Please come to my wedding

In advance of Lady Sings it Better’s creative wedding, birthday, anniversary, what-have-you, I wrote ‘A marriage made in business’ for ArtsHub about the different relationships we have in our lives and the ways we do (and don’t) celebrate them. The basic message is ‘buy me a toaster / bros before hos / being an emerging artist is hard’, but I said it better than that, so read the whole thing:

I am never getting married. I wouldn’t get married, even if getting gay-married were legal. I’ve been with my partner for nearly two years now and I am fairly sure I’ll stay with her for a very long time. She’s honest, beautiful, funny, thoughtful, clever, open-minded, and she makes really good toast. But I am completely uninterested in a ceremony that celebrates my romantic relationship. I don’t want to talk about my very personal feelings in front of a room full of people and I don’t want to promise to be with her forever and sign a (non-binding) contract that says as much. Nope. No thanks. Not for me.

I am, however, celebrating the longest relationship I’ve ever had, with my business partner, Phoebe Meredith. It’s now five years since Phoebe and I decided to embark on a creative relationship, producing our little cabaret-singing, feminist musical comedy troupe, Lady Sings it Better. We’ve scheduled a birthday gig as part of Sydney Fringe Festival and I am trying to find the right words to explain to my friends and family that, despite the lack of white dresses and cocktails in jars, this is my wedding.

I’m concerned people will think it a bit ridiculous to compare a 5th birthday concert to a wedding, but this company really has been a labour of love for Phoebe and I. We’ve had highs, lows, moments where we considered calling it quits, late nights of passion(ate singing) and a lot of laughs. This next gig is a milestone for me, where our little independent fringe act comes of age, and being an artist turns into a lifetime commitment, instead of a fling.

I’ve dedicated as much time and energy, patience and consideration to being an independent artist as many do to their romantic relationships. As a society, we tend to hold up romantic partnerships as the most important relationship a person can have. But, in doing so, we devalue the challenges and joys of our friendships and professional collaborations, which are often more plentiful, more peaceful and more enduring.

My friends and loved ones have been wildly supportive of my creative exploits. Any artist will tell you that they couldn’t have made it without all their pals turning up to that first gig. Before we could afford to market our shows – and before we were actually worthy of an audience – they were the ones to come along, offer feedback, cheer loudly and help us on our way, just like your friends might coach you through dating a new lover or provide advice during rough times. But I am nervous about inviting them to my ‘creative wedding’ lest they are offended by the comparison, or they ridicule and dismiss it.

I asked around to see if other unmarried friends or fellow artists had celebrated milestones they would happily equate with a wedding.

‘I’m about four years off this, but I imagine submitting a PhD thesis is gonna feel pretty milestoney,’ said Shannon. In a similar vein, Catriona answered briefly with ‘Submitting my PhD on Sunday. That.’

Several friends – comedians, musicians and actors – cited their first ‘one-woman show’ or first book deal as something they might have liked to mark with a massive party.

‘Buying a house, first one-woman show, published novel, learning to ski at 42, running 10km for the first time at 39, and surviving major depression without medication when my relationship with my son’s father broke down,’ said Catherine Deveny.

If Catherine had a wife or husband for every milestone she listed, she’d be the Henry VIII of independent creatives. For a more up-to-date cultural reference, consider the fact that my cabaret act has been performing together 8.5 times longer than Kim Kardashian‘s second marriage.

So, where’s my white dress? I can tell you now, the only gift we’re registering for are show tickets, which, at a cool $40 are way cheaper than the kind of cookware I’d register for if you let me loose in David Jones with one of those barcode guns!

Incidentally, my business partner, Phoebe, is getting legally married in December. I think her actual wedding will cost about half of our Edinburgh Fringe touring budget so my artistic relationship is more expensive than a wedding, too.

