Monarch butterflies rush in around NORIKO, and EAMON exits.
–Calligraphy stage directions
Butterflies are an integral part of the stage directions for Calligraphy. The central character, Noriko, sees them whenever she’s about to delve into her subconscious, particularly when she’s visiting memories of her late husband, Eamon.
Noriko is a woman facing the onset of Alzheimer’s. Director Leslie Martinson and the team of designers therefore had to decide how to portray her version of reality alongside the version experienced by the rest of the characters. The butterflies were the key. Incorporated in the physical world of the play by Scenic Designer Erik Flatmo and Media Designer David Lee Cuthbert, the butterflies become a touchstone for the audience, a way to help ground the viewer in Noriko’s world, so we travel with her, to whatever part of her life she’s currently living.
“The butterflies signify a change in the mental state of the lead character,” says Martinson. “And we were delighted to find them an inspiration for both set design elements and media transitions in the production design.”
Additionally, butterflies are evocative of transience, of the passing from one phase of life into the next. As the mothers in Calligraphy grow older, they find themselves moving from being the carers to being cared for, as their daughters assume the roles of caregivers. Butterflies are also a world-wide symbol of support for those whose lives have been affected by Alzheimer’s, whether as a patient or a family member.
For the playwright, Velina Hasu Houston, butterflies serve myriad purposes in this play:
My mother often talked about butterflies representing the spirits of the dead traveling to another world and to eternal life. For Noriko, there lives in her mind an eternal life that is free of the boundaries imposed on the physical world as we know it. My mother also told me that butterflies represent the discovery of one’s soulmate and the ability to find that person in the traffic of humanity. Noriko seeks to be reunited with her soulmate in the eternal life in her subconscious.
In my Cuban world, I also have been privy to the mythologies of many Latin cultures including the fact that, in Mexican culture, butterflies hold meaning similar to those in Japanese culture, tying their presence to ancestral spirits. I think the ethereal beauty of their flight speaks to something deep within many cultures, indeed within us all.
In respect of this vast mythology of butterflies, our AudienceWorks project will mirror the physical look of the scenic and media design. When you come see Calligraphy, visit the lower lobby and leave your own butterfly with your answer to the question “What brought your parents together?”
Kodomo wo cho yo hana yo to itsukushimu
To love a child as if it were a butterfly or a flower