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Backstage with Alana Arenas & Libya V. Pugh

by Alana Arenas & Libya V. Pugh

On Toni Morrison's 'The Bluest Eye'

Alana: In junior high school, my best friend kept talking about this book The Bluest Eye. She kept talking about how sad it was and I remember being really impressed that she was so moved by this book. So when I got cast in the play and began working on it, I thought about my friend and how impressive it was that the story spoke to her so powerfully at such a young age. Libya: My first year in gruaduat school my mentor gave me the book. That was the first novel I had ever read by Toni Morrison. I didn't understand it in depth at the time, but I was definitely intrigued by the writing, by the style of the prose, though it took a little time to get used to it. However, by the time I had read about four or five of her books, I was hooked.

On Their Roles

Alana: Number one, it is very challenging because Pecola's story is so tender and I really wanted to honor the tenderness. It's so devastationg to know in your heart of hearts, witout any question, that it's not just a story, that this is many people's reality. On of the things that really kills me about Pecola is the fact that she wants to be invisible; the fact that she feels as if her presence pains other people. There is a great deal of honor that comes with being asked play a role like that, with a script like this--to play it as true and as pure as possible. Libya: I think that I was cast as Claudia because I related a lot to Claudia's feelings--fighting the world--having a fighter instinct inside. I totally related to that narration becuase I still fight that today. I fight that in myself becuase I feel that our socieity has ingrained certain ideas in our minds about what beauty is; whether it's eye color, hair color, or skin color, it's a color cast system. It's happened all through the history in different cultures--Indian culture, black culture, white culture--it's all about color and the bluest eye to me is a metaphor for that color caste system. With Claudia I was able to relate more because I was fighting that and I was trying to see the beauty in me. I was told by my mom, who is strong, that "you are beautiful" and I had people around me telling me that. But I found myself comparing myself, in secret, with the yellow towel on my head, pretending it was long blonde hair. That was something I shared at a post-show discussion, looking in the mirror, behind closed doors swinging my "blonde" hair back and forth.

On Performing the Play for an Audience

Alana: The mind-boggling thing about performing The Bluest Eye is that you have the sense that the students get it and the sense that the adults who came to see it were in some way freed because of the show. The show addressed things that they had bottled up. I think people were deeply affected by the production because when you deal with identity and how the world identifies you, and how you identify yourself--this is a fundamental element of living. Everyday you have to decide how you are going to move through the world, which identity you are going to use and how other people are going to identify you. Libya: I was thinking on the way over here, that I look at weeds differently now; when I look at a field of weeds, flowers. In The Bluest Eye, Pecola's mom talks about the weed being ugly. Now I find myself picking weeds. I pick little flowers from a field gone wild that's not tamed and cultivated. I had a flower in my hair today and I put it over my ear or in my hair somewhere to remind me that these weeds are beautiful and I find myself taking that on and being an affirmative attractor to little girls like Pecola. I'll take them under my wing and speak to them about something beautiful inside of them or outside of them that nobody else told them. This play has really affected my life.

On the Experience of Attending 'The Bluest Eye'

Alana: For any girl coming to see this show, I hope that she will either see the need to fight diligently for self love or that her own inclination to do so will be reaffirmed. I hope that she would understand that who she is, that her glorious worth and important must be fully recognized, known, and asserted by herself. Libya: I hope the audience walks away feeling proud and accepting of who they are and that Pecola's story really touches their heart. I hope they learn to embrace what God, or the Maker, or Creator has given to us all in that we're all human.