Sophya Vidal, 1001 Interviews No. 13

Sophya Vidal is a multi-disciplinary Storytelling Artist known for making a mean batch of brownies. For the last 15 years she’s had many wonderful adventures in the Portland art scene working in theater, animation and crafts. She recently completed the IPRC Image and text program- culminating in her first poetry chapbook: HONEY.

Current projects include creating erasure poems from Sandra Cisnero’s The House on Mango Street and writing sketch comedy for Analysis Paralysis sketch collective. Other than that you can find her working on new projects, reading, baking, or taking well-earned naps.

Works: www.aravenstudio.com

Instagram: @theravenphoenix

Poetry: https://thelonelyalphabet.wordpress.com/

Sophya and I conducted our email through voicemail. I left messages with questions on her phone. She left messages with answers on mine.

INTERVIEWER

Where did you grow up?

SOPHYA

I grew up in Washington Heights, New York. Has that influenced me? Yes, immensely. My semblance of culture, my understanding of my family—all of that is from growing up in NY. My relationship with that is all I write about in one way or another. As far as the place, Washington Heights was lovely. We were poor. We weren’t, you know, rich and famous but I appreciated sitting on the fire escape and listening to the sounds around me.

That’s a big thing for me now. I walk a lot. I walk everywhere. Part of it’s because I did it then. It’s all a huge foundational elements in me. I don’t know if they can ever be erased or lost. Really deep-well things, all of that is from Washington Heights. I loved listening to old men playing dominoes and that’s a thing I miss. I grew up with my grandmother so that matriarchal feel, that self-sustaining, needing to survive, that all influences my writing and my work.

INTERVIEWER

What graphic novels do you like?

SOPHYA

That’s a little bit harder to define because comics and video games have been something that I have always loved but it wasn’t until the last couple of years that graphic novels have been something I have grown to treasure. If I were to narrow it down some of my favorites… I love the Sandman. Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite storytellers of all time and the Sandman Chronicles were kind of my introduction to a pure new universe. Something that is real without having a nail on the head connection to something in our reality—it exists on its own and is lovely both visually and story-wise.

Hyperbole and Half by Allie Brosh, is a lovely graphic novel. It is a little weird because I knew her comics online and I love it because the illustrations because the illustrations are crude and bold but the messages are poignant. If I had to pick other ones that I think are beautiful, that have influenced me a bit in terms of craft,they would have to be Persepolis and The Watchmen. They are crazy ( In different ways) but I love them. In terms of one that hit me to the core, Something Terrible by Dean Trippe. It’s a really short one but it’s really amazing. It’s about how fictional characters help you cope with bad things in life.

INTERVIEWER

You’ve said before that you try to include both comedy and tragedy in your work.

SOPHYA

Comedy and tragedy are two sides of the same coin, even if that sounds so cliche… I am as moved by Hamlet as I am by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Laughter reminds you that the world keeps moving forward and it’s a beautiful thing and tragedy teaches you to live in the moment because you never know when you’ll lose what you have. I can’t imagine one without the other.

INTERVIEWER

Did you read as kid?

SOPHYA

Hahaha. Yes. I didn’t at first though, I actually had a really hard time reading. I was dyslexic and I still have trouble every once in a while, It was really frustrating until maybe second or third grade. I went to public school until about fourth grade and then I went to a public/private school with an emphasis on science and technology. But I started loving books very very much once I got the hang of it. I liked Nancy Drew, The Happy Hollisters, The Boxcar Children. I prefer fantasy but I’ll read all of it. Wrinkle in Time is still a huge influence on me. House on Mango Street. Lord of the Rings. By the time I went to high school I kind of read everything I could get my hands on.

INTERVIEWER

Are there any artists you get inspired by?

SOPHYA

That’s a hard question because, truth be told, I learn something from everyone I meet. I have looked at demo reels, resumes, portfolios and been like, “Oh my God, I need to work towards that,” ha. It’s all for different things. I’m still in the “Gap” period that Ira Glass talked about.

Domeka Parker and Tom Johnson, who run the Brody Theater, I look up to them quite a bit because I think they’re amazing storytellers. I think they capture that kind of audience focus and they provide and they mirror it back, they filter thoughtful creativity. I am a huge fan of Monet and I can’t even explain that one. I just instantly fell in love when I saw his work. I have celebrity crushes on like Daniel O’Brien, writer for cracked.com, a video editor and he writes books. He’s very prolific and it’s that kind of dedication is astonishing to me. I hope to one day look back at my life and say, “Yeah, I gave the world everything I could.”

INTERVIEWER

Is there anyone you take inspiration from who does a totally different kind of art than you do?

SOPHYA

I’m the kind of person that, when I see something and I think it’s cool, I want to learn how to do it. I try very hard to get there. First person I can think of is Adam Savage. He’s had so many different careers It’s hard to list them. Most folks know him from Myth Busters, but he’s done model making for film, toy design etc. He understand engines and machines which is a field i don’t yet. He also is huge proponent of being a “Maker”. I also loved his Ted talk about his quest/ obsession with the Maltese Falcon. You should watch it. He’s a pretty fantastic person—I’m super inspired by him.

INTERVIEWER

Sophya took the Image + Text track at the IPRC with Coleman Stevenson. We did an interview with Coleman Stevenson for 1001 a few months back. The Image + Text Certificate program will be offered again this coming fall. For more information visit iprc.org

What did Sophya get out of Image + Text?

SOPHYA

Image and Text! Great class! Absolutely loved it. I would say that my favorite thing is the marriage of the tactile and words. I’ve always been more of a hands-on maker. I have always had crafts in my life. I’ve never really thought about it as a living until I went to college and I did other stuff. I mean, I’m a maker, I’m a storyteller and this class let me combine the emotional, lyrical elements of my craft with the tangible. That is one of the greatest gifts that’s been given to me.