Unlike a wedding, though, everyone is invited to help us celebrate this milestone in our creative romance (on 4 October at The Factory Theatre). There won’t be any lengthy speeches, drunk uncles or dodgy DJs, just ‘comic cabaret gold’ if our reviewers are to be trusted. If you don’t want to come to my wedding, that’s fine, but do try to keep an open mind when your (deliberately) unmarried friends and loved ones invite you to celebrate the major milestones in their lives. And if you’re an artist, feel free to repurpose this article for your own creative celebrations. Everyone deserves the chance to be the bride!

Lady Sings it Better’s Fifth Birthday Party
Presented by blackcat productions
The Factory Theatre, 105 Victoria Road, Marrickville
4 October, 8pm

Humblebrag

I wrote an article for the Gay News Network about getting nominated for an Honour Award, and about my excellent family. 

I’ve been nominated as a finalist for an Honour Award and, to be honest, my first reaction was to feel a little awkward and undeserving. Okay, so I can see you there questioning the validity of my humility, considering I have set about writing an article about getting nominated for an award, but please persevere; this isn’t a 600-word humblebrag, it’s about family, community, and my Aunty Nane.

We call her Aunty Nane, but my aunt is known to most in the community as Jane Marsden, and she was the first woman presented with an Honour Award, in 2007. Most homos I know are lucky to have one member of their biological family signed up to the Lavender brigade, but I got more than my fair share. Not only was I raised by two amazing lesbians, Louise and Teresa, my aunts Jane and Joy, and my uncle John Marsden were both prominent members of the community (Jane still is; John, sadly, passed away in 2006). I have been known, from time to time, to refer to my clan as a Gay Dynasty (there’s that humility again!).

Growing up with such a diverse family was a privilege and instilled in me a sense of being culturally queer, regardless of who I ended up going to bed with. It was perhaps inevitable that my creative practice – for which I’ve been nominated – would have queer and feminist themes. Now, obviously, I love what I do, but I feel like I am at the beginning of my career, rather than a point where I might be worthy of honour. So, I had a chat with my Aunt how she felt when she received the award…

Read the rest on the Gay News Network.

Lady Sings it Better, reviewed by Jo Litson

Freelance arts writer and arts editor and theatre reviewer for Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph, Jo Litson, reviewed our Hayes Theatre show on her website on August 16.

When it comes to the feminist agenda underpinning their work, comedy/cabaret group Lady Sings it Better takes a softly-softly approach, couching it within a hugely enjoyable, fun show – but, boy, oh boy! They still make their point, loud and clear.

The group, which has been performing for around five years in various incarnations, now has a four-lady line-up: founder Maeve Marsden, Chandra Franken, Libby Wood and Anna Martin. Their shtick is to sing songs written and performed by men. Giving the songs fresh musical interpretations but without changing the lyrics, they make us hear the words afresh.

Sometimes it’s quite shocking to realise what it is that we’ve been humming happily along to without really taking in the lyrics. In fact, some of them are so appallingly, hilariously sexist that at one point Martin feels the need to reiterate the fact that they are singing the lyrics exactly as written.

Their latest show begins with a mash-up of Jason Derulo’s “Wiggle” and The Wiggles (the ladies are all dressed Wiggle-fashion in coloured tee shirts with logos and black bottoms). Other numbers include Fountains of Wayne’s “Stacy’s Mom”, Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”, Usher’s “Dive”, Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me”, Bruno Mars’s “Gorilla”, Tom Jones’s “Delilah” and Sting’s “Every Breath You Take”.

Backed at the Hayes by a terrific three-piece band, they all sing well (each has a solo) and make sweet harmonies together, delivering the songs with the odd wink and knowing look but essentially “straight” – which makes it all the more hilarious and, at times, downright unsettling.

At the encore they break from their trademark and sing Britney Spears’s “Womanizer” – though the song certainly fits their theme. Lady Sings it Better is an act of provocation in its own way, but above all it’s hugely entertaining and the enthusiastic audience lapped it up.

Two shows at the Hayes Theatre sold out fast. The Ladies give a five-year anniversary performance at The Factory, Marrickville on October 4

Consent: It’s not that hard.

I wrote about Hollaback’s campaign against sexual harrasment and assault in clubs, pubs, bars and venues for Daily Life, published 15 August 2014.

