Beautiful Things by Talented Women

I’ve been so impressed lately by the incredible women I know that have started up businesses selling their creations or services, I felt it was time I gave them all a big shout out!

Be sure to check out their gorgeous items/services and give them some socials love:

SARAH BLYTHE [floral art] 
website | instagram
*pictured: Pressed Petals I Print

LOVE, ELIJAH [baby clothes]
website | instagram

RAISING RILEY [kids’ clothes]
website | instagram

SAM & CARTER [lipstick]
website | instagram

POWDERED DRY SHAMPOO [organic dry shampoo]
etsy | instagram

I’LL BRING THE PLATTER [event platters]
instagram

I LOVE EVERY LITTLE MINUTE WITH YOU [kids book]
facebook

Love Always,
Alana

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SydFest 2018

Unlike the long hours and events that kept me from seeing anything at Sydney Film Festival, my summer love, Sydney Festival means I get to a huge range of new and exciting shows in January.

As Festival Director Wesley Enoch says – at a Festival you might see 10 shows, 3 you’ll love, 3 you’ll hate and 3 you thought were OK, but you and your friend won’t agree on which is which. (I’m not sure about the 10th, but that would ruin the story)

With that in mind, as I’m sure some of these were loved by many other people, here are my ratings and reviews of the shows I was lucky enough to see at Sydney Festival 2018. (Those with the same rating are also ordered in slight preference)

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WHIST *1/2
A VR experience which left a lot to be desired, this was an interesting concept, but the featured artworks did little to impress, and the overall tech quality was lacking. The journey proved to be more of a standing cinematic experience, rather than an exploration through a VR or AR world. The accompanied psycho-analysis seemed vague and inaccurate to me too, but I’m a total cynic.

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REMBRANDT LIVE **
While Nude Live completely blew me away last year, this multi-discipline performance didn’t speak to me at all. Being ushered through the gallery by over acting performers, rather than free to explore at my own pace, meant I missed much of the artwork. While being short also meant I missed much of the dance performances and visuals. The music was lovely and the concept is great, but the over-play of the theatrical elements meant it didn’t connect me to the artwork in the same way as last year’s production.

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ALICE IN WONDERLAND
**
A kid’s performance which felt a big confused about it’s audience. With it’s big words alongside physical and fart jokes, this might have been more enjoyable had we actually brought children, but considering how much children’s theatre we see, it didn’t really rate. The original images also implied it was more to the original story than the vast interpretation that it was.

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TREE OF CODES
**1/2
While beautiful, this piece really lacked substance for me. Not really a ballet, it was an hour and a half of contemporary dance with little tangible theming, at least that I was able to grasp. Incredible effects and gorgeous dancers couldn’t make up for the lacklustre story.

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RIOT
**1/2
A variety show with limited cabaret elements, this show managed to simultaneously be too political and not political enough, with no cohesive story or overarching themes. With weak arial, too much singing and dancing for me, and spoken word which seemed completely out of context of the rest of the show, the Lords of Strut were by far the best part of this show.

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JURASSIC PLASTIC ***
An installation in Sydney Town Hall commenting on the vast consumerism and obsession with cheap plastic toys, this was a beautiful, intricate, and educational event. Without the Maker Space Workshop where we could dig through tubs and create our own beautiful toy mash-ups, the exhibit would’ve been a quick visit, but the message is clear and the details are incredible.

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MODEL CITIZENS
***1/2
Circus Oz doing what they do best, this piece had some weak elements, but also some of the best circus I’ve seen. While there were a couple of weaker points, the overall story was clear and the acrobatics and skill were brilliant. Particular love for the multi-talented artists who all had a number of roles throughout the night and completely broke out of the traditional roles of strong man, contortionist, and acrobat.

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BARBER SHOP CHRONICLES ***1/2
Set in Barber Shops across the UK and Africa, this is an insight into the African culture as it spans across the continent and internationally. With stories told through men of all ages about their life and journeys, broken up by beautifully choreographed transitions, where the cast creates an incredible harmony of sound and manipulate the space in beautiful rhythm. We were lucky to see the performance that was captioned for the hearing impaired, as they acted as subtitles for the thick accents and unrecognised terms. I wasn’t as connected to this play as I’ve had so little interaction with African culture, but that certainly didn’t stop me from enjoying and appreciating the beautiful work of a 12-piece male ensemble and the characters they presented.

