INTERVIEW: 7 Questions with Amelia Ryan for Lady Liberty
Amelia Ryan is on her way back to Perth for a few days Downstairs at the Maj as Lady Liberty. She’ll be donning a bed sheet and belting out a few numbers in a reprise of her Fringe World appearance earlier this year, and by the sounds of it, we might be in for a slightly different show this time around. Ryan gives us an insight into the life of a cabaret artist, and what she likes to eat on a Sunday. Both sound pretty delicious.
When you’re touring a show like Lady Liberty to different festivals and venues over time, does it change much along the way?
The short answer to this is YES, absolutely! My shows are inherently personal, thus, they change and grow along the way to reflect what I might be thinking, feeling, or observing. Additionally, I’ll always try and improve a show to make sure it’s the best reflection of where I’m at artistically, be it reworking lyrics or working on structure. The best judge of your work is an audience, so I pay close to attention to what’s landing, and what’s not. If something’s not feeling right, then I’ll try something new. Since performing the show at Fringe World earlier this year, Lady Liberty has developed quite a bit. Much of the content is the same, but I worked with a dramaturge to get a clearer narrative, and I really worked on nailing the ending. I think by the time I got to Edinburgh, I’d found the ‘final’ version of the show, and fortunately, had a great run over there. I’m thus really excited to share this new version with Perth!
If I ran into you at the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon, how much of Lady Liberty would I meet?
Well, I’d most likely be wearing trackies and an old jumper…not very Lady Liberty! I’m just as much a daggy introvert as a I am a glamorous, sequin-clad extravert. I think because I give so much of myself on stage, I really savour the times of solitude (and no makeup!). People often expect me to be the ‘life of the party’ but sometimes – particularly as I get older — I’m the quiet observer. Lady Liberty, and my stage persona, is a heightened version of a certain part of me. And I very much reserve that part for the stage only….otherwise I’d be permanently exhausted (as would everyone around me)! All parts are equally authentic, but you’d definitely get the more subdued Sunday version…and I’d most likely be buying ingredients to make nachos…my Sunday favourite.
You got started doing cabaret at VCA, and that’s the medium you’ve settled into as a performer the last few years. Was there ever a time where you really wanted to give it up? What else do you get up to when you’re not doing cabaret?
I think I realised about a year into my VCA course that Musical Theatre wasn’t for me. I’m no triple threat (my dance skills are HIDEOUS) and I just didn’t like the idea of doing 8 shows a week. Luckily, the cabaret component came along and I found my ‘home’ on the stage. I’ve never once wanted to give up. Sure, there have been times where it’s been hard, or I’ve wondered how I can make it viable and sustainable. But I’ve only ever desired to find solutions to these questions. Cabaret is quite seasonal, so when I’m not performing, I’m generally producing future seasons and sourcing bookings, or plotting away at new show ideas. When you factor in all of the PR/logistics/budgeting/design etc., it’s pretty much a full time job! Additionally, I mentor cabaret performers by way of one-on-one mentoring or workshops, and I also own/run a side-business (yay for cash flow) supplying promotional staff for events! I’m extremely busy but I seem to like it that way. Mostly.
Storm in a D-cup was tremendously successful, so were you ever worried that your follow-up wouldn’t match it?
To be honest, I was absolutely beside myself with anxiety when writing and premiering Lady Liberty. It was the textbook ‘second album’ paranoia. I was convinced it was not funny, not interesting and that I’d be booed off stage. Fortunately, the initial response was tremendous, to the point where quite a few people said they thought it was a better show! Storm is very personal, where as Liberty – whilst still reasonably personal — is very universal. I think it’s the more relatable show, and I’d like to think it shows how I’ve grown artistically. Liberty received a great critical response in Edinburgh, so I guess that’s a nice testament to where the show is sitting?
What’s life on the fringe circuit like? Have you ever left something important in a hotel room? How do you deal with jet lag? What do you love and hate about it?