One of my favourite memories of a youth spent at music festivals is of the sense of groupthink and oneness, brought on by a combination of alcohol, youthful exuberance and the tactile nature of the experience: crowds squashed together in space, jumping and swaying in time, hugs and dance-offs with friendly strangers. Being part of an audience is more than just bearing witness to a performance; it’s sharing that moment with others. 

Unfortunately, when you get large groups of people together in close physical proximity, some of those people are going to be douchebags. I’m told my rage when people clap along to songs out of time is just something I have to deal with. Sexual assault, on the other hand, I shouldn’t have to develop a tolerance for… 

Read the rest of the article on Daily Life, titled ‘Groping at gigs needs to stop’.

Community Comes Together for Candy Royalle

This article appeared on Gay News Network on 9 August 2014. Get along to support Candy Royale on August 24, or donate via the youcaring.com fundraiser page.

My name is Maeve Marsden and I hate the word ‘inspirational’. I am so desensitised to the Videos That Will Change Your Life shared daily on the book of face that I actively avoid any clips about people who might be construed as an ‘everyday hero’.

And so it was that I almost didn’t click on a video produced by local queer poet and artist Candy Royalle (pictured, above) when it sailed past my eyes as I scrolled down that familiar blur of blue. It was titled ‘Love’ and, with a screencap of a sunset as its holding image, it had all the markers of the kind of thing I regularly dismiss – the memes of misquoted dead heroes and clichéd proverbs pasted over pictures of trees. It was only what I knew of Candy’s reputation as a politically engaged, clever, well-respected poet that led me to click. And I am so glad I did.

Read the rest of the post and watch the video on gaynewsnetwork.com.au

Lemon & Smoked Chilli Potato & Beetroot Winter Salad

My friend Sally came over for dinner last night so we could eat the lemon we grew when she was my housemate. In the time I have owned a lemon tree, it has bore exactly 2 fruits, one we ate last year named Lenny and last night’s delicacy, Lemmy. Sally and I better not have any real children lest we give them such boring names.

I decided to make a wintry salad based on a flavour combo I stole from one of my favourite cafés, Fleetwood Macchiato. Their seasonal menu always has delicious vegetarian options, but lately I haven’t been able to resist the mountain of avocado, lemon, smoked chilli, black sesame, nori, chilli oil and toasty happiness they’re serving up (I add a side of their miso mushrooms for good measure!). I made a version of it at home for brunch one morning, with added haloumi, and last night’s salad was a very successful adaptation. It’s also super easy to make. As always, measurements aren’t exact, because I forget I am a food blogger now so I just make stuff then think ‘oh I should put this on that website I made’…

Ingredients (serves 3 as a main, or more as a side):

