Student-written play Blood Feathers spreads wings
When Elaine Johanson '04 decided to combine her love of theater and passion for writing into an English department honors project, Blood Feathers was born. The one-act play was conceived as a play about family, but has come a long way from its inception with the guidance of Writer-in-Residence Anthony Walton. Johanson also drew on the actors' perspectives, asking them to help form their lines and characters in the first weeks of rehearsal.
The play follows a college-age Korean-American, Joe Song, played by Mike Chan '05, who returns home for Thanksgiving to tell his mother, Karen Tang '07, some important and potentially shocking news. Joe brings his best friend, Rob, played by Tony Handel '07, for support and also expects help from his younger sister, Lena, played by Daphne Leveriza '07.
Johanson credits her actors with keeping her morale high: "Writing [the play] was a lot of hair pulling and teeth grinding and late nights, which is why it's so nice to have actors. They make me laugh, and they make it fun."
Although "blood" in the title inspired joking promises of a 40 knife fight in the play's second half, the title actually refers to certain feathers on birds that are connected to their blood supply. If the feather breaks, it acts as an open vein and the bird can bleed to death.
Johanson wrote Blood Feathers in response to a class on Asian American history with Professor Laura Lee that she took last year. After studying misrepresentations of Asians in various art forms, such as film, she wanted to write a play that was true to what Korean-American life is like, and the particular challenges these individuals face in society.
In popular media, the stereotypical Asian woman is presented either as a virginal lotus or an evil dragon. Johanson wanted to write realistic female Asian characters whose daily challenges are more complex than sexual purity or allure. This is particularly the case for the mother, who must juggle her desire for her children to grow up well in American society, and her desire for them to understand her and the values and customs she has brought with her from Korea. Joe, by deciding to find his own way in life, clashes with his mother's wishes. Ultimately, Blood Feathers goes beyond the specifically Asian-American experience, addressing issues of all parent-child relationships.
Johanson and the cast are now in the final stages of the rehearsal process, making necessary voice and blocking adjustments and becoming comfortable with props and theater space. This transition was challenging for Johanson, who explains, "I had to switch from being a writer to a director, and that made me look at the script much more critically. Things that worked in my head didn't necessarily work on stage." Meanwhile, stage managers Frank Skornia '04 and Hillary Matlin '06 keep things organized and tie Elaine down when she is too frantic to breathe, as that can hinder the creative process.
"This play is really my baby," Johanson said. "It's going to be so hard to sit up there and watch it. But I guess that's what all parents do, they sit and watch their babies run and they feel proud and excited and want to tell everyone exactly how proud and excited they are."
Blood Feathers will be in Wish Theater next Thursday and Friday, April 9 and 10, at 7:00 p.m., with an open dress rehearsal Wednesday night. Tickets are free at the Smith Union info desk.
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