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FLEABAG ****
A crude monologue detailing the life of a troubled, sex-addicted woman. A hilarious expose on single life, dating life, and family, with some deeply troubling and engaging anecdotes along the way. A brilliant performance by Maddie Rice brings Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s TV series to the Australian stage. There are some great elements that are all too real, making you question your own life choices for how deeply it speaks to you.

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LADY RIZO: RED, WHITE & INDIGO
****1/2
A bonus show for Blake and I, this American cabaret artist is brilliantly talented, entertaining, and was a definite highlight of the Festival. Very American humour and criticism of the current President, this is a “love story to her abusive boyfriend, the USA” but makes for an entertaining evening of brilliant singing and performance.

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THE WIDER EARTH ****1/2
An exploration of young Charles Darwin and his journey on the HMS Beagle which first inspired his theory of evolution and challenged his world’s view of the hand of God. Told through incredible set on a revolve which seamlessly became anything necessary, and with animal characters played by puppets. Beautifully crafted skeletal creatures manipulated by the fellow cast. The technical elements were all incredible also, resulting in a first class production of an interesting topic. While it feels like I can’t fault it, there was just something missing from this for me, whether it’s the dry content that felt lacking some entertainment or the religion blocking his scientific research, I’m not sure, but I feel the need to lose just a half star for that feeling of something missing.

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BACKBONE *****
An incredible work of physical strength, teamwork and trust, Backbone shows how years of attuning to each other’s bodies can allow incredible feats. For a wonderful exploration of the creation of this show, with plenty of clips from it, check out Carnival Cinema’s short film series. It tracks their work and the achievement that is the four-high – literally four people standing on each others shoulders – a move the director called the Holy Grail of circus.

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BRIEFS: CLOSE ENCOUNTERS
*****
This boylesque cabaret really impressed last Festival, but this year shows just how far they’ve come. An amazing show of detailed choreography, brilliant independent acts all tied together by the best hosting drag queen you’ve ever seen. This is always going to be a favourite of the Festival.

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MONROE & ASSOCIATES
*****
A one-on-one interactive “choose your own adventure”, this show is an incredible concept beautifully executed. A single actor supports you through a journey of clue-finding and crime-solving, being available as operator Nancy and able to put you through to anyone in the world. A completely one of a kind experience and different for every single person, the journey and adventure that was had cannot be surpassed.

Love Always,
Alana

 

2018 Book Challenge

It seems that after years of “challenges” encouraging us to read more, Blake and I have finally found our niche and will again be completing a 52 Book Challenge. There are no restrictions on what we read, and the only expectation is to get through one book per week across the year – some weeks being easier than others.

Blake didn’t quite achieve his goal last year, and I only managed mine with the luxury of time at the end of the year, but we’re excited to keep going and read some more books.

ALANA
For full reviews and ratings, head to my instagram @what.rae.read

  1. More Than This by Patrick Ness
  2. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  3. Warcross by Marie Lu
  4. This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada
  5. Unconventional by Maggie Harcourt
  6. The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

BLAKE

  1. Turtles All The Way Down by John Green
  2. Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

Love always,
Alana

Top Books of 2017

I’ve definitely been more into reading this year, a reinvigoration which I can track to a few different things. Instagram and the ‘bookstagram’ community which inspired me to create a new account to track and review all the books I read; this year’s challenge of 52 Books which allowed me to read anything I wanted; a subscription to The YA Chronicles meaning goodies get delivered to me each month; and overall embracing my love of Young Adult Fiction, allowing me to just read what I want and go with it. So, I thought it was time to pursue this rekindled love and share some more thoughts on all the YA Fiction (because honestly there might have only been one exception read this year) for 2017. Of the 53 I read, I’ve knocked it down to a Top 5…

five. Otherworld by Jason Segel & Kirsten Miller
“Simon thought Otherworld was a game. Turns out he knew nothing. Otherworld is the next phase of reality. It’s everything you’ve ever wanted.”
This Ready Player One style novel is a fun adventure through various challenges and events for the protagonist to save his love interest.
Perfect for adventure-lovers, and sci-fi fans.

four. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
“The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.”
A fanciful journey exploring an alternate reality of war, mystery, love, and heritage. It was definitely the creative world of Laini Taylor – I adored the Daughter of Smoke and Bone Series and would recommend it as the introduction to this author – but Strange definitely provided something new and beautiful.
Perfect for fantasy lovers and fanciful adventurers.

three. The Mortal Instruments Series and The Infernal Devices Series by Cassandra Clare
“Exotic and gritty, exhilarating and utterly gripping, Cassandra Clare’s ferociously entertaining fantasy takes readers on a wild ride that they will never want to end.”
While I started The Mortal Instruments last year, both of these series (the latter being a prequel) were definite favourites of mine. I even got into the trashy TV adaptation because it brought me back into the world of the Shadowhunters that I love so much.
Perfect for binge-readers, fantasy and alternate reality fans.

two. Renegades by Marissa Meyer
“The Renegades are a syndicate of prodigies—humans with extraordinary abilities—who emerged from the ruins of a crumbled society and established peace and order where chaos reigned. As champions of justice, they remain a symbol of hope and courage to everyone…except the villains they once overthrew. Nova has a reason to hate the Renegades, and she is on a mission for vengeance. As she gets closer to her target, she meets Adrian, a Renegade boy who believes in justice—and in Nova. But Nova’s allegiance is to a villain who has the power to end them both.”
This book was a total surprise to me. Coming in The YA Chronicles November box, it wasn’t something I would’ve likely bought for myself, or even really gotten into, but the story did intrigue me enough to take it on, and boy did I love it! Action, adventure, just the right amount of love-interest, and the righteousness of villains and heroes explored beautifully. With the subtle inclusion of gay dads. It was hard to put down and while I’d been earlier hoping it was a stand-alone to avoid this pain, I can’t wait for the next book because the ending and entire story of this one were just so great.
Perfect for lovers of super heroes, antiheroes, action, adventure, and kick-ass females.

one. Beautiful Mess by Claire Christian
“Since Ava lost Kelly, things haven’t been going so well. Even before she gets thrown out of school for shouting at the principal, there’s the simmering rage and all the weird destructive choices. The only thing going right for Ava is her job at Magic Kebab.
Which is where she meets Gideon. Skinny, shy, anxious Gideon. A mad poet and collector of vinyl records with an aversion to social media. He lives in his head. She lives in her grief. The only people who can help them move on with their lives are each other.”
Since I know the author, I was totally supportive of this book before I’d even read it, but the quality of writing and honest reflection that I found blew me away. I absolutely adored this novel, was entranced by the characters and their struggles, loved the chapter-for-chapter style that I enjoy so much, and was so pleased that this debut was such an incredible read.
Perfect for angsty teens, fans of reality-based YA Fiction, and anyone else.

So, that’s my top picks for this year. I can’t wait to read new and exciting books in 2018, look out for our new challenge!

Love Always,
Alana

Since You’ve Been Gone…

It’s been a while since we were in the beautiful, chilly hills of New Zealand, and while I’ve intended to write a few blogs since that post, I apparently have never quite gotten there. So, while there have been some downs the last few months, I wanted to focus on the positive and list a few of the self-improvement steps I’ve taken in the past few months.

one. I took a pottery class…
While I’m very lucky to work in the creative industries, I haven’t had a hands-on creative outlet since uni. So I thought I’d challenge myself creatively and emotionally, signing up for 8 classes of pottery where I could learn a new skill and meet some new people outside of work. (It’s been amazing!)

two. I kept reading…
I’ve stayed on track with my 52 Books challenge, maintaining my book a week average. Sure, they’ve been easy to read YA Fiction novels, but that’s what I love to read.

three. I became an Instagram sensation…
Well, I started a new Instagram account purely for my love of books. I write my reviews there and share cute pics that are purely YA related.

four. I applied for a job in Canberra…
Back to the awful experience of applying for jobs and establishing myself in a new city, a process made slightly easier by finding and applying for what seems like my perfect job! Most annoyingly, I’m still waiting on a reply, but fingers crossed all will fall into place very soon!**

five. We celebrated one year of marriage….
Sure, it unfortunately fell during a bit of a rough patch, but coming out the other side together and stronger is what marriage is all about, right? It was still a pretty exciting milestone and makes us all the more excited for our next steps together.

A lot more has happened, but those are some things I’m pretty happy with as we head to the end of the year.