  • 4-6 kipfler potatoes, washed
  • 1 large beetroot
  • 2 leaves of purple kale
  • A handful or two of mixed greens (I used spinach, rocket, baby chard)
  • 6-8 cherry tomatoes or baby romas
  • Half a yellow pepper / capsicum
  • Half a white onion
  • 1 avocado
  • 6 garlic cloves (less is fine too…)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon chopped coriander
  • Handful black sesame seeds
  • 1-2 smoked, dried chipotle chillis
  • 1-2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Olive oil 
  • Salt & pepper
  1. Peel the beetroot and cut into small 1cm cubes. Scatter on an oven tray coated liberally with olive oil and sprinkle over salt & pepper. Get your hands dirty and rub the oil & seasoning into the beetroot cubes. Pop the unpeeled garlic cloves on the tray too. Chuck the lot in an oven preheated to 180 degrees. Keep an eye on the beetroot because I don’t remember how long I cooked it for, but I am guessing 20-30 minutes.
  2. Wash the kipfler potatoes and trim any bits of skin that aren’t smooth. Slice into rounds, thinner than 1cm, but not wafer thin. Steam the potatoes in a steamer til cooked but not mushy. You could also roast the potato slices but I love the texture of steamed kipfler potatoes. Don’t boil them. They’ll get mushy. After you’ve steamed them, run them under cold water for a while and let them cool before you add them to the salad bowl you’re about to prep.
  3. Meanwhile, get rid of the spines in the kale and rip it into little pieces. Splash on a little olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and massage the kale. Yes. Massage the kale. Pop it in your bowl. I had time to kill so I arrange the salad in nice circles of colour but it’s inessential. The kale and greens and other fresh bits were my outer ring.
  4. Add the mixed greens, thinly sliced pepper / capsicum and cherry tomatoes to the kale.
  5. Meanwhile, soak your dried smoked chipotle(s) in a little hot water to soften them. I removed most of the seeds before doing this because I didn’t want the salad to be overpoweringly spicy. Once softened, pull them out and chop them into little pieces.
  6. Finely slice your white onion and scatter it over the beetroot when you think there’s about 10 minutes left of cooking. Also, sprinkle over your teaspoon of sugar for that extra caramelisation on the beetroot. This bit is inessential, I just like sweet beetroot.
  7. Once your potatoes are cool, add them to the bowl (they were my middle ring) and sprinkle them with half the smoked paprika.
  8. Chop your avocado into little cubes and squeeze some lemon onto it.
  9. When your beetroots are cooked, let them cool a bit and then pop the roasted garlic cloves out of their peel. At this stage, I got a bit excited and smushed the cloves into the beetroot with my hands. You could also do this using utensils…
  10. Pop your garlicky beetroot mountain into the middle of the bowl, so you now have a beetroot mountain, ringed by paprika potato slices, ringed by salady goodness.
  11. Pop the avocado cubes on top and sprinkle the pieces of smoked chipotle chillis over the lot.
  12. Squeeze the lemon juice over the entire lot, shake over the rest of the paprika, sprinkle the black sesame seeds over it and finally, sprinkle the coriander over. Crack some black pepper and a little sea salt. 
  13. EAT

Lady Sings it Better Review (Hayes Theatre, Sydney)

This review appeared on DailyReview on 4 August 2014, for Lady Sings it Better’s Hayes Theatre Co Opening Night.

Australian all-girl cabaret/comedy group Lady Sings it Better has been around for nearly five years now, travelling across Australia and around the world, picking up legions of fans at comedy festivals and fringe festivals as they go. Those fans were out in full force at the group’s first night at Sydney’s Hayes Theatre — familiar with the old material and lapping up the new.

The concept for their act is quite simple — the four ladies (down from their past line-up of six) perform songs originally performed by men as a feminist statement. Through their renditions, they expose the disturbing and hilarious lyrics which have been sitting right under our nose for years. They’re usually delivering the lyrics with a subtle wink and a nod, or just a straight-forward reading, but it’s all about where they lay the emphasis.

Despite such a simple concept, they seem spoiled for choice in terms of material; everything from Tom Jones’ murderous Delilah to Usher’s hilariously explicit Dive.

It doesn’t hurt that all four have fine voices and are backed by a superb three-piece band. It’s not just about the laughs — the musical elements are all first class — quite often, the ladies actually do sing it better.

The performers on stage — Maeve Marsden, Chandra Franken, Libby Wood and Anna Martin — each have their moments in the spotlight, but it’s when they’re bouncing off each other that they’re at their riotous best. They’ve all carved out their own places within the group, and the dynamic is endlessly smooth and fascinating.

Of course, some songs are more successful than others, but this is a group that apparently regularly switches up their set list. Among the comedic highlights are a re-imagined Stacy’s Mom and Shaggy’s It Wasn’t MeBut there are plenty of musical highlights too, including an a capella rendition of Britney Spears’ Womanizer entirely in close harmonies and a George Michael medley. But then songs like Robin Thicke’s undeniably “rapey” Blurred Lines end up being quite unsettling when we’re forced to really listen to the lyrics. They’re definitely getting their point across.

When they deliver a set as hilarious and musically satisfying as they did at the Hayes, it’s easy to see why these ladies have been going strong for five years.

BOOK NOW FOR OUR FIFTH BIRTHDAY CONCERT