Live Arts is opening its new season Friday with a production that uses a solo show to tighten community bonds and fight back against the toll of isolation.
Each performance of “Every Brilliant Thing,” written by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe, will start with Chris Estey or Ray Nedzel at the center and bring in audience members to help tell the story. Clinton Johnston directs.
“This show is about a little boy who’s trying to cheer up his mother,” said Susan E. Evans, Live Arts’ artistic director. “It’s such a gentle, life-affirming show about serious subject matter.”
“This is different. The audience is part of the story. It requires an amazing extension of the audience’s imagination.”
Keeping the Gibson Theater a safe space for audience members, actors and staffers alike after 18 wearying months of pandemic living is a team effort. In addition to wearing masks indoors and providing proof of vaccination against COVID-19, audience members can head upstairs to the fourth-floor terrace to enjoy snacks and drinks before or after the 75-minute show, which will unfold without intermission.
Providing a safe space in terms of personal comfort zones is taking its cues from a different kind of audience participation. Evans said people will select red, yellow or green stickers to wear to announce from a distance the level of contact they’d like to embrace — or avoid.
“Green means, ‘Yes, smother me with kisses,’’’ Evans said with a chuckle. “Red means, ‘Don’t get too close to me; I need more space.’’’
Ushers also will help by leading people out of the theater in an orderly pattern to prevent crowded choke points in doorways.
And there’s yet another kind of safe space to respect. Audience members are advised that the play does discuss the topic of suicide. A 6-year-old is responding to his mother’s attempt to take her own life by making sure she sees plenty of whimsical and often humorous reasons why life is worth living.
“This play talks about suicide in a very healing way, and a very humorous way,” Evans said. “But it does talk about it.”
An audience talk-back event will follow the Oct. 21 performance, and there will be information available from a variety of local organizations that help people find help for themselves or for loved ones dealing with depression.
“Every single one said, ‘We’ll be there. We’ll be happy to come,’” Evans said.
“Every Brilliant Thing” can be a solid choice for holiday programming, because it can offer hope and help at a time of year when people face so much pressure to be happy. Presenting it during October, which is National Depression and Mental Health Screening Month, also gives people a chance to reach out for resources or secure some for people they care about — and to start important conversations. Inviting a friend to a performance and attending together could prompt valuable discussions and open paths to healing.
Choosing a solo show as a season opener also helps keep the actors and crew members safe as the pandemic wears on.
“You need to get back into the groove, but “it seemed to me to be more practical not to come back with a big production with lots and lots of people,” Evans said. “The creative part is, I think, it’s a gentle show about reconnecting.”
Coming up next in Live Arts’ new reIGNITE season will be a new play by Dominique Morisseau that’s slated to open in January 2022. David Vaughn Straughn will direct the play, which is so new that its title has not been announced yet.
“The Legend of Georgia McBride” makes its Central Virginia premiere in March. Perry Medlin will direct the story of a young Elvis impersonator who hopes that starting a transformation into a drag queen can revitalize his career.
“The Children,” an eco-thriller directed by Betsy Rudelich Tucker, follows in April with the Central Virginia premiere of a tale of three retired nuclear scientists that prompts examination of generational and social responsibilities.
The season will close with Dario Fo’s “Accidental Death of an Anarchist,” which Evans will direct in May.
An opening-night reception will follow Friday’s performance of “Every Brilliant Thing,” which begins at 8 p.m. Other performances are set for 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Oct. 21. The show runs through Nov. 7.
Tickets are $25; students and seniors get in for $20. Dial the box office at (434) 977-4177, Ext. 123, or go online to buy tickets at livearts.org.