The Chemist and The Stage
Audrey Pillsbury has many different identities on campus: she is a musician and composer, she rows for MIT’s Women Openweight Crew team, and she studies chemistry (course 5). Now she is exploring her identity as a second-generation Asian-American through her first collaborative musical, The Jade Bracelet.
Encouraged by a group of friends and professors, Pillsbury channeled her life-long passion for music and dance to tell a story about cultures, family dynamics, and interracial relationships that are part of Pillsbury’s reality, being half Chinese and half Caucasian.
The Jade Bracelet is about members of the Wong family, who immigrate to America to escape China’s one-child policy. Later, the Wong sisters Jaden and Amy are seen dealing in high school dealing with stereotypes from both Asian and American cultures, interracial dating conflicts, and trying to balance different, and sometimes conflicting, identities. Pillsbury was able to connect with students from Harvard, Wellesley, UMass Boston, Berklee College of Music and other area schools who had experienced similar issues growing up in multicultural families.
“I want to feel close to my Asian roots but what does that mean? I’ve never been to Asia. I love Chinese food but what does that mean? I think those are the moments I had with my own mother and trying to figure out her past and to see things from her perspective,” says Pillsbury.
As an MIT Burchard Scholar, Pillsbury discovered many options for sharing her experiences through the humanities, arts, and social sciences, which led her to write The Jade Bracelet’s libretto. “Being at MIT has given me access to a lot of resources. I have this platform where people will sort of care about what I’ve written or what I’ve done. Fellow students want to see what their fellow students came up with,” says Pillsbury.
The Jade Bracelet is more than just songs and dialogue for Pillsbury. “It’s really about putting all of these people’s experiences together, the process we’ve had in making it come together, and this journey,” she says. “Being Asian is a really important part of who I am. No one should be color blind. We should all see what each other for which cultures and backgrounds are important to us.”
Being a woman in a STEM field, Pillsbury sees art as a release, and she encourages MIT students to explore more within the arts field by getting creative on campus and telling their own stories. “We have so many creative people here. I know it’s hard because at MIT we have to carve time out of our day,” she says. “You have to make the time to do it but we just have so many creative people and you have all the resources here.”
Pillsbury wants to continue writing music while she begins her full-time position at Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems (SAS) this fall. In the meantime, the MIT Theater Guild is putting on two staged readings of The Jade Bracelet on March 15 and 16 in Kresge Auditorium’s Little Theater (W16-035). The shows are sold out, but they are accepting names on a waitlist.
Written by Kailey Tse-Harlow, Video and photo by Stephanie Tran.