Love Always,
Alana

**Sadly I didn’t get the job. Very disappointing, but there’s lots more to go for and something perfect will come through in the end.

New Zealand

Two festivals and nine months after our fabulous wedding, Blake and I finally got our honeymoon! We spent 12 days driving around the South Island of New Zealand, and absolutely adored it.

monday. 26 june
We flew Sydney to Christchurch and had the most incredible views of the mountain ranges as we went across. Then straight out to the shuttle bus, picked up our car, and manoeuvred through the worst road works ever to get to our hostel. The work not only out by the airport but the rebuilding still taking place of Christchurch itself meant that getting around in a car was awful. We were also out searching for food in the awkward limbo between lunch and dinner, but ended up finding amazing cookies that got us through.

tuesday. 27 june
Straight on the road and off across the country (an adorable 3.5hr drive) with a very exciting photo op at a large roadside donut in Springfield. We stopped off around halfway through at Arthur’s Pass where a leisurely bush walk turned into 30 minutes of stairs. Thankfully a well-placed family was able to advise us that we were at the highest point, and gave us the will to continue, before we finally reached the pretty views and waterfalls in the national park.

Back on the road and we were in amongst beautiful mountain ranges, then into Greymouth where we toured the Monteith’s brewery, and stayed the night at an airbnb with lovely host Jean.

wednesday. 28 june
Our first big expedition of the trip was the Taniwha Blackwater Cave Rafting & Glow worms ZIP-IN OPTION. Looking at it now, it’s easy to see that there is tube rafting involved, but in my organisation I had entirely failed to mention or note this, so Blake and I were quite surprised when we ended up having to put on layers of thermals, wet suits, gum boots, and abseiling style harnesses when we were getting ready at the home base. Thankfully though, we were the only two booked on the group tour that morning so had not only two guides to ourselves, but free reign of the change rooms, gear, and a practically private tour for the standard price. It made the horrid-looking wetsuits all the more bearable that nobody else was there to see it.

Although it was a bit of a surprise I actually really enjoyed this tour. The zip line was everything I’d hoped for, slowly getting rigged up and lowering yourself down on the edge of the cliff, then swinging down through the trees, and catching the pole on our way back across. The worst part was how freakin’ cold the bar you had to hold on to was while you were being de-rigged, but we were out in NZ in mid-winter, so that’s probably on us. After the zip line we were ushered by our guide down to the river and alternating some lovely floating along with a lot of rolling over, getting up, walking across slippery rocks where the water was too low, then “gracefully” sitting back down on our tubes to float a little more. Our guide was lovely and patient, and it was very appreciated that there were not the 15 other people you might have had on another day. We spent the vast majority of the 3hr tour floating and walking down the river bank, learning a bit about nature and learning that absolutely nothing in New Zealand is even going to try and bite you. Coming from Australia it was an odd but greatly reassuring acknowledgement.

Once we hit the end of the river – and after a brief break as our guide was feeling unwell (we were more than happy to wait as long as he needed!) – we rode down a piece-of-barrel toboggan into some brown still water and were at the mouth of the glow worm cave. Again we tubed along for a little while, slowly heading into the darkness and led by his torchlight, then hit the point that we leaned the tubes against the side of the cave and walked ahead. This part was certainly not for the claustrophobic or nyctophobic (fear of the dark, thanks Google!) as we were guiding with our left hand on the wall and heading straight into darkness for some time. Then we reached the proper point and were directed to look up.

Glowworms aren’t actually a type of worm at all. They’re the larvae of a flying insect similar to a mosquito, and they actually spent 9 months in the lavael state building enough energy to create a cocoon, molecularly change into the flying creature, and need to survive on this energy alone for 2-4 days as they are created with no mouths and thus spend their short life breeding and quickly die. As “glowworms” they catch insects in their sticky webs by appearing like the night sky along the canopy of caves, louring their prey and devouring it. Ironically, the flying insect itself can be tricked and caught in these webs, and they are known to be carnivorous in this way.

