Reflections on my Early Career Development Grant with Sammy Chien

by Collective Member Andie Lloyd

Reflections on my Early Career Development Grant with Sammy Chien

(September 2018 – July 2019)

As part of reporting for the generous grant I received from the B.C. Arts Council in September of 2018, I am taking some time to share some of the projects I was privileged to be apart of after I received ten months of funding to be mentored by Sammy Chien, Artistic Director of Chimerik 似不像 Collective, and some of the other artists I was able to work with during this time.

Beginning in September 2018, when I received the news of getting our grant, I had already been working with Sammy since January 2018, and had been asked to join the collective in April. Sammy had been immensely generous in the time he took to mentor me without compensation, bringing me on as an assistant for large projects like HINKYPUNK , by FakeKnot, presented by Club PuSh in January 2018, and taking the time to teach me new skills outside of these rehearsals. I had already learned so much when it occurred to us that we could apply for funding to support what we were doing, as Sammy was donating a considerable amount of his time, and I wasn’t able to give as much time as I wanted, due to my part-time job. We submitted the application in June, took our summer vacations, and when we came home to start working again, we had received the good news.

Our first project working together under this funding was a dance piece by Sammy and Dong Mei Huang, called Flow(er) . It was an intense piece involving live-video feeds, generative visuals and sound, and a team of virtuosic dancers. New Works Dance presented two shows at the Waterfront Theatre, and we performed for two sold-out audiences. This was my first time working with a full POC cast, and also my first time working with Lighting Designer Jonathan Kim, who had also just joined the Collective. Jono has become another valuable mentor in my life and a life-long friend. September was when I was introduced to Nancy Lee through Sammy, and joined her and Kiran Bhumber’s Virtual Reality Concert Experience piece Telepresence. These connections were all made through Sammy’s network, and have become my most valued colleagues and friends.

Through the rest of the Fall, Sammy mentored me twice a week at his home studio, and we enjoyed lunch together at local DTES cafes. We worked on Isadora programming, researching, design development, hand-drawn visuals, community engagement and discussed politics and the future of the Collective. These were valuable learning sessions, and made me feel truly present in the Vancouver arts scene for the first time.

Sammy and I worked together as consultants for Dancers of Damelahamid, where we learned about negotiating different working conditions and got hands-on experience with infrared tracking. The show went on to do a world tour, and played for a week at the Cultch just a few weeks ago. I was honoured to have been involved in the early days of this beautiful Indigenous dance work. We didn’t take much time off over the holidays, as we worked separately on small projects and prepared to fly to Taiwan to work together on two massive corporate year-end parties, designing and operating live visuals for the company dance competitions, award presentations, and special guest performances by Taiwanese superstars like 黃麗玲 (A-Lin), 動力火車 (Power Station), and Singaporean singer/actress Boon Hui Lu (文慧如). This was my first experience working with an entirely Mandarin-speaking crew, and also my first time doing live visuals. Sammy and his brother Shang-Han mentored me through the process of studying the music and sourcing the correct style of VJ loops and content to use. My first VJ performance was for an audience of 10,000 people at Taipei Nangang Exhibition Centre. We did two of these events while we were in Taiwan. We stayed for the Lunar New Year, and Sammy’s friends and family welcomed me into their homes during their celebrations. We toured to historic rural family neighbourhoods outside of Taipei, and met with other artists and visited galleries, all while eating the best food I’ve ever had, everyday. This was my third visit to Taiwan, but it was unique and challenging in all the right ways.

After one day off, it was already time to start tech rehearsals for Wen Wei Dance’s Ying Yun at the Dance Centre. After creating some hand-painted visuals for Sammy to use in his visual creation, I stepped up to be the associate lighting designer for Jonathan Kim. This was a huge learning curve for me, and admittedly a huge challenge that I am still learning from. Nearly a year later, I’m proud of the work I was able to do on this show, maintaining the integrity of Jono’s design, and being on a team of people that I was proud to work with. I couldn’t be more grateful for this opportunity.

In what feels like no time at all, the whole team quickly dove into what was my largest project to date. Arts Club Theatre Company hired an all-star team to produce Lauren Yee’s The Great Leap, in honour of the 30th Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Together we dreamed up a giant off-white floor that served as a projection surface for three massive projectors, and four projectors later, we began what felt like a month of non-stop designing and programming. I got to do an immense amount of research and learned about university semester equivalent in Chinese History and language. We were exhausted and spending anywhere from eight to twelve hours together on any given day, our days off were completely dedicated to refining and programming notes from the week before, and somehow, our video team of five miraculously put out the most striking and powerful projection design I have ever had the pleasure of seeing in a theatre. Much thanks of course to our Director, Meg Roe. I was so incredibly proud of the work we did and the amount I learned in this process was immeasurable. I hope I get to see this show go on tour. Everyone did such beautiful work.

The rest of our time on this grant was a blur: between one-on-one sessions with Sammy, working with the collective, our friends, on my own personal projects, it all went by so fast. Our finale was in the summer, when I joined a big team again for the adventure that was Crossing Mountains and Seas, produced by Orchid Ensemble and created by Lan Tung, Sammy Chien, Chengxin Wei and Julia Taffe. As associate lighting designer and dialogue editor, I took on the responsibility of executing Jonathan Kim’s design once again in the Port Theatre in Nanaimo, and was forced to learn very quickly what it takes to design in 1000+ seat theatre. Sammy put me in a place of leadership and influencing the narrative through my own writing, as well as programming the text into the design.

I felt it necessary to document my role on each of these larger projects, as it would take ages to write about the dozens of one-offs and day long gigs and little projects Sammy brought me on board with through the course of our ten-month mentorship. I cannot even begin to express how valuable it was to receive support for learning alongside one of Canada’s most influential interdisciplinary artists, who I now feel like I have the skills to work comfortably alongside. I am grateful to now also be mentored by Jonathan Kim and Nancy Lee, all because of the connections this grant has afforded me.

I want to express a deep and heartfelt thanks to the Arts Council of British Columbia for giving us the funding to pursue a year of deep and meaningful learning. I am a better artist for this and deeply grateful for being given the space and privilege to be vulnerable and learn through experience.