Alissa is a writer, performer, wanna-be comedic rapper. Half-Chinese. Avid feminist and advocate of vegetables. She is a member of Soho Writers’ Lab 2018 and Artist Director of Trip Hazards theatre company. Most importantly, Alissa, is a pioneering new voice in the creative industry that we are ART31 want to hear more of.
Alissa Anne Jeun Yi
How do you explain who you are and what you do when you meet people?
It’s always difficult when you’re an ‘emerging’ artist to find that moment when you’re comfortable with presenting yourself as an artist first and foremost, rather than introducing yourself by your day job. I’ve recently found it professionally helpful to keep things as broad as possible by using terms such as ‘writer’ and ‘theatre-maker’ and describing my skill sets in events management and arts marketing. Perhaps it’s a bit pretentious to say I’m just a ‘creative’ but it helps not to be instantly put in a box, or have your abilities limited!
What does an average day look like for you?
There’s not really an average day at the moment – again, probably a bit of a cliche answer! I work a flexible day job alongside producing, marketing and developing my own work; plus doing a writing course at the Soho Theatre. So I guess an average day encompasses balancing all of these roles, but what might be required of me from day to day and any meetings or workshops I have lined up differs immensely.
How did you get to where you are today, was spoken word performance always the plan? Or did you have other initial plans?
I’m Asian…poetry and performance was never part of the plan! I spent three years at Law School spending more time getting involved in student theatre than I spent in the library, and gradually admitting to myself that I was the happiest writing and creating. I was then incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to take a student show to the Edinburgh Fringe, and it was there where I was exposed to less traditional performance art and comedy that I found exactly the sort of work that resonated with me.
Have you had obstacles in your creative career? How have you overcome them? What do you think could change to make it better for those following in your footsteps?
That’s a big question! Starting off is the hardest because, for a long time, I was getting rejected for everything. Front of house jobs, performance opportunities – you name it – there are statistically a huge number of people with more experience competing for those opportunities with you. It can get quite disheartening when you apply but never hear anything back, and you’re kept in limbo for a while. I guess I’ve overcome that barrier by surrounding myself with people that support me and just being a bit stubborn, to be honest. I think a lot of things need to change to make getting into the arts more accessible for the younger generations as it can be very financially and emotionally draining. The recent Arts Council England grant towards developing artistic practice instead of working towards a final product is potentially a helpful move in that direction.
What is your proudest achievement in your creative life?
There’s not a particular point that stands out for me at the moment. I’m currently most proud about the fact that I’m persevering!
Equally, what is your biggest failure? Sometimes it can be intimidating to look at established creatives who look like they never get anything wrong, especially when you are just beginning!
When I started out, I was definitely spreading myself too thinly in regards to applying for writing and performance opportunities. I was so desperate to get ‘something’ that I ended up applying for anything and everything, even if it wasn’t particularly suited to me as an artist. Now I realise that it is a much better use of my time and creative energy to focus on applying only for the opportunities or to venues that my work is very much suited to.
What inspires you? Is it a person? A place? Food?
I’m interested in creating cross-disciplinary theatre and pushing the boundaries of what theatre is so actually my biggest artistic inspirations are comedians, rappers, and musicians.
What’s the best piece of advice ever given to you?
My mum always told me that “there’s no harm in asking.” It’s so simple but so true, and encourages me to be open-minded, ambitious and confident every day – whether that’s in the workplace or in a creative context!
What advice would you give?
My number one piece of advice is always YOU DO YOU! Not in a selfish way, but putting your health and happiness first is very important to avoid burn out and to allow yourself time so that you, in turn, can give back to others in full. Cook a nice meal, go for a walk in the sun, light some candles and have a bubble bath…I know I’m guilty but sometimes you forget that even if it’s exciting and creative at the end of the day it still counts as work, and everyone needs a break now and then. This also applies to the kind of work you want to create. As touched on before, I personally think that there’s no point in making work to suit a particular commission, opportunity or venue if it’s not truly you, and doesn’t excite you. Make the work you want to make, and then find the support and audiences for it. They will be out there, and you will have created something all the better for it.
And is there anything else you want people to say to young creatives?
It’s always nice to hear from someone older than you that they’ve also been in the same position!
Alissa is taking her show Love Songs to Brighton Fringe for the 12th-14th May, before a full run at Underbelly Cowgate for the Edinburgh Fringe this August. Make sure to catch her where you can!
You can also find Alissa, and her pioneering new theatre group Trip Hazards, online here: