I had a few relatives visit me last week and when the conversation turned to gay stuff — I don’t even recall what — one of my cousins laughed and said, “Can you ask the community to stop adding letters to the alphabet? It’s hard to keep up!”
I hear ya, cuz. LGBTQAAI — it can be daunting for even a seasoned member of the community. And this next generation isn’t going to make it any easier; a large number of them don’t care to use any identifiers, and the rest have identities that sound like a Starbucks order to an old head like me.
This week’s Portraits, Steph Czapla, is one of those aforementioned young people forging a brave new world. The talented Ms. C. is a new graduate of the Moore College of Art. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Czapla through The Women’s Film Festival, where she is known for her work ethic and unique sense of style.
I spoke to her about the upcoming film screening of “Animation Nation” and the gallery event being held by TWFF as part of the Fringe Festival.
PGN: How do you pronounce your last name and what’s the origin?
SC: Chop-la and it’s from Poland. I think it translates to heron, like the bird.
SC: I was born and raised in Miami. I came to Philadelphia to go to college in 2013.
PGN: Name a turning point in your life that makes you stop and reflect.
SC: My parents separated when I was about 5. I was hustled and bustled around by my mother for a year and it made me very cautious and anxious. She was doing drugs with her boyfriend, the one she cheated on my dad with, yet she was the one given custody of me and my brother. That was a time when the cops would automatically side with the mom. It didn’t help that she made up some stories about my dad — that he’d been berating her and inciting violence. That was the ’90s when a lot of people held the belief that the moms were the natural caretakers, so I was stuck in an awful place for over a year. Fortunately, my dad fought tooth and nail for us and finally won. I couldn’t thank him enough for it. As a result, first grade was the first time I felt some real stability. [Laughing] It was all uphill from there.
PGN: Go Dad!
SC: Yeah, he’s always been an advocate for and supporter of me. We moved into a really pretty house in the suburbs of West Miami and that’s where I lived until I came here.
PGN: Ever play any sports?
SC: I really got into fitness. As a senior, I went on this weight-loss journey and it was pretty unhealthy. I lost 16 pounds in 37 days. I became obsessive about working out and kept to a strict super-low calorie count. That’s when my eating disorders started to manifest. I’d be on a “thinspiration” routine, preoccupied with having a flat stomach. But the only sport I can think of that I liked was the one time a year you played dodgeball in gym and got the chance to knock out that bitch in your class. I became a gym rat in college and really started getting into yoga and a little kickboxing.
PGN: So you have one sibling?
SC: Yeah, Christopher, he’s the light of my life. He just turned 21 in April.
PGN: What do the folks do?
SC: My dad worked in real estate and my stepmother studied computer science in the Philippines and does sales work here.
PGN: Are you in touch with your birth mom?
PGN: Answer this: I am known for …
SC: I’m a great dresser, if I do say so myself. My friends know me as a very extroverted person. I like to be out and about: theme nights and emo nights, any kind of dance parties. I’ve been known to show up to events in a banana suit. I’m always on a mad hustle, organizing events like my Drink n Draw series at Fiume in West Philly. I help coordinate a poetry open mic that occurs every second Monday at Little Berlin. I write poetry that tackles themes of emotional transcendence, vulnerability, intimacy, relationship constructs and self-love. Trying to work on my occasional fear of intimacy. Some music: I’m part of an avant-bard folkpop duo with my friend B. But mostly I’m known for my artwork. My illustrative work tends to steer towards fantasy, human duality, Miami Art Deco and pop culture. Professionally I’m an illustrator and designer. I really focus on user-experience design and editorial illustration, and I am available for freelance work. Oh, I also consider myself a professional humble bragger!
PGN: How did you end up at Moore?
SC: I knew I had to get out of Miami. I knew that if I stuck around after high school it would take me years to break free. I applied to a few schools, but Moore gave me the most funding. I didn’t even visit the school, I just accepted the offer and the rest is history.
PGN: And now you’re with The Women’s Film festival. What is your role with them?
SC: I’m the graphic designer for the festival in March as well as for other events like the “Animation Nation” on Sept. 12. It’s part of the Fringe Festival and it’s going to be a program of short animated films. In addition, we will have a gallery featuring a variety of artists. I am the visual-art curator for that portion of the event, and it’s going to be exciting. I’ve been speaking to illustrators, painters and other quirky artists who will uphold the theme of the night. We want to give an immersive experience. We’re also collaborating with the nonprofit “Creating United Empowerment,” which is an organization in Philadelphia that aims to promote and sell work by women artists. A portion of the proceeds from the art sales will go to them. I hope people get their tickets fast, because I think it’s going to sell out.
PGN: What’s important about having a women’s film festival?
SC: It’s very important. A lot of women don’t get represented in the media and when they do, it’s inadequate. I’ve had people say, “But there are a lot of women in media!” and I challenge them with, “What are their names? How many female directors can you name?” Or producers, even actors — not only can they not be named, but often when you have women in the productions, she’s secondary to the main character — used as an accessory or sidekick and it’s a bummer. And that’s not even discussing the lack of real diversity, meaning diversity that’s not there to fill a quota or to plug someone in as a token, but real, organic diversity. I think the film festival does a great job of trying to rectify this by promoting women in films.
PGN: Speaking of diversity, your generation is redefining it in terms of gender and sexual orientation.
SC: Yes, I think we’re more all-encompassing and more inclusive in our approach. We’re questioning everything, from societal norms and values, which can perpetuate negative judgments, to accepting all safe expressions — people who are polyamorous or ethically non-monogamous, along with different gender expressions. We’re giving people room to grow and explore and figure out what they want and who they are. I personally identify as cis pansexual.
PGN: As someone who’s always been pretty extroverted and edgy, was it easier for you to come out as queer?
SC: I grew up in a very conservative household. I wish it had been easier for me to come out to my parents. I was 14 and really scared to tell my dad that I was bi and liked girls. I don’t know if I just caught him in a good mood that night, but he said that he still loved and cared about me, which took a lot of weight off me because I’d heard of kids being ostracized from their families. So they were supportive, but it’s not something that we discuss openly.
PGN: So, random question: Would you rather travel to the future or go back in time?
SC: Travel to the future. I’m not someone who likes to look back. I’ve spent too much time doing that in the past, brooding over what could have or should have been, but I’ve realized that things happen for a reason. I have this weird thing where I’ll see something in my dreams that is amazingly accurate or I’ll experience intense moments of déjà vu that will confirm to me, yeah, I’m meant to be here. There are things I wish I had done differently, but had I not done them, I wouldn’t be who and where I am today. There are rough times in life, but I’m happy to be a part of this thing.
PGN: Where can people find you?
SC: They can follow me on instagram @stephanieczapla or check out my portfolio at www.stephanieczapla.com.
For tickets or more information about Animation Nation, go to www.fringearts.com/event/animation-nation.