After our tour we made a quick pitstop back at Jean’s, to tell her about our tour, but mostly to collect some of her neighbouring farm’s raw milk that she had kindly fed us and offered to collect. We would have done it ourselves but her other neighbour had advised that they were often running out by lunchtime and she didn’t want us missing out, especially when Blake was so keen on it. Then we were back on the road and heading to her highly recommended stop, Hokitika Gorge. An absolutely beautiful stop of that we would never have otherwise seen, the crystal-clear blue water which comes down from the glaciers, was just spectacular. Then we were on to the glacial mountain ranges and at Franz Josef Glacier in time for dinner.

thursday. 29 june
We had a bit of a false start on our Franz Josef Glacial tour. This was one of the first things we’d booked, the big investment that won out over sky-diving because it meant we could walk on a freakin’ glacier. But when we got to check in we discovered a weight limit meant that Blake would be unable to do the climb – understandably of course, as it involved ropes tied to other party members and if someone goes down they need to be supported by the ropes or the rest go down with them. This was obviously not an uncommon issue with visitors, based on the fact at least 3 others were given the same news while we were there, and the process of handling it was perfect. While originally super disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to get up on the glacier, it was explained by both the super helpful front desk woman and the guy responsible for explaining to us (and everyone it seemed) that they were above the limit, we discovered that rather than having to actually hike across the glacier for three hours, we could book any of the scenic helicopter flights and get some time on the top to play in the snow. They were also able to issue a full refund of the original tour and we were able to book onto an alternate scenic cruise for later that morning. So props to Franz Josef Glacier Guides for their great customer service! We even got to keep our complimentary hot pool access which made for a lovely relaxing evening after our helicopter tour. So good!

friday. 30 june
We woke up Friday morning to rain, making us even more pleased that we did the helicopter tour the day before. We were able to just hit the road and take our time driving along to Wanaka, the perfect way to spend a day full of rain. Especially when the natural waterfalls that lined the road were just spectacular. I’ll never get over how much wetter New Zealand is. We had a pit stop at a very interestingly decorated restaurant, continue in more rain for the rest of the 3hrs and hit Wanaka. There we explored Puzzleworld, a winery with the most incredible view, and drove around incredible lakes. The rain did not stop for the entire drive, nor it turned out, for the two days following. But even then it was surprisingly wet. Our Airbnb hosts that night turned out to be some of our favourites. Fran & Frankie (actually caretakers for Gill’s property) told us all about their B&B they’re building, proudly showing plans and details, being known as the ‘tent people’ when they spent 6 months after selling their house living on their land before starting to build, and they were really just excellent people. We are definitely planning to visit their B&B in Luggate one day, maybe for an anniversary.

saturday. 1 july
In the morning we went into the city to visit lovely Fran’s shop Glowing Sky, where I treated myself to a lovely marino cardigan, did a quick explore of the town, then hit the (still wet) road. We stopped off at Cardrona Distillery, a baby at just 2 years old, we were shown the entire process of making their gin, vodka, and their ‘new made alcohol’ – which in 8 more years would grow up to be whiskey. You could even pre-purchase a barrel for just $10k, ready to be opened in 8, 18, or 21 years time. It was an interesting tour and very insightful, ending in a tasting, though unfortunately Blake and I don’t particularly like either vodka or gin so that was a bit wasted on us.

Then back on the road where we stopped off for a little cheese tasting, and headed into Queenstown. As we suspected the abundance of tourists, and the rain ruling out the gondola ride (the only real attraction I was interested in) meant we only stopped off in QUeenstown for a quick lunch before heading back out to our Arrowtown Airbnb. This was our most independent stay, not even meeting our hosts, but with a lovely little room and ensuite, a TV, AND Netflix, it was the perfect little stop off for the night. We also treated ourselves to a fancy dinner (as recommended by our cheese tasting guy) at a tapas restaurant with incredible cocktails. A very nice romantic night out in a beautiful little town. Way better than all those lame tourists in Queenstown.

sunday. 2 july
With yet another day of rain, we were back out into it and driving slightly inland, before heading west to Te Anau. The scenery was, of course, incredible, and we stopped off at a lovely little “beach”, perfect for skipping stones. Then we were in Te Anau in time to dinner at The Ranch and doing some laundry at our YHA. We also had enough time to see what else we should do and ended up booking in an additional tour for the next night, exploring more caves to have a better look at glowworms, as Blake was unsatisfied with what we’d done so far.

monday. 3 july
On Monday we were picked up for our next big tour, Milford Sound. Annoyingly we were waiting out front of our hostel for about 20 minutes, only to be picked up and driven a single block where we were to wait at a cafe for our coach departure. But once we were on the road we had beautiful stop offs at scenic sights, great views of the mountains, went through the first tunnel we’d seen in NZ, and arrived at the harbour of the Sound for our boat cruise. After three full days of rain, it was blue skies and sunshine so we were on the top deck as we learnt all about the Sound – technically a Fiord – and saw the seals, dolphins and birds, not to mention some great waterfalls.

