Cheyenne Alexandria Phillips, 28, is a writer, performer, educator and associate artist at Checkpoint Theatre. Armed with a degree in Environmental Biology, Cheyenne writes about the intersections between art and science, exploring themes like the climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic through the lens of someone who is medically vulnerable.
As we learn to live with COVID-19, Cheyenne hopes to return to the stage with live audiences, produce more site-specific work and spend time in various nature spaces. Today, she shares some of the lessons she has learnt.
What surprises everyone I meet is that my degree is not in Literature or Theatre but in Environmental Biology. Sometimes, I do feel out of place in my chosen industry because of it. However, I constantly remind myself that my passion and interest in the sciences is what elevates my writing. It allows me to draw links and make connections between seemingly different fields and bring them together in a meaningful, fun and effective story or poem. One of my proudest works, A Grand Design originated from my experience in university.
Writer Katherine Paterson says, “A dream without a plan is just a wish.” My advice? Set a deadline and tell people about it. When I was independently producing my own performances, one of my driving motivations was knowing that I had already sold tickets, so I had to finish getting everything together. There was no backing down.
Everyone does their artform differently, just like how everyone lives their life differently. Finding like-minded peers that can support me, share the same beliefs as me, and constructively and creatively challenge me was a critical part of my journey. I found those things with Checkpoint Theatre when I started off as an assistant stage manager and later joining the team as an associate artist.
The ongoing pandemic hit artists and the arts industry extremely hard. It’s been particularly challenging for me because I have a congenital heart condition and am considered an individual at high-risk of falling ill. This was mentally challenging to deal with and at the beginning of 2021, I started writing ‘Vulnerable’, an eight part podcast about my experience as a freelancer with a medical condition living in the pandemic. It was extremely challenging to write and perform, but in the end the response was heartwarming.
Regardless of what field you are in, you would want to work with all the people that you know. Either you know them by name or you have been introduced to the person, that person is now on your radar. Building networks across different industries not only tells people about who you are and what you do but also invites collaboration across fields.
Collaborating is my favourite part of art making because it opens you to new ideas and new ways of thinking. It also allows you to tap on the skill sets of others to bring a project to success. There isn’t a piece of work I have made today that has not involved some level of collaboration.
Starting on a new project is always daunting. One of the best ways to get started is to ask yourself what are you interested in, what are you curious about and what you want to learn.
I’ve been a freelance educator for eight years now and working with kids of all ages is fun and refreshing. The younger the kids tend to ask more questions about the world. Listening to their conversations always informs my world view and what I choose to write about.
I enjoy writing instant typewritten poetry at festivals and craft markets. People always ask me where I get my inspiration from. The truth is that they offer me a prompt, something I can start with, and my interactions with these individuals are what brings about the impetus for the writing. Everyone is inspirational. It is my job to recognise that in people.
There will be no signs or someone telling you that it’s time to do something. Many people are so busy with their own lives that hand-holding you will not be feasible for them. So take the reins. You can start small – practise a skill, attend a workshop, host a workshop… you just need to start. It’s the only way you build momentum to keep going.