Award wining cabaret comedy shines a light on sexual identity.
Behind a risqué rabble rouser is an actress who lives on the edge. Writer Virginia Winder discovers what’s beyond the blue.
When Australian actress Sarah Ward plays the daring diva Yana Alana she bares her soul – and everything else.
In the multi-award-winning cabaret comedy, Between the Cracks, the self-obsessed, slightly narcissistic “bouffant clown” performs completely naked except for blue paint, which looks like a body suit.
“It calls on the audience to be very generous with me,” Ward says.
“Once they know I’m naked they know we’re all in it together.”
The body paint takes about one-and-a-half hours to apply. “It wears off in the show so you do really get to see between the cracks.”
Yana Alana will be performing her one-hour show in The Famous Spiegeltent as part of the Taranaki International Arts Festival on August 20 and 21.
In her one-woman show she performs nine songs, seven of which are original, interspersed with poetry.
“She’s brave and brash, unapologetic, she’s larger than life and not afraid to put herself out there warts and all. She’s emotionally incontinent. A good diva is one with her own issues as well,” Ward says.
“It’s a very refreshing and cathartic character for me.”
“Recently I was employed by the Perth Mental Health Forum to talk about Yana Alana and Between the Cracks. These two women who saw the show could see between the comedy and the character that there was a woman with a lived experience.”
Behind the blue paint and crazy hair, Ward battles with debilitating anxiety and has lived experience of depression, some self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
“My character has not gone through as much as me.”
The performance is also about sexual identity.
“I came out when I was 26 and I have been with a woman for eight years.”
Speaking on Skype from Footscray, Melbourne, she tells about a fun song in the show called: “Your Sexuality Ain’t Your Identity.”
That’s saying that your sexual orientation doesn’t necessarily dictate your politics.
“Some of the queerest people I know are straight,” she says. “For some it’s all rolled into one. Feminism is a big part of my life and that means equality for everyone, including men to be free of the patriarchy and can express themselves freely. Macho crap suffocates men and women equally.”
As well as having experience of mental illness, Ward has also had brushes with death in the last two years. The 36-year-old had kidney cancer last year, which made her question mortality, death and whether she was ready to go.
“Getting sick made me feel a bit braver and feel like my story really is valid and common and the way I got through cancer and mental illness was to laugh,” Ward says.”Yana makes me laugh at myself and my neurosis and helps me not take my fears so seriously. Yana is really important for my mental health.”
Her partner and friends also help get her through. Before bringing Yana Alana to life Ward was a speaking poet who started writing her own songs in 2007.
Then came a two-year stint as the ring mistress for Circus Oz and at the end of 2012 she created her blue diva and Between the Cracks.
“I know the show is pretty risqué and pretty in your face. It’s a character and it’s a bit of fun and I want everybody to feel welcome – heterosexual, homosexual, transsexual.”
The show, its first time in New Zealand, also offers hope. Quoting Leonard Cohen’s song, Anthem, Ward says: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”