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Cherie Chai and Clelia Scala

Cherie demonstrating a shadow puppet that she created.
Cherie demonstrating a shadow puppet that she created.

Despite residing on opposite sides of the country, Cherie Chai and her mentor Clelia Scala found their recurring Zoom conversations to be periods complete with reciprocal connection, friendship, and inspiration.

BC Culture Days: Clelia, what excited you about this mentorship opportunity with Cherie? Why did you decide to take it on?

Clelia Scala: I think Cherie’s project is so interesting. I love how she uses puppetry and story creation to help people learn about languages other than their own and to create community and understanding. Shadow puppetry is an art form I’m drawn to and have included in my art practice a fair bit, so I was intrigued from the beginning. The more I got to know Cherie and her work, the more excited I got about her use of shadow puppetry as a teaching tool.

The mentorship was a great learning experience for me. It got my brain humming about how shadow puppetry can be used as a teaching tool. I’ve used shadow puppetry in classroom settings to encourage children to speak about their name stories and life experiences in the hope of encouraging them to think about their identities and to empathize with others. Speaking with Cherie about her project has made me think a lot about how we can use puppetry to foster a sense of community and empathy in a larger community setting.

BC Culture Days: How has the mentorship been for you and has working with Clelia led to future opportunities for you?

Cherie Chai: It’s quite inspirational. I’m inspired by her in the sense that, you know, I see that she has gone through various paths to get to where she is, and now she’s also doing something that she likes. She gave me advice on grant application writing and about working with Indigenous communities. It’s not my first time working with the Lheidli T’enneh community, but I’m still considered somebody who’s outside of the community. We connected our experiences on respecting protocols, understanding cultural differences, and how to work in sensitive and respectful ways.

Clelia mentioned that she wants me to speak to her university students next year sometime to tell them about my journey because she believes that being a working artist is not only about focusing on your art, but also learning how to sell yourself and be well rounded with organizational skills, project management, event management, event planning, and so on. She wants me to speak to them about my experience working with the Indigenous community and diverse cultures.

If I were to turn back time and go back to my twenties or teenage years, I would probably actively search for a mentor. I really believe in the saying “stand on the shoulders of giants.” It means that if you stand on the shoulder of the giant you can see further. The best way to learn is from someone who has more experience in their field or the industry. So I’m happy that I was given this opportunity for a mentor.

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Learn more about the event that Cherie hosted for Culture Days.
Read all of the 2023 mentor bios.

Cherie Chai is a self-taught artist based in Prince George. As a speaker of multiple languages, Cherie has ten years of second language teaching experience under her belt. Deeply passionate about Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Cherie founded a social enterprise called Speak Write Academy with the intention of promoting intercultural communication and fostering intercultural trust. Cherie has worked with various community organizations to roll out workshops promoting language and cultural learning. The art forms Cherie has experience with include basic puppetry, choral singing, musical instruments (guitar, piano, drums, and harmonica), mixed media art, and conceptual art. Cherie also holds a Diploma in Horticulture & Landscape Design from Singapore.

Clelia Scala is a visual artist whose work includes mask and puppet design, shadow puppetry, installations, collage, and illustration. Her explorations into the fantastic and uncanny stem from a lifelong engagement with tales and myths and her interest in the theme of human interaction with the natural world. Clelia shadow puppetry includes a play to accompany composer Dean Burry’s The Highwayman and a shadow piece for musical duo Bridge & Wolak’s Tangorium. As a designer and fabricator for theatre, Clelia has worked with theatre companies and institutions such as Bad New Days, Carousel Players, Guilty by Association, Lemon Bucket Orkestra, the Niagara Artists Centre, Odyssey Theatre, Suitcase in Point, Theatre Kingston, University of Missouri-St Louis Opera Theatre, Yale University, and Zacadia Circus. Clelia’s visual art has shown in galleries in Canada and the United States.