Then we were back in time for some gift shopping, a quick dinner (again at The Ranch which was delicious again) overindulged in dessert, then onto a different boat to head up stream to the caves. This one was a much more exciting and educational glowworms adventure, with some incredible caves on the way. We saw gushing waterfalls and a single eel, plus the tiniest little stalactite in the cave system, before going with our group onto a small row boat, out into the darkness where you would quietly lean back and enjoy the constellations of glowworms. Blake had the prime seat at the back of the boat, so ended up directly below lots of the low rocks as we weren’t taken in and turned around. It was a really incredible journey and definitely satisfied Blake’s bug curiosity.

tuesday. 4 july
This one was literally a travel day. There are no exciting photos, no great stories, we just spent a good few hours driving along in the rain from Te Anau to Dunedin. It was quite boring to be honest, but our adventures so far meant we had plenty to talk about. We also did discover as we approached Dunedin that all the hills we thought were missing, having gone from the flat farmland to the mountainous ranges, were all in fact on the east coast, specifically in Dunedin itself. Once we got there we also checked out the Cadbury Factory. It was okay… but with Blake not liking marshmallows and that being their specialty, plus the much more theatrical than educational focus of the tour, it was less impressive than we’d hoped, especially when the free chocolate didn’t appeal.

When we got to our Airbnb though, it was like coming home to a friends’ place. Our host, Abbie was lovely, and we watch some NZ Survivor, just as it was getting interesting and into the finals. We were also inspired by her cooking magazines and planned to get onto that, planning our weekly meals and maybe subscribing. It was a very pleasant stay and being yet another wet one, we were glad not to have anything major on.

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The view from our Airbnb in Dunedin. The most exciting thing we saw that day.

wednesday. 5 july
Following Abbie’s recommendation, we went into town and had breakfast at a very cool little cafe where we played scrabble while we had a great feed. Then we explored Dunedin’s iconic “Tunnel Beach”, which turned out to be not just an incredible tunnel carved through rock into a private little secluded area of rocks and water, but also a bloody steep walk down and, most painfully, back up. But, it was beautiful, and being on the edge of the water like that was pretty impressive. I just nearly died a few times, and had to stops for break, in order to make it back up to the top. This was the second point in our trip where I really wished we’d gotten fit as preparation.

Then we were on the road and out of town, stopping off along the way at some incredible natural wonders, the Moeraki Boulders. These incredibly round concretions which once lined the base of the ocean floor, around 60 million years ago. They were pretty awesome to see up close, and incredibly high. The tide was coming in as we were there which meant Blake was hilariously trapped on top of one he climbed on top of, waiting for the wave to drift back out.

When we hit the small town of Oamaru, where we met our Airbnb host, dumped our bags, and headed down the road for the penguin sanctuary. We learnt a few things, beyond the fact that blue penguins are freakin’ adorable; seals don’t eat them – that’s sea lions; seals smell really bad, and occasionally vomit in their sleep; blue penguins sneak up warily then run leading with their heads, and fight over who gets into the sanctuary first, in the most adorable way. It was everything we wanted and more. Save for the rude tourists in front of us letting their kid stand up (even though she had the front row seat) and occasionally even standing up themselves – rude. But the penguins – awesome. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take photos because we might frighten the penguins, so we just snapped a few shots of the seals and incredible water views, plus massive waves coming over the barrier. It was a gorgeous, though freezing, night.

thursday. 6 june
After a lazy morning getting to know our host and having a nice breakfast, we checked out the local wonder, Steampunk HQ. Apparently steampunk is a big hit in Oamaru, with annual conventions and a large complex, which turned out to be more of a mixed media museum than actual steampunk gallery, but was entertaining nonetheless. We also checked out some little shops and second hand book stores, then hit the road for the very short drive to our next Airbnb in the tiny town of Ashburton, about halfway between Christchurch and Oamaru.

