Actors Theatre Of Louisville Cements Its Return To In-Person Shows With A Fitting Play For The Times

Times like these certainly make it easy to give into hopelessness, but what is infinitely more challenging, and arguably more rewarding, is to find the tiniest pinprick of light in the darkness, even if one must do something as deliberate as literally writing down a list of the day’s mundane joys.

And that is precisely what the storyteller in Duncan Macmillan’s “Every Brilliant Thing,” the forthcoming live and in-person production at Actors Theatre of Louisville, does.

While Actors’ “A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story” from late 2021 was technically the theater’s first in-person, in-theater production since the start of the pandemic, “Every Brilliant Thing” will be the first with a two-week run. This is something of a return to normalcy for the Louisville community, whose nationally-renowned professional theater — like several other producing entities around the world — has been forced to innovate and offer nontraditional programming. 

“‘Every Brilliant Thing’ is a story about facing the challenges, the darkness and the despair of the human condition by celebrating the abundant joy, light and beauty that is equally intrinsic to our humanity,” said Amelia Acosta Powell, director of “Every Brilliant Thing” as well as Actors’ impact producer.

Powell is a theater artist of the modern age, skilled in seemingly every aspect of production, including directing, devising, costume design, construction, dramaturgy and more: “I am a believer in what might be called the liberal arts approach, or a generalist style of learning. I believe that working in many disciplines has informed me as a theater artist and that my vision benefits from a broad perspective.”

That broad perspective — forged from experiences with Arena Stage in D.C., the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis — has offered Powell all the tools she needs to approach this play, one with a difficult subject matter.

“I do think it’s important to name that this piece grapples with suicide,” said Powell. “We hope that this play can serve to open up dialogue around a topic that can be stigmatized.”

Not only is it Powell’s job to create good art and serve a play’s story as well as she can, but as impact producer, she is also responsible for ensuring that that art serves the community’s needs.

“We nourish the social good and the health and wellness of our community through storytelling and creative engagement,” said Powell. Her plan to execute that engagement is multi-faceted: The first facet is a partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). At the time of the writing of this piece, Actors is still at work on a resource list on their website for anyone struggling with suicidal ideation, anyone grieving loss due to suicide or anyone who wants to learn more about how to prevent suicide.

Powell is aware of the gravity of this theme, so the second facet of her plan has more to do with connecting the audience to the world of the play and its often surprisingly uplifting aspects.

“The storyteller generates a list of ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ worth living for. These items are mainly simple, not winning the lottery or flying on your private jet, but little moments like seeing someone make it onto the train just as the doors are closing, making eye contact, and sharing in this little victory,” Powell shared. “They inspired ideas of my own. Writing down those ideas and sharing them with my friends and colleagues was really joyful.”

That is why Powell came up with the idea to create a shared document to engage the audience, where users will be able to submit their own “Brilliant Things:” “Folks will be able to contribute whether they are planning to see the show, or whether they live across the globe. Even if a contributor won’t see the production, they will have been a part of it. Those who do see the play may even see their contributions to the list in the lobby.”

The play’s very form also creates audience engagement, as there are numerous opportunities where the storyteller uses various devices to invite audience participation. Powell has been thoughtful and deliberate in her choice of play as well as wholeheartedly devoted to her and Actors’ mission: “This collective creative process demonstrating communal care for one another is one of the most essential experiences of sitting together in a theater to experience a play, and I think many of us have desperately missed that form of togetherness over the last two years.”

“Every Brilliant Thing” runs at Actors Theatre of Louisville Feb. 11-20, with previews on Feb. 9-10. At the time of the writing of this piece, audience COVID policies for this production are still in development, and tickets are not yet available for purchase. To stay updated, please visit actorstheatre.org.

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