A photograph of a play featuring three women onstage. One is seated in a chair looking at a woman wearing a black and white dress and sitting on a desk, holding a smartphone. The third woman is in a red blouse and is glaring at the woman sitting on the desk.
Amy Ogle, ’26, center, during rehearsal for White Pearl. The show marks her first opportunity to play an Asian character.
Photo by Ben Cudmore, '25

The mirror and window -- onstage

October 3, 2023


White Pearl, one of this semester's student plays, is a comedy that offers a serious look at issues of race and class. Cast member Amy Ogle, a sophomore, reflects on what it means to her.
By Amy Ogle, '26

Anyone involved in theatre for several years eventually knows when they have been typecast. I’ve played a grandmother twice, so a valley girl was not on my radar of expected roles. During my audition, I even said I wanted to count the number of times I said “like” in a monologue (18 times). But beyond her valley girl speech and tendency to throw money everywhere, Built Suttikul is a character I never thought I would portray for a different reason: She’s Asian American.

“We have had increasing numbers of Asian students who are interested in theatre, and we wanted to do a play that would showcase their talents,” Dorothy Holland, a professor and the play’s director, said. “Also, the play speaks to the [theater and dance department’s] educational mission, where ‘students thrive by engaging across difference and critically investigating the world through creative processes.’”

White Pearl follows a Singaporean cosmetics company, Clearday, and six female employees after a racist draft ad for their skin-whitening cream is leaked. The women represent different backgrounds in race, class, education, and culture. My character, Built, is Thai American and from the high society, or “high-so,” of Bangkok. She shows up to work when she wants and carries thousands of Singaporean dollars as pocket money. Besides her race, everything else about her was unfamiliar to me.

In early rehearsals, Dorothy had me write a list of the similarities and differences between myself and Built. The result: We had more in common than I thought. Even, regrettably, our speech patterns. From there, Built came to life through every rehearsal, independent practice, and those times in Dhall when June Pham, ’27, another member of the cast, would say, “Hi, Built!”

Dinner break in the Modlin Center's scene shop. Ogle is in the striped shirt at the bottom right.
Photo courtesy of Amy Ogle, '26

After our first read-through of the play, June complimented my American accent and was surprised to know it was my normal voice. (She’s from Vietnam; I grew up in Connecticut). Like the characters, we all come from different backgrounds. And our circle expanded beyond those directly involved. We reached out to former exchange student Chise Ueda for help with Japanese. I turned to Krittika Onsanit, who works in the Office of International Education, to learn some phrases in Thai. Everyone had experiences to share in the process of bringing this story to life.

White Pearl enlightened me to see how language and accent can play a significant role in the class division of a company,” Harry Xie, ’27, who researched content for the show, said. 

When I think of these past weeks, many memories come to mind: Annabelle’s whiteboard drawing, Lauren’s love of Bojangles’ iced tea, crying lessons with Tina, the weird looks Ben got when he practiced his lines in the hallway outside the theatre, the dynamic duo of Justin and Jane, and every photo at the end of rehearsal. The time both on- and offstage and the power of this play shaped my experience.

I asked the cast, crew, and director a question: What do you hope an audience will take away from this show? In the consensus, we hope the show encourages laughter and moves the audience to reflect on its message. Through black comedy, the play tackles difficult truths about topics like toxic corporate culture, cancel culture in media, and racism in Asia.

“Asia is not a homogenous land, and in fact an extremely vast and diverse area,” Helen Mei, ’26, another member of the cast, said. “The diversity within Asia requires its people to constantly engage in resisting, negotiating, and reconciliating.”

Any form of storytelling, at its core, urges us to stop and think. We connect with fiction because it’s a story about people – about us. White Pearl is comedic and, at times, absurd, but the content is real. Its impact is real. I never thought I would play an Asian-American character, and now I am.