Life on the Fringe circuit is fun, but it’s also consuming and exhausting! This will be my third round of the Fringe circuit, so to be fair, I’m a relative newbie. But I’m starting to build a nice little familiar ‘fringe family’ of people, so I’m feeling more and more at home there.
I don’t think I’ve ever left anything in a hotel room besides a shampoo or a phone charger (which let’s face it, is MAJORLY important) however, in Edinburgh just gone, I took my costume (a bed sheet) home to wash, and realised about 45 mins before my show started that I’d left it there. So I jumped in a cab, went back to my apartment, grabbed the sheet, and cabbed back. I had about 10 mins to soundcheck and the show started! That was certainly a close call!
I’m generally pretty good with jetlag. I try to arrive in a city with a few days to adjust, and I make sure I eat and well and sleep well. I’ll try and get into the zone asap. My body just kicks into gear…I’d say It’s adrenaline!
I love the buzz of a Fringe. I love the eclectic audiences you meet, I love the festive vibes in the air. I love the opportunity to see other shows and network with other artists. It’s also a great opportunity to learn and grow…the repetition of doing your show night after night is the best way to see what’s working, and then make it better. The more difficult aspects are the producing/financial elements. There’s a lot of risk with a Fringe, and a LOT of outlay for performers. Whilst there is the possibility to make a decent profit (depending on the city/venue size/production costs) it can take a while to see financial reward. I’ve been pretty lucky so far, but every single Fringe is an opportunity to learn as a producer and make wiser decisions next time. At the end of the day, it’s a business. And I think as artists, we can forget that.
What do you think about the prospect of a lady president for the land of Lady Liberty? Is Lady Liberty political or do you keep politics out of the cabaret space?
The USA is the leader of the Western World, and (at least to date) has always been the Land of Opportunity. If a female president is elected (and let’s all hope she is), I think it will do wonders, even subconsciously, for empowering women to believe they really can ‘be who they want to be’. There is a glass ceiling in many industries for women, and it will send a message to the entire world that women are capable of power and leadership. And then perhaps young girls will start believing this, because I truly think that self-belief is where it all begins.
Lady Liberty has nothing to do with American politics (despite the name), however I do have one particular song in the show about Australian politics, namely marriage equality. I’m super passionate about marriage equality as my Father is gay, and I’d love to see his marriage deemed legitimate. Whilst the content of the song is sincere and poignant, the song itself is a ‘Little Mermaid’ parody, complete with audience participation, so it’s extremely fun…quite possibly my favourite moment in the show. I keep the hard-hitting stuff out of my shows; we’re bombarded with that enough in mainstream media. But I do try and find a way to get my messages across in a fun and entertaining, yet thought-provoking, way.
Do you feel like Lady Liberty has been therapeutic in any way? How about for your audience – does Lady Liberty propose a tangible philosophy we can walk out of the show with?
Lady Liberty has been a truly joyous show to create and perform. It’s about my personal quest to transform from a ‘Queen of Calamity’ to a ‘Lady of Liberty’. Whilst A Storm in a D Cup was all about my disasters and dysfunction, this show is all about my efforts (equally as humorous and occasionally as disastrous) to salvage myself from that mess. In writing it, I really had to think about my feelings on liberation and freedom, and what that means to me. And of course that’s going to be different for everybody, but I wrote a song a for Adelaide Fringe (my own version of ‘Never Been To Me’ by Charlene), which really sums up what being ‘Lady Liberty’ is. I won’t give too much away here, but it’s basically about surrendering. We get so caught up in this incessant quest for self-improvement and ‘having it all’, that we lose sight of what actually makes us feel good…truly good. So yes, there is a very tangible philosophy that the audience can walk out with. And it’s not what you might think…
To see what philosophies Ryan will be handing out, book tickets here. Lady Liberty runs from 27-29 October Downstairs at the Maj.