陈珊妮 Sunny Chen
Photo: Kristine Cofsky (The Portrait Sessions)
I was born in a city called Nanjing in the 90s, and my ancestors are from Sichuan and Hubei. At three years old, I had memorized my fave ancient Chinese poems so I entertained strangers by reciting them whenever an opportunity arose. I also loved singing karaoke in our family-owned restaurant on the regular. Starting from that age, my mom signed me up for community piano lessons. Then, after-school English lessons.
My parents and I flew across the world to Burnaby, British Columbia, when I was six years old. I moved three more times before completing elementary, so I learned how to find the humour in everything. After a year, my paternal grandparents immigrated to Canada. They raised me and my lil sis. We didn't have much and lived in a 2-bedroom apartment together, across from Metrotown. At school, I sang in choir and joined a hip hop dance group. My mom invested in my passion for the arts and I started to dance ballet, but stopped when we moved to Langley to accommodate her new job. We lived in a basement suite that year, and my mom signed us up for a toy drive so we could celebrate Christmas together. By age 12, I'd written over 10 pop songs. In high school, in addition to enrolling in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme and working part-time at Pizza Hut, I trained and performed with my concert choir, chamber choir, and senior vocal jazz group, as well as played flute and piccolo in concert band. My mom was diagnosed with depression and took a year off work. I was lucky to travel across North America and compete in festivals with my high school. My first time stepping into a professional studio was at Disneyland's Anaheim Heritage Festival at 15 years old. Our band recorded an excerpt from a Disney film score. I still remember listening back and thinking, "Wow, people get to do this for a living?" Also: "This sounds like a Disney movie!"
When I was 17, I obtained a student loan and moved to Vancouver to attend the University of British Columbia. I needed to escape the dysfunctional environment at home, which imbued me with anxiety and pain growing up. My absent biological father had left us, and my mom projected her stress and trauma onto me. I was tired of being shamed for wanting to pursue arts as my career. My mom was the first woman at Nanjing Forestry University to obtain her PhD, and the first person in her family to access higher education. Major lifestyle changes mixed with Mao's militant fascist patriarchy caused generational trauma within my family (which I explore in my music and theatrical work). Living on my own at a young age, I worked in nightlife and film while studying psychology, creative writing, sociology, and more. For fun, I auditioned for a lead in Rocky Horror Show and, that fall, debuted as "Janet Weiss". It changed my world. I'm forever grateful to the UBC Musical Theatre Troupe for my first opportunity to shine onstage. I felt a sense of belonging and celebration I've never felt before.
From then on, I knew I wanted to create and perform for the rest of my life, to be a part of something bigger. The truth is, I didn't grow up with a role model who looked and felt like me, a weird and witty queer Asian femme who could sing, dance, skateboard, play in a band, direct, lead, close deals, or do all the things I think are cool. I did them anyway, and continue to learn from non-toxic peers and elders. I continue to work towards healing from generational trauma, SA/DV, and systemic oppression, while providing support for others to tell their stories too. Seeing complex gender diverse people who represent us authentically (in the spotlight and behind the scenes) should be the norm, not the exception.
I live and work on stolen lands belonging to xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səl̓ilwətaɁɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. I'm dedicated to advocating for equity, engaging community, and sharing our stories & sounds of belonging.
Even though I'm disconnected from my relatives in China (due to political, language, and technology barriers), I'm grateful my work is reaching QTBIPOC worldwide. At the end of the day, I always do what I can to make our existence under late-stage capitalism inclusive, accessible, and sustainable for everyone. To quote the classic film High School Musical, "we're all in this together".
P.S. F***草 the model minority!
Photo: Katrin Braga / MUA: Paula Lanzador / H: Sabrina Fetterkind
"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."
Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Hi there, I'm an interdisciplinary artist, working with music, media, and mental health. My pronouns are they/them, she/her, or ze/zir.
I hold a BA in Psychology, with a minor in English literature. In 2018, I co-founded MAGES Interactive with Chimedum Ohaegbu and Kyla Yin James, and produced a protective, accessible space where marginalized creatives collaborated, learned digital skills for free, and practiced mindfulness and manifestation (formerly FEMMES).
I perform, produce, write, cast, direct, and/or manage projects, such as sound_therapy Music Festival, and my debut music video for survivors' anthem "Ocean Girl" (2018), where skaters cruise the seawall and dance in the sunshine, set to an early 2000s vibe. Without formal training, #OceanGirlMV was the first time I tried my hand at directing and producing. I've been writing creatively from 8 years old though!
In 2021, I released my debut album ilyimy to critical acclaim (Exclaim!). I cast and associate produced Sunflower Girl (written and directed by Holly M. Kaplan). For this film, I helped write Malea Emma's original song "Better Off This Way". I'm the showrunner, casting, and lead on Open Ethnicity, a dramedy about queer folks and women of colour in Hollywood North, i.e. Vancouver's performing arts industry. We're like if Broad City and Girls5Eva made a web series with Frances Ha.
I'm developing my original play on Chinese fascism (1940s - present), intergenerational & ancestral healing, and mental health awareness. Told through time travel and dance battles, End of a Cycle is based on my family's oral history.
For more info or inquiries, please contact me.
Photo: Corey Poluk (Fox Cabaret)