WICA brings a touch of brilliance to the stage

— Created April 6, 2022 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

“Every Brilliant Thing,” the latest production by Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley, is a one-man show with unlimited possibilities. The show, which is being done in collaboration with Healing Circles Langley, opens Friday in WICA’s Zech Hall and will run through April 23. Check wicaonline.org for showtimes and tickets.

The Duncan Macmillan play is being directed by Deana Duncan and features improvisational artist Billy Tierney – and the audience – and tackles a tough subject in a unique way.

“It’s this hilarious, heart-wrenching, touching and funny play starring one actor as a narrator, or everyman, who takes the audience through his life from age 7 to present; a life deeply impacted by a depressive, suicidal mother and his later struggles with his own mental health,” described Duncan, WICA’s artistic director and acting executive director. “The audience is an integral part of the storytelling process, which makes this work so unique. The play was written for an improv artist and we’re lucky enough to have Billy Tierney on island. He is a professional, trained improv talent who knows how to weave written story with the raw unrehearsed ‘work’ we’ll get from each audience. The show will be a different one every time.”

Tierney said he could easily envision himself doing this play when he read it, and felt it played to his strengths.

“By the time I finished the script, I was certain of the play’s importance for our community and I felt called to commit myself and my time to it,” he said. ” My background is in improvisation, both teaching as an individual in front of larger groups and in performing with as few as one partner for shows as long as this one, but this will be a new experience for me. With that said, I feel confident in my ability to juggle the script, the audience, and the inevitable variables that come with a 50-page script that leaves room for improvisation.”

 Duncan said this production is a new experience for her as well, having never directed a one-actor play before.

“Nothing I’ve ever done before really matters or helps – there is no set, no props, no ‘acting business,'” she said. “Billy is brilliant and came into rehearsal pretty much memorized (70 minutes non-stop), so that was amazing. But all the normal rehearsal business of blocking and working on telling the story isn’t possible without the audience, who will literally be the final piece of this production, and I can’t rehearse the audience, so Billy and I [have spent] hours debating the words, the meaning, where we want to move or stand absolutely still and how to engage the audience deeply in this really human story.”

For those unfamiliar with this work, it tackles the difficult subject of suicide, but in a way that is non-threatening, relatable, touching and even humorous, Duncan said.

“The playwright, Duncan Macmillan, has these other brilliant plays I love and I had heard about this one but never looked at it,” she said. “Then last April, a dear friend of mine…chose to take his life. And I wasn’t processing it well, so I turned to theater and I remembered this play. ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ is probably the most personal play I’ve chosen to work on in my 21 years and 105 plays at WICA, because I’m hoping to create safe space to process this kind of loss with conversation, heart, and community. The fact the play is so funny also appealed to me, that we could tackle huge human conversations with humor and love, it’s just so well written.”

That very personal connection led Duncan to involve Healing Circles Langley with this production. Healing Circles Langley seeks to provide a safe space for anyone hoping to heal from physical or emotional/mental health issues.

“I didn’t want to do the play if they weren’t involved,” Duncan said. “I think anytime we can tie our work to the greater community conversations, the better the work will be. These collaborations and partnerships are crucial. Diana [Lindsay, director of Healing Circles], has agreed to have Healing Circles open and available for anyone and everyone who needs a place to talk and process. She is also helping us lead two or three community conversations during the run of the show. One on suicide and depression specific and then tying this into the bigger picture with inviting Washington State End of Life group out to do a daytime talk.”

As mentioned, audience participation plays a key role in this production. Because of that, no two shows will be the same. It makes for a challenging, unique kind of performance art.

“The audience has a huge role to play,” Duncan said. “They will walk into the space and immediately pre-show, meet the actor, the narrator, the everyman in the space, who will fill them in on their ‘role.’  Billy will not put anyone on the spot but he needs people to come in with open hearts and minds and be willing to listen, to laugh and to be moved emotionally. We need you, audience, like never before. Please come see the show so we can fully tell this beautiful story.  Sometimes showing up is the hardest part; this play asks us to show up just as we are and be willing to participate in something bigger than ourselves.”

“I would love audiences to be fully present with me, sharing the vulnerability of the play and its contents as we move in and out of interactions,” Tierney said. “I hope audiences come away from the show more open and willing to talk about the stuff that is hardest to talk about with their friends and family, and to do so in good nature with open hearts. I really hope audiences leave with joy and compassion.”

“Every Brilliant Thing” will look a little different than other productions, in that the show runs about 70 minutes in length with no intermission and will be performed “in the round” in Zech Hall, not on the main stage. Seating will be limited to 90 people per show. Those attending are asked to arrive early to allow Tierney time to “set the stage” with the audience.

Information on tickets and showtimes can be found online at wicaonline.org. There will be 20 tickets for every show available for $20. Find more information on Healing Circles Langley at healingcircleslangley.org.

“Although I have done 1,000-plus improv shows for live audiences, I have only ever been in one play, last June’s “Curse of the Starving Class,” by Sam Shepard at WICA, in the very brief, but important role of Sergeant Malcom,” Tierney said. “I feel blessed to be able to take on such a big role now and I feel confident to do it justice and perhaps even perform it with some brilliance.”

“I know we say it a lot but it’s true, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be happy you saw this,” said Duncan.