Candice Bowers and Sarah Ward (Rasheda EDA MC and Sheila MC EILA respectively) devised Sista She and their hip-hop alter egos while they were both members of the theatre group A Bit On the Side. One auspicious night, following a performance at Annandale’s Side On Café, Sista She were approached by Virginia Hyam, Executive Producer at the Sydney Opera House. On the strength of their performance that evening Virginia offered them a one-off Scratch Nite appearance at the Sydney Opera House Studio.
Seizing the opportunity, Sarah and Candy set about writing a new show for the occasion. On August 4, 2003 Sista She rented the Opera House Studio for the grand fee of $1 and sold out the entire space at $10 a ticket. Their performance, about the highs and lows of being a female hip-hop artist in Australia was called Inna Thigh – the Sista She Story.
Inna Thigh was such a success that Hyam offered them a full season at the Opera House Studio in 2004. Sarah enthuses that as soon as the offer had been made they just knew that they had to do it in “true Sista She style”. This meant completely over the top, utterly extravagant, with fabulous sets, amazing outfits and the whole shebang. The only problem was finding the money to fund the bling.
Candy and Sarah worked for months on a funding application to the Australia Council. Sarah explains, “Deep down we knew that we wouldn’t be able to achieve the vision without the funding”. To their joy and relief the Australia Council agreed to support the development of Inna Thigh to the tune of $15,000 giving Sista She the opportunity to pay actors for rehearsal time as well as get a director, assistant director and set designers on board.
Though preparation time was extremely tight, the show was a resounding success. Sally Blackwood, Assistant Producer at the Sydney Opera House, elaborates: “Sarah... and Candy... went on to create a very slick, well rehearsed and designed production. Inna Thigh had developed greatly from its humble beginnings. It was wonderful to see the original ideas being made into a well produced show.”
For Sarah and Candy the experience was a dream come true: “We conceived Sista She in our bedrooms and lounge-rooms, we started performing in squats without PA systems and then moved on to cabaret and music venues. It was a massive dream of ours to play the Sydney Opera House Studio and we did it – with a breakaway hit!”
Sista She went on to perform Inna Thigh for a season at the Brisbane Powerhouse and the Hothouse theatre in Albury-Wodonga. They also performed the show at the 2003 Melbourne Fringe Festival where it won awards for Director’s Choice and Best Innovative Rap Musical Comedy.
“We both hoped to make an impact on the Australian theatrical landscape – we wanted to break new ground. We wanted to create a piece that defied category and genre in Aussie terms. We wanted people to walk away saying ‘l can’t describe Sista She – you have to see them for yourself’. We also wanted to bring our fringe show onto the professional stage and really excite people… to broaden the concept of performance and use hip-hop as the key. Were these hopes met? Certainly, on every level.”
Though Sista She have had their fair share of lucky breaks, their success has clearly involved a huge amount of hard work, a lot of faith and a staggering amount of determination. “There is a romantic stereotype of artists being terrible at business and leaving all of the organisation up to their production managers. If you want to be successful you’ve got to learn how to run every aspect of the business. This can’t be seen as a chore or obstacle to your creativity, but a tool, a pulse and a core to your existence as an artist. If you want to be a young artist in Australia, you’ve got to be prepared to do the work and weather the obstacles without getting old before time.”Reference: The Program