetter said the show centers on an individual that is dealing with a lot of family issues and personal issues.
“The mother of Ciara’s character is having a real problem with mental health, and goes into a mental hospital, and Ciara’s character is having issues with depression. She can’t talk to her father because she doesn’t have much of a relationship with her father, so she is dealing with depression and doesn’t want to end up like her mother. She starts off writing one brilliant thing on a Post-It note or anything she can find, and that starts bringing her out of her depression. Then she writes a second, and a third, and discovers it’s really helping her,” explained Brandstetter.
The show follows the character through childhood, into adulthood, through marriage, the resurgence of her depression and her efforts to combat it through continuing her notes of every brilliant thing, and through her re-connection with her father.
“In college, her dad leaves her with a pile of jazz records, and while he doesn’t outright say it, he’s leaving her a part of him, and she starts listening to those records through college. The jazz compilation was put together by Matt St. Lezin from the Neighborhood Bakehouse,” advised Brandstetter.
While it is a one-person show, Schierkolk said it’s very unique in that it features a lot of audience participation.
“As soon as the house opens, I’m there and already mingling and socializing and picking out people in the audience and passing out cards of the list. I think pretty much everyone will get a card with a number on it and an item. As we go through the show, once I say their number out loud, they shout out their list item,” advised Schierkolk.
In addition to the cards, Brandstetter said a handful of audience members will be selected to participate during the show.
“There are around five characters. Ciara will then ask an audience member to briefly play one of those roles. There’s a veterinarian, and we’ll ask someone to play her father. There’s a school counselor, and her boyfriend, Sam. They’ll be given their lines to say during the show, so they won’t have to worry about memorizing anything,” Brandstetter explained. “The show has chairs on the stage, so the audience is on the stage during the show, which is a format we’ve done in the past, however, we haven’t broken the fourth wall as much as we have with this show. The audience gets immersed in her life, which is much harder if she’s on the stage and the audience is in the auditorium. This placement allows them to get connected and immersed in her story. It’s a unique experience for the audience.”
Schierkolk first heard about the role opening through her aunt, who sits on the Wilson Board. She became very interested after looking into the show.
“I found a perusal script, and even after reading the first few pages, I was hooked. The overall meaning and message behind the show is battling mental health and looking for the good things in life. That’s something I my self have struggled with since the seventh grade, and I have been diagnosed with depression, ADHD, and an anxiety disorder,” Schierkolk said. “I’ve been through a lot of the same lows that this character and the character’s mother go through. I’m not only telling the character’s story through this, I feel like I’m telling part of my own story too, which has created a deeper connection for me with this character. I’ve always been an advocate for mental health awareness, and this role seemed like the perfect way to go about pushing forward with that and being able to spread the awareness.”
The show, Schierkolk said, was also interesting in the sense that it’s not fully acting.
“One of the things that Larry said in our first rehearsals that really made me shift my thinking as a performer was that it’s not so much acting as it was storytelling. That’s where the more immersive aspect and the environment of connecting with the audience comes from as well. It’s less about putting on a character and more about getting the story across,” Schierkolk said.
Schierkolk, who played a supporting role in “Jekyll & Hyde,” and co-lead in “Always, Patsy Cline,” said she is immensely proud of herself in how far she’s come as a performer.
“If someone told me a year and a half ago that this is where I would be, I wouldn’t believe them. I wasn’t ready. I have learned and grown so much as an individual as well as a performer. I’m excited, and I’m also a little nervous, because it’s something new, and I’m the only one there, and interacting with the audience is something new, but overall, I’m really excited and I’m passionate about this show,” Schierkolk stated.
Brandstetter said being able to work with one performer, as opposed to a full cast, has allowed him to work on the craft of acting with Schierkolk.
“We have chats and talks about the craft of being an actor, and Ciara wants to have those chats about the craft. We’ve been talking a lot about things beyond just how you block a show.  We have done that, but we’ve also talked about acting as a craft, and it’s refreshing for me to be able to work with someone that wants to know more about acting as a craft,” Brandstetter commented.
Tickets are available at wilsonartscenter.org, or by calling 623-3183.

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