Stella

When I saw something this morning on facebook about Stella’s passing, my first reaction was to think it was some sort of joke she’d concocted, which tells you a lot about how far Stella was willing to go for a laugh. Surely, this was some set up for a searing critique of the way we talk about disabled people after they die. But no, it was soon confirmed that Stella Young was gone. And I am really fucking sad.

Stella and I wound our way into each other’s lives through work connections but we hit it off so damn quickly we soon became friends. I sought her out whenever my work took me to Melbourne and she often made sure to catch up with me when visiting Sydney. I am so glad we both had jobs that required such regular interstate travel. Coffees squeezed in between meetings, wines before flights, that time I crashed her birthday party and bought her a beer the size of her head, that wonderful dinner brocklesnitch mentioned in her beautiful tribute, where Stella had us all roaring with laughter (and drank enough wine to ensure she performed her Ted talk the next day just a little bit hungover). I am holding on to these everyday moments shared, grabbing at them and shoving them deeper into my heart and brain so I can hold on to them, so they don’t fade with time. A few weeks ago Jane and I had dumplings with her when she was in Sydney for work. That was the last time I saw her.

It can be daunting to fiercely pursue a new friend, especially one as clever and sharp-witted as Stella. I am not often intimidated but I have always been a bit in awe of her, and a little surprised she chose me as a friend, not because I don’t think I’m awesome but because she had such a wealth of choice. Her ideas and writing never failed to challenge and change even my progressive views (where progressive = raging feminist leftie queer). She was fierce and willful and knew how to dominate a room. But – and this is important – her politics and writing never set out to mock or belittle. People often confuse passionate debate with personal attacks, those making the arguments and those responding to them. But smart people know the difference. Stella knew how to wage a battle of ideas and, while appropriately impatient with society (seriously, what the fuck is up with Australia’s inaccessibility?), she was mostly patient with individuals so long as they were willing to learn. She could, of course, rock a bitchy take-down, but she seemed to mostly save that for private conversations.

I feel like she was always ten (or a hundred) steps ahead of most social commentators, and I am fairly sure that this will be one of the few times that ridiculous platitude – she was ahead of her time – will be apt. She was a big, creative, progressive thinker, and I feel a huge loss at the lessons we won’t learn from her massive brain, the jokes we won’t hear, the young comedians and advocates she won’t mentor, the hair colours she won’t work her way through, the lovers and friends she won’t grace with her time.

Many have written today about her accomplishments, with eloquence and links to her work. I implore you: go and read her work. Read everything she has written til you run out of words, then reread it til you’re sure you understand it all, then go and read it to someone you know.

People would have you think that every human being is of equal value, but I think that’s bullshit. Stella was worth more to this world than many and I am viciously angry that so many ignorant bastards are still alive and she is gone.

I am grieving for what we all won’t get to see and read and hear: I was really looking forward to seeing her perform her show at the Opera House next year, then seeing her tour internationally, to reading more articles and essays, a book, several books. I’m so fucking angry about all the massive achievements she had up her sleeve that she won’t get to experience and that we won’t get to witness.

It’s strange to lose a loved one who meant so much to so many people. But it’s also strange to lose a loved one who was a relatively new friend, and, while I know their grief cuts so much harder and deeper than mine, I am breathtakingly jealous of those who knew her longer than I did, who shared more than my couple of years or who lived close enough for spontaneous wines or Buffy marathons.

I will miss the late night text messages she’d send me, seeking advice, the ones I’d refer to as Stella’s Hilarious Forays Into Dating Women. I will miss our ranty catch-ups, loud with laughter and anger and silliness and gossip and passionate debate. I will miss her jokes and her bloody gorgeous face. I will miss reading her consistently outstanding writing; Stella could communicate more in a facebook status than most people manage in a lifetime.

stella_and_iBut mostly I’ll miss the years I thought we had ahead of us. I want to know so much more about my friend. I wish I had more photos of us, but we were always so busy nattering I forgot to take a damn selfie. I wish I’d asked more random questions, visited Melbourne more often, stayed for an extra wine last time we had dinner (ok, I did that, so let’s say an extra extra wine). I wanted her to meet my children one day. I wanted to meet her next lover. I wanted us to tour to Edinburgh at the same time and I wanted to hear the lectures she’d give the Scots about all those basement venues and uneven cobblestones. I wanted to see her run for office. And win. I wanted to write together and perform together and sit around in our pyjamas eating ice cream and talking shit. I want all the regular things that happen in a regular friendship with an extraordinary person.

