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It’s a show. It’s a health and wellness initiative. And free performances for faculty, staff and students begin Jan. 10.

Saleemah Sharpe tosses sticky notes into the air as people sitting on chairs watch.
Saleemah Sharpe in “Every Brilliant Thing” by Duncan Macmillan with Donny Donahoe Directed by Tom Quantaince (Photo by HuthPhoto)

Sunlight. Bubble wrap. The fact that sometimes there is a perfect song to match how you’re feeling.

What gives your life meaning? “Every Brilliant Thing,” a one-actor performance by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe, explores this question through theater and delves into topics of mental health and well-being.

Performances of the show, hosted by PlayMakers Repertory Company and Student Affairs, are part of a campus-wide effort to destigmatize conversations around mental health. Students, faculty and staff can attend a public performance of “Every Brilliant Thing” at Current ArtSpace & Studio Jan. 10-16 at no cost, thanks to a UNC System grant intended to build resiliency among the campus community.

Matthew Donahue stands in front of an audience smiling.
Matthew Donahue in “Every Brilliant Thing” by Duncan Macmillan with Donny Donahoe Directed by Tom Quantaince (Photo by HuthPhoto)

“Every Brilliant Thing” is an intimate, interactive performance designed to bring audiences together in celebration of the little things that make life worthwhile. The immersive experience blends comedy, improv and audience interaction to tell the story of someone learning to grapple with their own life experiences in the shadow of their mother’s struggle with suicidal depression.

Following the public performances, “Every Brilliant Thing” will travel to every school at Carolina and to various University units from mid-January until early February 2024. Each performance features Master of Fine Arts students enrolled in the Professional Actor Training Program.

First-year graduate student actor Matthew Donahue said the performance destigmatizes conversations around mental health and does so in a comedic and accessible way.

“It is an honor to be able to tell this story,” he said. “I hope the audience will walk away feeling like they don’t have to struggle alone.”

Sanjana Taskar sits on a chair talking to an audience member.  They are smiling at each other.
Sanjana Taskar (left) in “Every Brilliant Thing” by Duncan Macmillan with Donny Donahoe Directed by Tom Quantaince (Photo by HuthPhoto)

Vivienne Benesch, the producing artistic director of PlayMakers, said she hopes the performances will continue to integrate the arts as a dimension of mental health. “We hope these performances strike a chord in our community and lead to additional transformational projects to support health and well-being.”

Amy Johnson, vice chancellor for Student Affairs, said this initiative launches a new semester and continued opportunities to showcase the abundance of mental health resources at Carolina, including the Heels Care Network.

“We are enthused about this approach as a new avenue, and a creative, artistic channel, for continuing our dialogue about mental health and well-being at Carolina,” she said.

The UNC School of Social Work and its Mental Health First Aid programming will support research efforts and facilitate brief post-show discussions. Additional support will come from counselors and from peer support resources.

By Elizabeth Poindexter, UNC Student Affairs

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