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Honour Lackey, Creative Content & PR Intern
Feb 05, 2024
Learn more about the local artist taking the stage for Aya Ogawa’s The Nosebleed at the Wexner Center for the Arts.
Aya Ogawa’s The Nosebleed is an autobiographical autopsy of grieving, family trauma, and the ways we learn to hold space for ourselves in response. On each stop of The Nosebleed’s recent tour, Ogawa has boldly invited a local artist to inhabit a role within the company.
“Creating a show is a deeply intimate process,” Ogawa says. “It was important to find someone who could honor and respect the community we've already built, and also join us in having fun with each other.”
Here at the Wex, that someone is Jamie Harper, a Columbus native and veteran of Ohio’s theater scene. Harper plays White Guy, a character meant to disrupt the story of Ogawa’s work. Working with the Nosebleed ensemble, Harper says, is as generous as it is serendipitous.
“Always, as an artist, I’m looking at, Do I want to work with these people? Is there an opportunity for me to grow? Is it somehow challenging?” Harper says.
Jamie Harper first found themselves on stage unexpectedly, auditioning for their high school production of an Agatha Christie play after a football injury took them out for the season. “It’s been something I sort of have to do ever since,” Harper says. “I look at it as a mechanism for the way I’ve struggled emotionally; it’s how I process my environment.”
Harper followed that thread to The Ohio State University, joining the theater department in the early 2000s before unexpected family circumstances pressed pause on their studies. Harper continued to pursue theater alongside working at their family business, and over two decades they amassed a vast catalogue of commercial, film and stage work.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and Harper did some self-reflection.
“In 2020, we went through a series of unfortunate events, as everyone did,” they recall. “I did a bucket list inventory, and I decided to come back to Ohio State to finish my degree. It’s been on my list for a long time. I’m in the last semester, double majoring in English and Theatre.”
Back at Ohio State afresh, Harper’s focus has further expanded from onstage work to writing pieces of their own—a reason Ogawa’s work resonated at such a deep frequency. Harper was drawn to the play’s distinctive concept.
“Her writing voice is dynamic and creative,” Harper says. They were fascinated by the multiplicity of the play, with four different versions of Aya, all played by different actors. “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen something like that played in a self-referential way.”
The words themselves, Harper notes, were just as cutting. “[Ogawa’s] ability to talk about issues of grieving and family—the language that they use is precise, I would say almost surgical. They get a lot done without saying too much.”
Harper was also fascinated by Ogawa’s construct of their character and how it embodies themes of cultural unawareness within racial interactions. The Nosebleed reinforced the dangers of what Harper refers to as cultural amnesia, the tendency to turn a blind eye to one’s own history and connections to racism.
“If you’re unconscious, even if you’re a nice person and maybe your politics work out well, there are still tendencies to have these blind spots. We’re maybe using certain words, or asking questions that, to us, we’re information mining, but to the person receiving, it’s a painful process,” Harper says. “Aya really brought that to my attention in a very short amount of time.”
The Nosebleed is interactive, asking for as much reflection from the audience as it does the four semi-fictional Ayas. Born of an “exploratory process around the topic of failure,” Ogawa explains on her website, the play presses on the bruises of familial disconnection. Harper found this aspect of the play undeniably engaging.
“[Aya] points out that you can’t go back and change the past, obviously. You can’t erase the things that have taken place,” Harper says. “But you can move forward in a way that works for you, that makes sense, that allows you some space for healing. You can regain some sense of empowerment in spaces of your past that maybe you didn’t feel validated or perceived by honoring what it is and moving forward with some closure.”
Harper doesn’t take the responsibility lightly. They want to give the audience “a little bit of pause,” they say, to examine their lives and interactions both in public and in private. Stepping into an established cast is, too, an aspect to be handled skillfully.
“My main objective is to inhabit space in a way that honors what they’ve allowed me, and to have an artistic integrity that respects the space, time and energy of everyone involved,” they explain. “To realize someone has invited me, suddenly, into their home. That’s a profound gesture. I’m amped about it. It’s a unique thing that they’re doing.”
Top of page: Jamie Harper, courtesy of the artist