Utah Shakespeare Festival to share ‘1 million reasons to live’ with students across state

ST. GEORGE — The Utah Shakespeare Festival is making efforts to prevent teen suicide by sharing “1 million reasons to live” with students throughout the state.

Starting in October, two groups will tour Utah to perform the play “Every Brilliant Thing” at each public high school and university in the sate. The groups will tour for four months, performing at over 150 schools and reaching an estimated 75,000 students.

With suicide being the seventh leading cause of death in Utah, and the number of teens and young adults taking their own lives on the rise, the Utah Shakespeare Festival decided there was no better time to create an initiative to spread hope, Donn Jersey, director of development and communications for the Utah Shakespeare Festival, told St. George News.

“The suicide rates in Utah in the age group that we’re talking about are the worst in the country. And this play is just so beautiful and so filled with hope,” Jersey said. “Part of the solution to these types of crises are conversation and community. And this particular play ignites both.”

“Every Brilliant Thing,” written by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe, is an interactive one-person show, in which the narrator shares some of 1 million reasons to live that he compiled as a kid for his mother after she attempted suicide, starting with ice cream. 

The actor includes the audience in the performance, handing out slips of paper with reasons to live written on them and even bringing some audience members on stage to play characters in the show.

Michael Doherty performs in the one-man play “Every Brilliant Thing,” at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Cedar City, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of the Utah Shakespeare Festival, St. George/Cedar City News

The play is currently being performed by actor Michael Doherty at the Eileen and Allen Anes Studio Theatre in Cedar City as part of the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2019 season.

“This is some of the most important work we, as a theatre company, can do,” Frank Mack, executive producer of the Festival, said in a press release. “While it’s not treatment, artistic experiences that so powerfully say ‘yes’ to life can have a profound impact. When we see someone else’s story, it can help us reflect on our circumstances in completely new and different ways … Live theatre can do this like nothing else.”

During the tour, Doherty will direct the tour while two groups of actors, including Samae Allred, Cordell Cole, Kat Lee and Jeremy Thompson, perform around the state.

At the end of each performance, resources and information will be provided to students about how they can get help if they are suffering from depression or contemplating suicide. 

The festival raised $400,000 toward the initiative, allowing them to make the performance available to students at no charge. The initiative received support from the state of Utah, the Department of Heritage and Arts, the Utah Department of Arts and Museums, Rural Health Division of Southern Utah, Southern Utah University, the Ashton Family Foundation and the Hemingway Foundation.

Michael Doherty performs in the one-man play “Every Brilliant Thing,” at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Cedar City, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of the Utah Shakespeare Festival, St. George/Cedar City News

“We’re very grateful and humbled that we were able to raise the sponsorship money,” Jersey said. “We’re just really proud of this effort … We consider this a public service, and our hopes are that it will change and save some lives.” 

Lt. Gov. Spencer J. Cox wrote a letter of support for the initiative, expressing the importance of affirming to young people struggling with depression that they are not alone. 

“As a young man, I too had thoughts of suicide. I thought I was the only one with these thoughts and that I must be broken,” Cox wrote in the letter. “If it were not for the love and meaningful connections with some close friends and youth leaders, I am not sure I would be here today. I was lucky. Many youth today do not have adequate support structures, and demand our attention and the encouragement from efforts like this. I believe this production will save lives.”

The group will also offer 10 performances for the general public in some of the communities they’ll be in. The dates and locations of these performances will be posted on the Utah Shakespeare Festival website

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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