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High school student turns to acting to explain chronic health condition

Asa Kelley smiles during a break in a performance of the Wapsie Valley Pep Band last school year. He will be starring in “Hemophilia: The Zoomsical,” on a Facebook watch party at 7 p.m. Friday, July 31.

FAIRBANK — Local Wapsie Valley student Asa Kelley has been selected to perform in a virtual-spin on a Broadway-style musical production called, “Hemophilia: The Zoomsical.” Asa was chosen from applicants from across the country to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

As a young person affected by a bleeding disorder, Asa has been given the unique chance to help educate others about this chronic health condition, while also experiencing the healing and therapeutic power of the arts through self-expression.

Twenty-four teens from across the country have been participating in weekly Zoom rehearsals and sessions on breathing and relaxation, visual arts, singing and performance to help increase their sense of connection with themselves and the bleeding disorder community during this difficult time. They’ve even met some special guests, including a West End actress and Alvin Ailey dancer, who will choreograph the musical performance.

Asa has been involved with theater at Wapsie Valley High School, with parts in “Seussical” as Thing 1, as John Northbrook in “Mary Poppins,” “Annie,” and in the vocal and dance ensemble of “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.”

“I saw an application for ‘Breaking Through’ online, through Facebook,” Asa said, explaining how his opportunity came about. “I had heard of it when I went to Teen Impact Awards in Anaheim (California) at the National Hemophilia Conference in October 2019.”

Asa was in Anaheim to receive a volunteerism award for his work toward hemophilia awareness. He was involved in speaking for hemophilia at Hill Day, advocating for bleeding disorders on Capitol Hill in Des Moines. He also was a team captain at the United for Bleeding Disorders Walk in late August last year in Hiawatha, where his team raised more than $700 for Hemophilia of Iowa, and helping research treatment options.

A year ago, in February 2019, Asa also attended YETI in Oregon, where he represented the state of Iowa. He is planning for building a teen program for hemophilia in the local community.

Talking about the upcoming musical, Asa said, “It’s a musical about life with a bleeding disorder, about teens in high school. We incorporate acting and singing into it.”

Asa said the application to be part of the musical was pretty involved. He had to send in 30 measures of a song of his choice on video, via phone. He chose “Evermore” from Beauty and the Beast, by Dan Stephens. He also had to write an essay that showed his purpose in applying and how the bleeding disorder has affected him. There were two locations, Los Angeles and Chicago. He was contacted in mid-February that he was accepted for the LA cast.

Then COVID-19 hit.

“They combined both casts from LA and Chicago and made one giant musical, without cutting people,” Asa said. Zoom rehearsals altogether with other cast members began in May.

The program will culminate in a performance of ‘Hemophilia: The Zoomsical’ via a Facebook watch party event on Friday, July 31, at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET. The five-song musical focuses on the psychosocial and general health aspects of being a young person with a bleeding disorder.

Asa said he had not seen the musical before he applied for it, because he didn’t know it was online. At the Teen Impact Awards, he met some of the cast members of the 2018 musical.

“I thought it was really interesting there was a thing called Hemophilia the Musical, and since I like to act and sing, it seemed like that was the perfect thing to apply for, since I have it,” Asa said.

He talked a bit about experiences in school and how levels of maturity seem to help with his acceptance.

“Right now, being a high school junior going into senior year, people are more understanding and know what it means and that I have to take precautions. But in elementary and middle school it was difficult. They had a general idea what it was, but all they would know is, I just bleed, they wouldn’t know what to do,” Asa said.

He said growing up, he was treated differently.

“I felt more people would be scared to interact with me and play with me as a child, so I often wasn’t involved. Then we had someone come in and discuss my hemophilia in class. He asked if people were scared to play with me because of it, and a couple of people said yes,” Asa said. “So, I wasn’t active outside, like, I didn’t play tag at recess.”

He will play the part of Nosebleed 1 in the Zoomsical, and will be in the scene called “Disclosure.” He plays a student that doesn’t want others to find out he has a bleeding disorder. He gets a bloody nose and has to go to the nurse’s office. There he meets a girl with a bleeding disorder who also has a nosebleed. They are both really shy and then they find out they both have a bleeding disorder.

“The song in the scene with the lyrics “Disclosure,” says that they need to talk to each other and not try to hide it. Basically, that telling the truth and expressing how you feel will always end up on the right path,” Asa said.

“I found that scene my favorite because I relate the most to it. I had a difficult time with my bleeding disorder, telling about it and going to the nurse’s office twice a week. It really connected with me well,” he said. “When something like that happens (a nosebleed for example), we’re missing a factor in our body, the clotting factor. So, we don’t heal like a normal human body would. If we have a bleed like that, we would have to get a clotting factor injection.”

His life is pretty normal despite the disorder. He learns to make risk assessments.

“I’m still a normal kid, I am still able to do these kinds of activities. I can still do anything, I just have to be very cautious,” he said.

Asa hopes a lot of people tune in to Facebook on Friday to watch “Hemophilia: The Zoomsical.”

“When watching this, try to understand the message, that’s how we get used to growing up like that and it can be difficult to explain it to people. We just want the message to be heard,” he said.

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