ED2016 Cabaret ED2016 Interviews ED2016 Week0 Edition

Amelia Ryan: With love to Lady Liberty

By | Published on Friday 29 July 2016


Amelia Ryan first stormed the Fringe last year with her Edinburgh debut ‘Storm In A D Cup’, and the good news is that she is back for another bash at Festival success.
She’s known for having a slightly feminist edge, and admits to covering some material that might be described as ‘issue-led’, but ultimately – as you’ll find out – her shows are light, entertaining and accessible to all who can cope with a little bit of naughtiness.
I put some questions to Amelia to find out more about her show and how a certain Barry Humphries commissioned her to create it.

CM: So, first up, tell us about this year’s show. What type of performance can audiences expect?
AR: This year’s show is FUN! It’s a candid, comedic look at the quest for happiness / self-improvement / ‘insert your personal ideal’ here. For me, this is liberty. Liberty is freedom… a kind of nirvana where we let go of all the BS that wears us down. Using a combination of my own personal stories and sassy social observations, I look at the many ways we try to achieve it… from love to labiaplasty (hey, works for some), green-juicing to champagne- guzzling, monogamy to menages a trois. It’s a party: champagne is popped, games are played, costumes are worn (the Little Mermaid makes an appearance) and you can hear smashing songs from the likes of Cyndi Lauper, Whitney Houston and Pharrell Williams… however they’ve all got my own lyrical spin on them.

CM: Why is it called ‘Lady Liberty’?
AR: The title ‘Lady Liberty’ actually came from a solo adventure I took to NYC. I’d just come out of a long-term relationship and was back home living my Mother (thrilling!), so I whisked myself away to clear my head (and destroy my liver). On my final day there, I took a ferry trip down the Hudson River and saw the original Lady Liberty – the statue herself. She became my muse; a symbol of hope and empowerment. That sounds kinda naff, but it’s true! The show traverses my quest to become said ‘Lady Liberty’, complete with a Seven Step Guide. Think Eat, Pray, Shove.

CM: What ‘issues’ do you address in the show? Are they serious ones? Presumably you make them hilarious anyway?
AR: I tackle issues like body-image, slut-shaming, obsessive health and wellness pursuits, binge-drinking (conversely) and marriage equality (which is STILL not a thing in Australia because we seem to be stuck in 1788).

Are they serious? Well in the scheme of things, probably not. There’s far more pressing issues in the world today, one need only trawl through the news to find them. When creating the show, I did think about ‘going there’ with deeper issues; women who truly need liberation – asylum seekers, abuse victims etc. But I made a decision that it’s just not that kind of show. There is pathos, sure. But I made a conscious choice to keep it light and personally relatable.

I’m all for shining a light on the truly pressing issues in society, but for me, this show wasn’t the forum for it. There’s enough in the world to depress us, I want people to leave my show feeling lighter and – the money word- liberated. And your presumption is quite right… it’s all TOTALLY HILARIOUS. #modesty

CM: As an entertainer, you are regarded as having a distinctly feminist edge. Does that mean you are making entertainment for feminists or are you trying to convert the unconverted?
AR: I’d say it’s entertainment for everyone – men, women and anyone who’s on the fence – but with a feminine-empowered slant to it. I actually didn’t intend to create feminist content, it just kind of happened. I’m pretty passionate about having a positive and inclusive world view, be it about racial equality, marriage equality, gender equality. But my material isn’t a ‘women against men’ thing, it’s about women not being against themselves… or each other!

Yes, there are many socially and culturally constructed barriers against the femmes, but many of the barriers we create are self-imposed; the uber nasty ones that live in our heads. I aim to break those barriers down for the sake of personal and mental freedom. Being a woman, most of the things I discuss are relative, and relevant, to women. But there’s plenty of juicy stuff in there for the fellas too.

CM: Do you think it’s actually possible for a woman to “have it all”? What about men?
AR: I think women can “have it all”. We just need to get really specific about what “having it all” actually means. Not to everyone else, not for societal expectations… but to ourselves. We need to let each woman define what it means for herself, without the incessant self-editing and fear of judgement. And that means not judging others in return.

I do believe, however, that if wanting it all means having both copious amounts of time plus loads of cash, a killer career plus 3.5 perfect children, to have raging benders but get up at 6am for hot yoga… then you’ll end up falling short somewhere. Something’s gotta give, and it’ll most likely be your sanity. Or dignity. Or both. But once you define what matters to YOU, you’re set!