Unfortunately for us our Ashburton Airbnb was the least equipped at all, and since there’s was nothing much at all in the ‘town’ we ended up having a very relaxed night with no WiFi, TV, or even reception, and got a lot of reading done. It was still an nice night, in a little cabin on a farm, but we were starting to feel a little technology-deprived by the end of our stay. The outdoor toilet got a little rough too, being in the middle of winter and all.

friday. 7 june
For our final day in NZ we did a spontaneous trip to Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, their gorgeous zoo featuring native, introduced, and international animals. We even did a special lemur encounter which meant we could feed them their lunch and hang out for about 20 minutes, which was more than enough time for them to eat and get bored of us. The entire park was a pretty quick tour, but the perfect way to kill time before our flight. Some terrible road work and laps around the block later and we returned the car, headed to the airport and said farewell to an incredible holiday. The best part was that just a few short hours later we were back home with a full weekend to recover.

Love Always,
Alana

Cloud Nine [Sydney Theatre Company]

Writer: Caryl Churchill
Director: Kip Williams
Creatives: Elizabeth Gadsby [Design], Alexander Berlage [Lighting Design], Chris Williams [Composer], Nate Edmondson [Sound Design]
Cast: Matthew Backer, Kate Box, Harry Greenwood, Anita Hegh, Josh McConville, Heather Mitchell, Anthony Taufa

This gender-bending period piece set in Africa (at least for Act 1) was a unique exploration of generational damage through gender, infidelity, solitude, and created very mixed and confused emotions in me. The absurdist comedy was completely played up by the gender-bent characters, particularly the wife being played by a man, making much of the otherwise infuriating chauvinistic text bearable simply due to it being delivered by a man in a dress. The story is actually quite a tragic one, of abuse, infidelity, distrust, control, and the eternal struggle of position which prevents any of the characters from truly being themselves, free, or happy.

Act 2 is a strange shift, almost being from a different play altogether. Set in the 70s in England, it takes us entirely out of the era of Act 1, though seemingly picks up on the same characters lives just 25 years later. Adding to the confusion is the complete role reversals, lending itself to further skilful gender-bending, and bringing in even more questions regarding sexuality and position. The damage of parents is evident as we watch the now-grown children seek out love and affection in obscure places.

The set was incredible. Featuring simply a large clear box in the upstage area, the otherwise open stage was covered in dirt for the African setting and grass for the Act 2 garden. There was some incredible reveals made using this box, particularly at the opening of Act 2 when the previously bare set turned into a lush garden full of plants in unbelievable time. All production elements were fantastic, and the actors stretched perfectly into the roles of all genders, but I still left wondering what the purpose of the play was, beyond the need to be free.

Love Always,
Alana

The Village Bike [Cross Pollinate Productions] + SLUT [Edgeware Forum & Rue De La Rocket] [Red Line Productions]

SLUT
Writer: Patricia Cornelius
Director: Erin Taylor
Creatives:
 Isabel Hudson [Design], Nate Edmonson [Sound Design]
Cast: Julia Dray, Bobbie-Jean Henning, Jessica Keogh, Danielle Stamoulos, Maryann Wright

THE VILLAGE BIKE
Writer:
Penelope Skinner
Director: Rachel Chant
Creatives: Anna Gardiner & Martelle Hunt [Production Design], Nate Edmondson [Sound Design & Composition], Hartley T A Kemp [Lighting Design], Lillian Hannah U [Stage Manager], Shell McKenzie [Production Manager], Joel Horwood [Assistant Director], Sophie Pekbilimli [Lighting Assistant], Linda Nicholls-Gidley [Accent/Dialect Coach]
Cast: Kate Bookallil, Sophie Gregg, Jamie Oxenbould, Rupert Reid, Gabrielle Scawthorn, Benedict Wall

Seeing these plays as a double bill at the Old Fitz Theatre meant they can’t be reviewed or recounted separately, the presence of one so informing the messages of the other. It was an excellent pairing, and made for an excellent night of excellent theatre.

