Diagnosed at birth with severe hemophilia A, Asa Kelley, 17, doesn’t focus on the things he can’t do. He takes aim at the ones he can.
Contact sports are out, but archery is his thing, along with music and theater. The Fairbank teen hit the bull’s-eye this spring, being accepted into the Breaking Through! Musical Theater Intensive Program, for high school students with bleeding disorders.
After three months of weekend workshops online, he and 23 other teens from across the country will perform “Hemophilia: The Zoomsical!” at 7 p.m. Friday on Facebook Live.
It’s an hourlong musical with scenarios these young people might face. Kelley takes the lead telling the story of a teen suffering a nosebleed. Kelley has only had one nosebleed in real life, but knows such an episode can have serious consequences for someone whose blood doesn’t clot. (Whenever he’s injured, he injects clotting factor right away to stem a bleed.)
In his big scene, Kelley is in the school nurse’s office, along with a girl who also has a nosebleed and is living with hemophilia, but neither one wants to divulge that out loud. Yet another vignette looks at a high school freshman who doesn’t want to tell others about his condition.
Kelley can relate, and that’s why he’s worked as an advocate with Hemophilia of Iowa — and why he’s glad this current Break Through acting project can give him an even larger platform for educating the public on bleeding disorders.
“I wish people would understand how my life is a little bit different, but also more similar, because I’m not so different from everybody else,” he said. “I just have to take extra precautions.”
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Now ready to start his senior year at Wapsie Valley High School between Fairbank and Readlyn, northeast of Waterloo, Kelley spoke about his condition in one of his junior high science classes.
He also connects with peers during Camp Tanager’s annual Hemophilia Camp near Mount Vernon, and through his volunteer work with Hemophilia of Iowa, where he focuses largely on the teen side of advocacy. He serves as the state foundation’s teen program leader, planning events and traveling to the Capitol in Des Moines in February 2019 to raise awareness among Legislators about hemophilia, clotting factor treatments, and how people with bleeding disorders live their daily lives.
Kelley’s state advocacy earned him a trip to the Teen Impact Awards, held during the National Hemophilia Foundation conference last October in Anaheim, Calif. That’s where he learned of the Breaking Through! acting workshops.
He applied in late December/early January, submitting an essay on his theatrical background and participation in high school; how having a bleeding disorder has affected his daily life; and how his story can be told through theater.
Two casts would be chosen to participate free of charge in workshops in California and Chicago, culminating with the California cast performing “Hemophilia: The Musical!” in April and the Chicago cast performing in June.
In February, he found out he was cast in the California program. And then the pandemic hit, thrusting the workshops and rehearsals into the virtual realm, combining the students from California and Chicago programs into one online series.
The group met Saturdays and Sundays, beginning with master classes in May. They worked on breathing techniques, warmups and other facets that would help them grow as singers and actors. They also got to work with such pros as Gloria Onitiri, an actress on London’s West End, and with Alvin Ailey dancer Akua Noni Parker.
When it was time to put together the show, the students rehearsed online together, then recorded their music and choreography separately from their homes, submitting the recordings to be edited into the performance that will air Friday night.
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Participating in the program is “definitely helping my theater experience (become) more widespread than if I was just doing it on stage,” Kelley said. “This is definitely a different kind of show I never thought I’d do before. ...
“So what I’m getting from this is more experience and a more confident way to share my story with others and to advocate for myself.”
He hopes viewers will “really understand what I’ve gone through in the past, so they know how it was like for me to be in school with a bleeding disorder and how hard it was to share story with others and how complicated it can be,” he said.
“The main message that I want people to know about this musical is that I really just want them to understand the story, and the true meaning of it.”
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How to watch
• What: Break Through! presents “Hemophilia: The Zoomsical!”
• Featuring: Asa Kelley of Fairbank
• When: 7 p.m. Friday
• Where: Facebook Live at Facebook.com/BloodStreamMedia
• Cost: Free