Utah Shakespeare Festival Shares Suicide Prevention Message With Students

Feb 25, 2020, 9:38 PM | Updated: Jun 22, 2022, 3:02 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Shakespeare Festival took a special message on tour to high schools and universities throughout the state this year at no charge.

The festival’s production of “Every Brilliant Thing” by Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe illustrates the effects of suicide in a new and different light.

Suicide remains the leading cause of death for Utahns ages 10 to 24, according to a recent report published by the University of Utah, making this a particularly important message for Utah youth.

Cordell Cole stars in the one-person show. He portrays a man who starts a list as a child of everything he thinks is worth living for, like ice cream and water fights.

He begins the list in a desperate effort to persuade his mother to live after she attempts to commit suicide.

“Because she can’t see anything worth living for,” Cole explains in the production.

As the play continues, Cole attends high school and gets married.

The play illustrates the devastating ripple effects suicide has on friends and family members of the individual at risk.

“What I love about this show is it really focuses not on the person that’s attempting, but the effect of that person — on me,” Cole said.

Cole invites students from the audience to play other characters to create an interactive experience.

He said the production is designed to help students recognize their worth and remind them of reasons that motivate them to live.

For 18-year-old Justice Burt, a theater student at West High School, it’s the feeling he gets performing on stage.

He said his brilliant thing is when the curtains open at the top of a show he is performing in.

“You’re hyping yourself up, getting yourself ready, and then as soon as those curtains open, you’re just transported into this world where you feel like you can do anything,” he explained.

Burt admitted being a teenager can be difficult.

“It can get really frustrating and lonely at times,” he said. “I know that there are so many kids my age that feel like there is no other option out there, that they just can’t continue living.”

Cole hoped the production starts a dialogue and sends a message.

“When you don’t talk about something, especially this subject, it gives it a whole lot of power, and then when you start talking about it, it takes all that power away,” he said. “It’s important to keep going I think and push through because things do get better.”

West High student Madelyn Valdez said she struggles with depression herself but she understood the message loud and clear.

“A person’s life is so valuable because of how many people they impact,” she said.

After watching the play, Valdez said she’s ready to start her own list.

“I think my brilliant thing would have to be the smell of my great grandparents’ house,” she said.

Valdez thinks creating a list, or something like it, could also help her peers.

“I think encourage people to continue living for the small things rather than these huge giant things that seem to be really overwhelming a lot,” she said.

Morissa Henn, community health program director at Intermountain Healthcare, said sometimes getting better requires even more, like medication and professional counseling.

“It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help,” Henn said. “In fact, it really can be a sign of strength and of caring for oneself and one’s family to take that step…and can even save a life.”

After performing across Utah, Cole recognized a common theme.

“It seems like everyone in this state, through one way, shape, or form, has had some relation to the subject of suicide,” he said.

Cole hoped young people find a way to gain hope and perspective.

The Utah Shakespeare Festival took the production to 160 schools across the state, starting the conversation with 75,000 students.

Suicide Prevention Resources

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or exhibiting warning signs, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Additional Crisis Hotlines

  • Utah County Crisis Line: 801-226-4433
  • Salt Lake County/UNI Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
  • Wasatch Mental Health Crisis Line: 801-373-7393
  • National Suicide Prevention Crisis Text Line: Text “HOME” to 741-741
  • Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1-866-488-7386
  • University Of Utah Crisis Interventional Crisis Line: 801-587-300

Online Resources

In An Emergency

  • Call the police
  • Go to the emergency room

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Utah Shakespeare Festival Shares Suicide Prevention Message With Students