Sofiya Cheyenne was introduced to me through my then collaborator, Deb Hertzberg. An instructor in the Brooklyn College Theater Department and a wonderful puppet artist and director in her own right, Deb met Sofiya in school and brought her on to a project that we were developing at the time. I have been a Sofiya Cheyenne fan ever since. She and her friends have been such kind and generous teachers to us. And Sofiya, frankly, she’s just a kind, talented badass woman who I love to be around. Here’s 5 Questions with Sofiya Cheyenne.
JMK: Sofiya, we had such a wonderful time with you collaborating with the creative teams of Zwerge. (Wouldn’t you love to be able to bring that show back?) Your perspective on race and disability was obviously essential to our process. How do you bring these powers to other projects?
SC: I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to bring “Zwerge” back! And honestly I should thank you for that experience… because it is truly the beginning of my advocacy and artistry journey. See, at the time I didn’t realize it… but much later when reflecting back on the experience we had working on “Zwerge” and creating the historical icon of Perla Ovitz. I was truly gifted with the opportunity to tell this woman’s story from a very authentic place. I felt empowered like never before. Through this true story of resilient people just like myself, I found a new found love of myself, performing and my dwarfism. I would say that Perla is a big reason why I do what I do today.
As far as other projects, I feel it is so important to always speak on the importance of self worth. Perla and the Ovitz family were a family that didn’t let the close minded world dictate how they saw themselves. The Ovitz family (a family of dwarf entertainers) always carried themselves with grace and dignity. Something that was very hard to do during WWII. And I carry that with me in all the work that I do.
JMK: Wow. You’re going to make me cry. To be honest, your comments make me want to call my collaborators and get back to the work of shining light through theater. It was a true honor for all of us to work with you on that material.
You have a wonderfully expressive singing voice. What music inspires you the most and why?
SC: Thank you so much!! I truly love to sing, although sometimes I wish I felt more confident in my own voice. I think my favorite music to sing is soulful or jazzlike. I have a true alto voice, that is my sweet spot. Give me an Alicia Keys or Oleta Adams song … and I’ll be going at it!
JMK: These days, even though life has supposedly “slowed”, everyone seems so drained. What do you do to recharge?
SC: I breathe. So often we forget to breathe. Especially someone like me who’s a GO GO GO kinda person. (I will be embarrassed to say that some days my apple watch reminds me) but hey!! It’s important. When I breathe and take some time to meditate and be mindful of my body I feel very re-energized after.
JMK: You’re a new mom! CONGRATS! How has this change in your life impacted your approach to your work and activism?
SC: Well, quite simply. Everything is about Logan now. It still feels really hard to understand what this balance of mommy and work will look like. It changes everyday. But what I do know is … my mission, just like before, has been to bring awareness to the world about dwarfism through my art. And now more than ever do I feel that is so important. I have brought another person of short stature into this world. So for Logan…. I will do anything and work really hard to make the world hear me now! To make the world a better place for someone like Logan.
JMK: Well, you know that you’ve got allies in our team. When you look to the future, what will you do to be part of making the changes that you want to see in the world come to fruition?
SC: Perfect segue from my last response! haha. I’d say that as an artist I am really excited and motivated to create, support and be a part of projects that are disabled led and intended for disabled audiences. I want to tell stories that really impact the footprint or wheelprint that is ours. And I feel like the only way to do that is to be really intentional about our work. Little people for centuries have been begging the industry to see us as whole human beings. I think it’s about time we own our space, we own our narratives, we own our bodies and invite these audiences in and show them how beautiful we are.
Sofiya Cheyenne is a Performing Artist, Teaching Artist, and Disability Advocate/Consultant. She is the Inclusion Director of Little People of America, Co-Chair of The Dwarf Artist Coalition and part of the Access Advisory Council for ART NY and Disability Working Group with the National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers. In all of her work she continually advocates for people of short stature and disabilities on and off the stage. She has appeared on TV shows such as TrueTV’s “At Home With Amy Sedaris”, Netflix’s “StartUP” and Amazon’s “Loudermilk.” Her favorite theatre credits include The Briefly Dead at 59E59, Other World at Bucks County Playhouse, and Guys and Dolls at Theater Under The Stars. Sofiya is a passionate educator and public speaker, she has been teaching theatre arts throughout New York City for over 10 years. Through sharing her artistry, her story and educating others, she encourages the power of community, storytelling and social change.
More at www.sofiyacheyenne.com/