I believe men are a little better at compartmentalising, so I think they have a primitive advantage when it comes to defining what they want and going for it with conviction. Men operate in black and white, everything is (relatively) clear cut when it comes to goals and ambition. Where as women operate in the grey, we do want it all and generally at the same time.

Plus women, in my experience, get plagued by self-doubt. Most men I know have seemingly infallible confidence. In addition, there’s the child-birth thing which can – if women make a choice to go down that path – put a handbrake on career for a period of time. Of course, I’m making SWEEPING generalisations, and all of this is up for epic debate. Sliding scales etc.

CM: Apparently you encourage people to “not give a fuck”. Any tips for those who find it really hard to “not give a fuck”?
AR: Yes, I’m all for mastering the art of NGAF… not about everything in life, because that would render you an ass-hat. But about everything that is unimportant to YOU. At the end of the day, it’s about saving the precious amount of fucks that you have for what truly matters – and this is obviously different for everyone – but family, friends, passion, purpose are a good starting point.

Maybe it’s quitting your well-paid job to travel the world. Maybe it’s asking the hottie from you local cafe out on a date. Maybe it’s sharing an innermost secret with a loved one. All of that requires an element of NGAF… of surrendering to the outcome.

To those who find it hard to NGAF, it’s about the art of letting go and the art of defining what matters TO YOU. We carry our fucks about like a big thick cloak, and it can get heavy and taxing. Our fucks come in the guise of stress, worry, anger, shame, regret.

Does it really matter that some douche pushed in the bar line whilst we were waiting to order a pint? Is the world going to end because we didn’t land an audition or get a five star review? Will we really be barren and destitute because we’re not married by 30, like the rest of our our friends? Or can we learn to trust in the process, NGAF and let it go?

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m yet to master this. I get my knickers in a knot over trivial things – just ask my boyfriend – but, there’s freedom in NGAF, and that’s what I’m working towards.

CM: What’s your favourite part of the new show? Is there a particular song or section you’re especially proud of?
AR: I have two favourite parts. One is a parody of Robin Thicke/ Pharrell Williams ‘Blurred Lines’ that I’ve rewritten about society’s ever present obsession with the ‘thigh-gap’. It’s a hoedown version that culminates in celebrating the female body in all its forms, and it’s a tonne of fun to sing. My other favourite part is the nightly (and naughty) game of ‘Never Have I Ever’. Three audience members are called to the stage to confess their scintillating sexual history over a glass (or more, for some) of champagne. It’s a hoot, as it’s different every night, and always elicits shrieks of laughter from the crowd. Surprisingly, people are always obliging to dish the dirt. I suppose the free bubbles help.

CM: You were invited to debut this show at the Adelaide Festival by none other than Barry Humphries. How did that all come about?
AR: I met Barry at the 2014 Adelaide Cabaret Festival. He was in town to do some preliminary PR ahead of his run as Artistic Director of the 2015 Festival. I didn’t have a show in the Festival in 2014, but I did a set at the Backstage Club, upon which we met, chatted, and he subsequently invited me to submit a show for the 2015 Festival. I didn’t have anything ready to go at that point… but when Barry Humphries invites you to do a show, you write a damn show! The show was then selected for the Festival and the rest, as they say, is history.

CM: Has the show changed at all since that first run?
AR: Much of the content has stayed the same, but the narrative and essence of the show has changed quite a bit. Truth be told, I didn’t quite know what the show was when I first created it. I had some cracking stories that I wanted to share, and I’d written a few songs… but I wasn’t quite sure how to pull it all together. By the premiere – which was an out of town run in Sydney – it was a decent enough show, but I don’t really feel that it found its feet for a few seasons. In my experience, you have to do the show in front of a crowd a few times to get to know it. I’ve recruited a dramaturge along the way, and I still rewrite bits every time I take to the stage, just to make sure it’s reflecting the best of what I can do.

CM: Your accompanist is Michael Griffiths, who did the Madonna and Annie Lennox shows in recent years. How do you know each other, and how did your collaboration happen?
AR: Cool story actually: we met at an event in Sydney that we were both performing at. We got chatting, and Michael mentioned that he was moving interstate to Adelaide that week. As it happened, I was moving to Adelaide that week too!

If you aren’t familiar with Adelaide, it’s generally not a place people move ‘to’… it’s more like a place where people move ‘from’. Particularly if you’re a performer, as Sydney or Melbourne is really where it’s at. That being said, Adelaide is a gorgeous little city, and it’s actually got quite a bustling arts scene! (Sssh, don’t tell anyone).

Subsequently, Michael and I have spent quite a lot of time together and have become great friends. We’re often on the same touring circuits in Australia and do quite a bit of mentoring work together. But ‘Lady Liberty’ is the first time we’ve properly shared the stage with him as my accompanist.