I thought I had more time.

Photo: Hayden Brotchie

A New Kind of Flirtation

I wrote an article for the Gay News Network about diverse families, legal implications and strange encounters.

I batted my eyelashes, feminine and bashful, not wanting to seem too eager. But I was excited, new possibilities opening up before me.

He smiled directly at me, purposeful and keen, and I felt his intent spark a fire in my ovaries. This handsome man wanted my babies.

No. This is not about to devolve into a trashy page-turner about a lesbian’s descent into passionate heterosexual love-making. The incident above is characteristic of a new kind of flirtation, one I’ve only discovered since turning 30.

I speak of the strange flirtation between woman and potential sperm donor.

However we define our love and our families, we are still faced with a basic scientific need for some sperms and some egg (can you tell I was busy writing notes to my best friend during Year 10 biology?).

You may have found the love of your life through OKCupid, Newtown on a Wednesday night or your ex-girlfriend’s housemate’s best friend, but while modern technology and the lesbian web of death can serve up romance on a platter, finding the right sperm donor can be more challenging.

Read the rest of the article on Gay News Network.

5 years of musical mayhem: Gay News Network

I had a chat with Cec Busby of the Gay News Network, about Lady Sings it Better’s show this Saturday night. I am thrilled to say that seated tickets are nearly booked out so we’ve released cheap standing room tickets at $25. Here’s the interview with GNN:

While her friends and family are celebrating milestones like wedding anniversaries and children’s birthdays, Maeve Marsden is inviting you to join her for a different kind of party. This October, Marsden and her all-girl troupe, Lady Sings It Better, will marks five years of crowd-pleasing performances with a special anniversary show at the Factory Theatre.

Starting out as a one-off showcase at iconic alternative venue, The Red Rattler, Lady Sings It Better has evolved into a four-piece comedy cabaret act that’s garnered rave reviews, spawned a rabid fan base and has toured the world.

Subverting popular songs usually sung by men to deliver an almost feminist agenda, the group serve up delicious harmonies whilst providing a fresh take on all those Top 40 pop tunes we so blithely hum along to without a second thought. Whether they’re turning Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ on its head or giving Bruno Mars’ ‘Gorilla’ a spin, Marsden, Chandra Franken, Libby Wood and Anna Martin are always on pitch and always entertaining.

Marsden conceived the group with her business partner Phoebe Meredith, five years ago. She says Lady Sings It Better is her longest running relationship to date and told SX she is looking forward to celebrating “our little cabaret-singing, feminist musical comedy troupe”.

Asked what gave Lady Sings It Better such longevity, Marsden replied: “I often joke that I had one really great creative idea and I’ve stuck to it. Eventually I’m sure I’ll have a second one”.

Indeed to hear Marsden tell it, she’s dedicated as much time, energy, patience and consideration to being an independent artist as most people do to their romantic relationships. It’s little wonder she wants to celebrate the milestone with a big shindig.

At the group’s fifth anniversary celebration, Marsden says the quartet has plenty of stories to regale the audience. Indeed, for this night only, what has gone on tour will not stay on tour.

“There will be a few sordid tales from the road. You can’t take a group of  people into small two or three bedroom apartments and not end up with ridiculous stories. We’ve just done some weird gigs. We performed at the opening of this weird leather bar once to about three people or people book us for family gigs and we’re terrified when we get on stage we’re going to swear. There are lots of silly emerging artist experiences.”

There are even a few special guests to add to the mayhem, including former Lady Sings It Better members Jess Maynard and Jenni Little, who are dropping in for a song or two.

Most of all, Marsden hopes the audience will have a wonderful time.

“We’ve worked hard to get the balance of self indulgent celebration and entertaining feminist cabaret show just right.”

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’.