Words by Kathlene Masilongan
Photos by Kaye Bernal
Where would you be able to watch a stage production which you can also star in? Where you can play an old vet or a love interest? Where you can dictate dialogue and further a plot? Above all, in which stage production would you be able to take home a piece of its story?
Every Brilliant Thing is being staged in Manila for the first time by The Sandbox Collective. The story is about a person whose mother suffers from chronic depression and has suicidal tendencies. It tells the story of a woman, Angela (played by Teresa Herrera), who lists down every brilliant thing her mother could live for starting with number one, ice cream. She starts her list after her mother’s first suicide attempt and it eventually follows her throughout all the stages of her life.
Interactive storytelling done right
One of the highlights of this play is how the audience is invited to participate throughout the duration of the show. They are given pieces of paper with one item from the list on it and all they have to do, for the most part, is listen for their number to get called. Some audience members even have the unique experience of being called onto the stage to play certain people in the protagonist’s life.
At one point, impromptu speeches were given, people who weren’t actors were acting, and a lot of laughs and smiles were shared between the audience members and between them and Angela.
Having the audience participate not only means that they are forced to be alert, but they are also forced to be engaged with the protagonist and her story, thus absorbing the material more effectively. The material in question being mental health.
Opening the conversation about mental health
In a way, one might consider this whole experience to be an allegory for how mental health should be talked about—with audience participation. For years, the conversations about mental health have been hush hush or exclusively for mental health practitioners and mentally ill people, but what this play does is invite people to listen, to react, and to participate. It tells us that mental health is not just for those who are mentally ill, but for everyone.
We usually encounter stories about mental health being told from the perspective of people who are experiencing mental health problems themselves. However, together with Angela, the audience members present during the show who might not have had a clue about how these things work would come to realize the impact mental illness has on a person.
What’s unique about the show is how it takes the conversation on mental health from the protagonist’s story straight to the audience’s in a “talk-back” session after the metaphorical curtains have been drawn. With the Philippine Mental Health Law well on its way, this show comes in a time when mental health is at the forefront of the public’s attention.
Every Brilliant Thing is nothing like anything Philippine theater has seen before. It is intimate yet very open and safe. It invites its audience to think beyond the span of the show and take home knowledge that could help not only them but the people around them who are suffering from bad mental health.
Catch Every Brilliant Thing on all weekends of February at the Zobel de Ayala Recital Hall, Maybank Performing Arts Theater, 26th Street, cor. 9th Avenue, Bonifacio Global City.
The Sandbox Collective
Follow the production through the hashtag #EveryBrilliantMNL