CM: This isn’t the first time you’ve performed at the Fringe, of course; what made you want to come back? How do Edinburgh audiences compare to those back home?
AR: I had the proper cliched Edinburgh experience last year. I rode the wave of loving it / hating it / wanting to die / but ultimately realising that it’s the best thing I’ve done for my professional life to date.

There is something about being in the colossal super-pit of shows and talent that really makes you rise to the occasion, both as an artist and producer. I learned more in that month than I have in my entire career, it’s your postgrad degree as a performing artist – and probably with the same price tag! Although she can be a cruel and testing mistress, Edinburgh Fringe is sexy and seductive and once you’ve had that hit, she keeps you coming back for more.

I find the audiences in Edinburgh to be quite serious and committed to the task. They’re in it for the shows, and to extract as much out of the programme as possible. Australians, particularly in a Fringe context, can sometimes be a little more preoccupied with what’s happening at the bar than inside the theatre (or tent).

That being said, I’ve found Aussie audiences to be louder and more rambunctious, which works for my show. The more raucous, the better. I attracted quite an older crowd in Edinburgh last year, and they were very polite. I’m excited and intrigued to see who comes along this time! All I’ll say is come armed with an open mind and a full glass.

CM: Did you always want to be a performer? What steps did you take on the path to this career?
AR: Yep, in another horrendously cliched story, I was the annoying kid who wanted to be Sandy from Grease / Little Orphan Annie / Maria Von Trapp. My parents enrolled me in drama and singing classes, which only served to exacerbate said annoyance, and I was on my way. I thrived on community theatre productions, complete with makeshift costumes, and took any opportunity to be on the stage.

I then went on to study musical theatre at the Victorian College Of The Arts – a swanky drama school in Melbourne – but here, discovered that my dancing capability was dreadfully subpar. So, I began to resort to being ‘the funny one’. I was never going to be the classy chorus girl – classy has never really been my bag anyway – so I took to comedic and character roles.

In our final year, we had to write a fifteen minute cabaret set, and this is where I truly felt at home. That prompted the creation of ‘A Storm In A D Cup’ and, eventually, a career in comedic cabaret!

CM: Where do you see yourself going from here? Will you always want to do this same kind of thing, or do you see yourself going on to different things?
AR: I can’t see myself ever not performing, but I do envisage taking a reprieve every now and then, as man, this shit is taxing (in the best kind of way)!

The constant touring gets to me – and to my liver – and the pressure of creating a new show every year is daunting But I guess (I hope?!) that this will get easier over time. I think my next autobiographical show will need to be about marriage and motherhood… I can’t write that until I’m experiencing it (hint hint, boyfriend). But I feel like there’ll be plenty of juicy fodder in that phase of life.

Off the stage, I have short-term plans to write a book of an autobiographical / comedic nature, probably filled with much of the content from my two shows to date. Truth be told, I’d LOVE to land a gig as a presenter who travels the world feeding her face and exploring, OR create some kind of documentary about what liberty means to different people. I’m pretty inquisitive about human nature and society, so I see my work always exploring that to some extent.

CM: What happens next with this show? Is it going on anywhere else?
AR: The show has toured to about half of the Oz cabaret circuit so far, so I’d like to tick a few more places off the list next year, and perhaps look into New Zealand. I’d also love to take it to London, perhaps Hong Kong and of course New York City. I had the pleasure of taking ‘A Storm In A D Cup’ there, and it was a total hoot. I LOVED NYC audiences. They’re up for anything. And being the hometown of Lady Liberty herself, it seems like a fitting final stop.

CM: What else do you have lined up for the immediate future?
AR: As it happens, Michael Griffiths and I are creating a show together. I’m taking a slight break from my personal / confessional schtick , and together we’ll be bringing to life the songs and stories of Peter Allen and Olivia Newton John (I’ll let you guess who I’ll be playing). Michael is the king of biopic cabaret, so he’ll be bringing his expertise to the table. I’ll be bringing my whimsical blue eyes and dulcet tones. We have a few bookings lined up this year, and then we’ll hopefully tour! I do need to create a new solo show, however, so I’ll be using my time in Edinburgh – when I’m not sleep-deprived and/ or hungover – seeking inspiration and coming up with something fab. So WATCH THIS SPACE.

Amelia Ryan’s ‘Lady Liberty’ was performed at Assembly George Square Theatre at Edinburgh Festival 2016.

Photo: Nathaniel Mason

LINKS: ameliaryan.com