Opening the evening with SLUT by Patricia Cornelius, a biography of a young girl, bluntly named Lolita, told through shared monologue of herself and her friends. From Primary School friends recounting their first memories of each other, to the day when Lolita first develops breasts at just nine years old, to high school where the teacher pays her a little too much attention, to the separation of friends after the ‘incident’. The broken timeline and style in which the story is told places you at the centre of their lives, experiencing both their passion and love for their friend, their jealousy and betrayal of her. With no shying away from the too-hard topics which are avoided with girls, or the polite quiet that’s inflicted on growing young women, it’s incredibly disheartening the complex connection I, as a young woman, felt with each character on stage. I knew those girls. I was those girls. I experienced year 9 bitch-fest and could completely understand, if not entirely relate, to the slippery slope Lolita’s friends watch her go down. It moved me greatly, and made me fear for the innocence of my future teenage daughter, but it was so true and so necessary that I think it’s a show that needs to be seen.

After stepping out for a well needed break and debrief, plus some nice pub food, we were back in for an alternate exploration of female sexuality.

Following a pregnant woman and her mild-mannered husband as they settle into life in the country, The Village Bike is a unique take on a woman’s passion, sex drive, and consequences. There’s certainly infidelity, uncomfortable situations, and some naivety on the husband’s part that is simply laughable, intercepted with incredible wit and comedy. It was definitely the lighter side of life, even when things were going wrong. It also carried a message of warning to husbands to ensure they satisfy their wives during that precious time, for those urges are seemingly uncontrollable.

This play also featured the best set I have seen in this venue. Re-building the incredible balcony level and creating a townhouse in this intimate space was an incredible achievement. Every area was utilised, with running water on-set, and it’s practicality was really shown when it was seamlessly used for SLUT too.

Love Always,
Alana

Sydney Festival

It’s been a long time coming but here are my highlights from the wonderful blur that was Sydney Festival this January:

Imagined Touch
This was a show created by artist Jodee Mundy, the only hearing member in her family, alongside two real deaf-blind women who share their stories. From their slightly awkward retelling of how they met and became friends at a deaf-blind support group, through to the participatory goggles and headphones, this piece really opened my eyes (I honestly could not avoid that pun) to the life and experiences of a disability I was not previously aware of. I was lucky enough to attend the dress rehearsal of this show, and was so touched by the stories shared. It was a really incredible experience and a definite highlight.

Nude [Live]
A collaboration between the AGNSW, Sydney Festival, and Sydney Dance Company which placed nude dancers in front of nude art and made magic. The connection between the artworks and the shapes, bodies, and poses of the dancers was just incredible, and really connected me to the artworks in a way that I hadn’t been previously. Using the entire space of the gallery I can imagine seeing it multiple nights in a row and engaging in it in unique ways each time, following difference dancers in the various rooms and experiencing something new. This was another incredible opportunity to witness an (un)dressed rehearsal and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to go along.

Moses Sumney
The only true music I saw at the festival, Moses was an enchanting master of gospel/loop/electronic beauty. Being in the second row in the Spiegeltent was just magical, and the whole performance was dynamic and engaging. I loved it.

Briefs: The Second Coming
A wild and wacky night of beautiful boys, Briefs was a great night out on the town. Another spiegeltent show, featuring drag, cabaret, acrobatics, sketch, and hilarity, it was so much fun to see.

Home Country
Performed throughout a carpark in Blacktown, this 3hr saga was an incredible journey and exploration of ‘home’ for all kinds of Australians. Featuring a wonderful interval feast where you were encouraged to really get to know your fellow audience members, incredible music by the evening’s host, and progressive story-telling literally leading you up the levels of the carpark. The sound and management were so incredible, with the whole intricate event running smoothly, and the narratives were interesting and unique.

The Encounter
This was one of the shows I was most looking forward to, and it did not disappoint. An incredible aural experience, using individual headphones, an onstage mic, pre-recorded and live recorded sound, and a huge amount of imagination, it took you to the heart of the amazon, created characters right beside and behind you, and was simply the most incredible piece of theatre I remember seeing. The combination of technology and performance was so unique and so perfectly formed, that it was a thrill and adventure, and I was just sitting there watching the show.

The Beach (pictured)
The biggest installation of the festival, The Beach was an incredible massive ball pit of frivolity and fun. My highlights were actually helping to drop in and pack up the 1.1 million balls that made it, as well as sitting out the back listening to the incredible laughter and fun of the families.

Hopefully I’ll get to see some more incredible shows next year, because seriously, this one was amazing.

Love Always,
Alana