State of Mind

Riding out the storm of depression with Amelia Ryan

At the end of this year’s summer arts festival season, acclaimed cabaret performer and mother of one, Amelia Ryan, reached out on social media for help. Touring three shows across three states, while simultaneously caring for her young son had taken its toll on her physical and mental health, and something had to give, as she explains.

Amelia Ryan | photo by Adrian Katic

“It was a combination of sleep deprivation and running on adrenaline because when I get stressed I lose my appetite. I was finding it very difficult to eat, [cope with] insomnia, and all those things that come with debilitating mental health, so it got to the point where I had to look at my life and think what has to change?”

Having since come through the other side, with the help of her partner Zac and her family and friends that responded to her call, Amelia shares her advice on how to juggle motherhood with a career in the arts, as she prepares to debut a new show about gender equality, Unsung, at the 2019 Adelaide Cabaret Festival.

Amelia has built an international cabaret career on making her private life public, and in so doing giving others with shared experiences the strength and courage to tell their own stories. In her breakout cabaret show, A Storm in a D-Cup, she fearlessly laid her personal life bare; her proclivity for collecting parking fines, her discovery in childhood that her father was gay; in The Breast Is Yet To Come, she flashed a light on the realities of impending childbirth. Amelia explains how such artistic honesty comes with consequences, particularly since becoming a mother.

“My work is inherently personal and there’s so much vulnerability, so when it’s good there’s this real exchange between you and the audience and people are moved by what you say. Particularly now that I’m writing for mums, I’ll have nights where I can see or hear women crying in the audience because I’ve touched them so much, but if you’re having a flat night and things don’t go so well, it can just feel so exposing.

“I’ve felt that wave is harder to ride since becoming a mum, and I don’t know if it’s because I’m tired, or because it costs so much more to get on stage now and I don’t mean financially, I mean my time. For the pressure that it puts on us as a family, it has to be worth it.”

To successfully juggle performing and parenting, Amelia has accepted that she simply cannot do it all on her own; she needs to delegate and collaborate.

“[I’m] working with a producer moving forward. I found producing when I am much more time poor very challenging.”

– Amelia Ryan

Collaborating with others, as she has in the past with Michael Griffiths on Livvy and Pete, and as she is doing at this year’s Adelaide Cabaret Festival in Unsung with Libby O’Donovan, is another strategy, as is ensuring that you make more mileage out of existing shows, instead of premiering multiple new works at once, as she did this year.

“Creating three new shows in six months was very ambitious and it took its toll; obviously it didn’t kill me but there were times where it felt a bit like a mountain that I didn’t know how I would climb.”

“Once you create a show, you can sell it instead of taking the risk.”

– Amelia Ryan

Unsung, the inaugural recipient of the Frank Ford commission, is a show about pioneering Australian female musicians from the 60s and 70s who, like Amelia, took risks and paved the way for future generations.

Unsung plays the Space Theatre on the 9th and 10th of June.

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