Melbourne cult cabaret icon Yana Alana is a multi- Green Room award winner, a Helpmann award winner, a femme drag star and this week, an artist launching her first album. The divine and deluded alter ego of performer Sarah Ward, and her all female band the Paranas are known for inclusive and confronting performances, and they’ve previously put on three award winning cabaret shows and a live art show. I spoke to Ward (Alana) about her journey from the show In Concert in 2010 to album, working with an all female team, and the concept of an Australian celebrity.

This album has been in progress for nearly seven years.

“The music is all from a show we performed in 2010 and we began recording for this album in 2012. As a freelance artist in the independent sector it’s difficult to find the funds to do anything let alone complete an album. I was lucky enough to be supported by a philanthropist this year who funded the final stages of this album including pressing 150 records” said Ward.

Even after all this time, the work is still very relevant, almost more now than when the show first played.

“Themes around celebrating difference and diversity in the LGBTIQA+ community is so topical. In 2010 it was certainly not a topic discussed in the mainstream. The music holds up because it all sits within a theatrical context, its very camp and cabaret. The actual show will be different because I like to make what I say very topical” she said.

When she was younger, it was innate in her to make people laugh, and to laugh herself.

I find people who share my sense of humour, including the darkness. I love sharing and hearing stories and I love clowning, always have, it’s natural. I also have a passion for subversion and creating work that challenges others and myself. I personally cannot see a point in creating art if it has nothing to say”.

“When I came out I went to drag nights, I tried being a drag king but in the end found I was more attracted to the idea of presenting the image of femininity as grotesque and clown like. My biggest inspirations are Divine and Miss Piggy” she said.

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How is this launch, and the album, different to your other work? (or not different?)

 The album launch centres on the five piece band, and the power and beauty of the music. The show In Concert from 2010, which the album is based on, has been performed five times and received multiple Green Room awards.

“Working with Linda Catalano from Briefs Factory on the launch has given me the confidence I need to finally get overseas. I also work with Selene Bateman at Auspicious Arts, she makes all the Australian and NZ touring happen and is a star!” Ward said.

“This particular incarnation of The Paranas Bec Matthews, Louise Goh, Michelle Scully, Teresa Blake and Gemma Hornbury is a privilege to work with, so much skill, passion, laughter and balance. We’re all old enough now that the art isn’t the whole picture, it’s so refreshing to work with confident, wise and accomplished artists. And Anni Davey the Director, well, Yana just wouldn’t be here without her, Anni is integral and generous and so skilled!” she said about her team.

She says she doesn’t want to be an Australian celebrity (and it’s the title of her new album) but if she did, it would be and out and proud Molly Meldrum in the 70s, mixed with some Germaine Greer. (And I would want to be Sophie Monk, right when she dumped Blake).

She’s also stated that it’s hard enough being Australian, let alone an Australia celebrity, due to the shame and having to live with this shame.

“I think most of this country is divided between people who either feel determined ignorance and fear or shame and guilt, neither of these are moving us forward. We need strong leadership to grow up as a country and move through this messy adolescent stage to develop into an adult country with something to be proud of. It’s impossible to feel good about Australia while we lock up asylum seekers, ignore our indigenous people and do NOTHING about climate change. And that’s just the beginning” she said.

She’s had a busy year, from festivals to cancer to anniversaries and more.

“This year has flown. Highlights of this year include launching our first album, touring Yana at The Sydney Festival, Darwin Festival, NZ and regionally. Securing a spot at the Edinburgh Fringe for 2018, hosting the Australian Dance Awards, creating film clips. Premiering Yana’s alter ego Queen Kong and her band The HOMOsapiens. They have a single launch Feb 1st for Midsumma 2018. Being a part of the creative development for Daughters, the Fado Opera about gender based violence. Celebrating 11 years of love with my partner Bec and getting the all clear on cancer, I now have yearly check ups. Oh and I’m more sane, yay!”, she said on her massive year, and another big year ahead in 2018.

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She’s had a spectacular success while still being true to her dramatic, queer self, but it’s been a journey. If she could tell her younger self anything, she’d tell her this:

“It won’t happen how you think it should or how you think you want it to be. You won’t ‘Make it’. You will learn to love yourself, understand what friendship is, what a community is, what true love is and all of these things will make you a happy person and a greater artist. You will do it your way and don’t stress about time and age, it will all happen as it does, let go!”

Yana Alana’s album launch is at the Arts Centre Melbourne on October 29. Details at: https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2017/comedy-cabaret/yana-alana

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