In terms of my art practice from now on, I am definitely more confident in my work. I have a voice, an interesting one at the very least. And so being able to find that is something that I will constantly refer to and use in my practice for now on. I don’t know if I’ll always make books. I love sculpting as well. And if I could figure out a way to combine poetry and sculpture, I feel like that’s a wonderful path for me. So we’ll see what happens as I explore it.

INTERVIEWER

What have you learned from Coleman in this class?

SOPHYA

I think that, while I’ve learned a lot from Coleman, what I’ve learned the most is that writing for someone to read is different from writing for yourself to speak and that’s important to remember.

INTERVIEWER

Sophya! This is your doctor. You’ve got one month to live. What would you do? What would you write?

SOPHYA

Bobby! Oh no! I have one month live! What am I going to do with that one month? I’m not sure if I’d write too much, I think I’d paint more. I think I’d write some. I’d definitely write poetry. I’d try to get out any stories I had left in me, even if they were crap, just to see if maybe someone else could grab it and make it flower. I would write letters to the people who were important to me but I wouldn’t mail them. I’d actually ask them to be mailed after I was gone. I think it’d be easier for me that way. It might be cheating, I don’t know. Life isn’t supposed to be easy, I guess. I’d probably create art about that.

INTERVIEWER

Is there any question that you’re trying to answer? Any question that haunts you?

SOPHYA

Is there any question that I’m trying to answer? Any question that haunts me? I would say, Yes. Absolutely. I think everyone has that. But it’s not always the same question. I think in many ways you need that question to understand what to do in the world. My particular question would be, “Am I worthy of—anything really?” A lot of my life has been pure luck, haha, and I’m very grateful. Art and expression and writing, all of it, is to—convince is the wrong word, but to create my legacy of worthiness, or to show my gratitude I guess. In one way, shape, or form, that’s always the question that I’m trying to answer.

INTERVIEWER

Hardest undertaking that you’ve ever experienced?

SOPHYA

My struggles have been more emotional than physical, although at some point that all blends together. I would say, starting over, after devastating heartbreak was the hardest thing I’ve had to do. It’s certainly the weakest I’ve ever felt in my life. And I do refer to it… I consider the person I was before as dead. So, “It nearly killed me,” is probably accurate. There’s a…well…soul death is just as effective as killing someone. And sometimes it’s more tragic because we still grieve for the person that once was there. Facing that grief was a huge part of taking this image and text class. I wanted to channel it into something creative and useful.

INTERVIEWER

Sophya does improv and House Manages at the Brody Theater on NW Broadway and Burnside. For more information, visit brodytheater.com.

Sophya, how do you use improv in everyday life? What about in your art practice?

SOPHYA

I use my improv toolkit in almost everything, haha, The concept of “Yes, And” to develop the scene, to create story arc, story structure—that’s always both in writing and in improv, at least I believe so. For me in particular, I love the idea that when you are coming out in a scene, you choose a point of view, or an element, you define something for yourself that is absolutely true. My character is old, or angry or in love. That is a gift to the scene, it’s a gift to your partner. It gives them something to react to. It gives you something to hold onto.

Commitment is important. And that’s really important, I have found, in writing. Making sure I keep that point of view. I keep my focus on one thing, I don’t derail. Sometimes I branch out, that’s something we do often, patterning, something like that, but it’s all centralized at the core.

For my chapbook particularly, it felt like a pattern exercise. It has works that I’ve done over the last two or three years, that I hand selected and rewrote. Some are brand new, some are just created for this particular book. Some are an exorcise in reverse patterning- where I looked I found the core, what my suggestion to myself was. So, yes, improv has influenced a lot of my writing, and just my general development of story.

INTERVIEWER

Can you explain improv? What are the rules of improv?

SOPHYA

Improv isn’t about rules. There are foundational courtesies. There are skills to do it well. But it never has to be this way or that way. Good improv is natural in terms of its development and its organic building of a scene. Everyone, everyone supports each other. You don’t flat out deny a reality that someone else has started- you build it together.

Most importantly, like with all things, it’s listening. Listening and acknowledging what’s just happened because it doesn’t just belong to you, it belongs to everyone in that moment—the audience, the tech, the creators, that’s what makes it so special. So good improv honors that and plays within that world. It’s not demanding.

INTERVIEWER

How long have you been doing improv?

SOPHYA

For a very short time and a very long time, I guess is a good way to describe it. I have a traditional theater background plays, set designs, that kind of stuff. Got a Masters in it actually, lol. Improv, aside from warmup exercises, frightened me for a very long time. The idea of going off script was very dangerous to me, despite the fact that my personality is very unscripted. I don’t know what the hell I’m saying half the time.

But I started watching it, in this particular community, back in 2012. I had just come back from Puerto Rico. There was a while where I didn’t want to meet new people, I didn’t want to see knew people. And then an old friend who went to school with me invited me out to see his class perform and I hadn’t laughed that hard in a very long time. And I felt the need to experience that more- so I came to the student show every week for almost six months. To the point where the folks performing besides my friends, got to know my name, got to know who I was.

As soon as I went to the first class, I fell in love with the space. And then I took all the levels at the Brody and ended up becoming House Manager. I’ve taken storytelling. I’ve done sketch. It’s pretty near and dear. I love the combo of improv and sketch. What I get out of it would be, aside from the normal things like, more confidence and easier communication with bigger groups, and things like that, I—it’s a family, it’s a community. The Brody is a home.

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