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Career

Westside's Esther Stephens' sideline as a 'sixties chick' singer

''I find it really nurturing being able to combine time with my really good girlfriends and having a proper sing.''

By Fleur Mealing
Adorning the curtain rail of Westside actress Esther Stephens' bedroom is an array of vintage dresses that look like they've arrived straight from the 1960s.
Complete with impressive back-combing and thick eyeliner, Esther and her friends Olivia Tennet and Aria Jones fawn over the rainbow of retro frocks, which are perfect for their new girl band The Up Doos.
"I have been collecting these vintage dresses for most of my adult life and sometimes I would look in my wardrobe, especially when I was having a baby, and think 'What am I doing with all of these blimmin' old dresses?!'" laughs Esther.
"Then an opportunity like this comes along and you go, 'Yes! I have heaps of stuff!'"
The Up Doos (from left): Aria, Esther and Olivia.
The inception of The Up Doos is a delightful tale.
Esther (33) tells the Weekly that she had hatched a plan to surprise her new husband Todd Beeby (38) with The Shirelles song Dedicated to the One I Love as a part of her wedding speech.
The actress, who plays Ngaire on the prequel to Outrageous Fortune, enlisted the help of actresses Olivia and Aria to sing the song in a three-part harmony for her 2017 nuptials.
"It was really fun and it had a really good response. There was a standing ovation and everyone loved it," Esther recalls.
"After that we thought maybe we should do a whole set of this material because we all have a real love and an affinity for retro culture – and we just enjoy singing together."
The Up Doos mid-song in their first performance at Freida Margolis wine bar in Auckland's Grey Lynn.
As the Weekly sits down with the trio, who sing the songs of the likes of The Shirelles, The Shangri-Las and The Ronettes, it becomes clear they all share a real passion for the arts.
As they attempt to list all the creative projects they've worked on together, they explain that they've chosen to perform "the hits of '60s chicks" because the songs perfectly fit their voices and are ideal for harmonising – and they're so enjoyable for audiences.
"[The music] is kind of sweet and endearing, but also quite comical – all these very twee stories of cheating boyfriends and falling for the bad boy," says Esther, who is mum to 11-month-old Jake.
"The first time we put it up in front of an audience I think we all kind of thought, this is really entertaining material!"
While they all admit that coordinating three busy women is difficult, Aria (33), who splits her time between Berlin and Auckland, says all the planning is worth it for the time they get to spend together.
"I think part of the reason we like this band is that when we rehearse it's a time to hang out and catch up – and that's necessary, to have the enjoyment factor part of it."
Esther adds, "After having Jake, I really wanted to make sure I was still investing in some of my personal creative pursuits.
"I find it really nurturing being able to combine time with my really good girlfriends and having a proper sing because everyone feels better after the fact – it's a real stress release."
The band first sung together as part of Esther's wedding speech.
With two gigs under their belt, the trio were initially surprised at the enthusiastic reception they received.
Olivia (28) – who played Tuesday Warner on Shortland Street – says they donned the dresses they wore for this Weekly shoot for their latest performance at Auckland's Basement Theatre.
The talented dancer, who is six months pregnant and expecting a boy, even added a bit of choreography to their second performance.
"I was persuaded by Esther and Aria to do a tap dance in the middle of our song Boys, which was pretty hilarious," she says. "I mean, a pregnant lady doing a tap dance is not something you see every day and the crowd was surprised."
Although they will take a break from performing when Olivia enjoys time as a new mum, Esther already has plans for their tiny entourage. She announces that she had a brainwave in the shower earlier this morning while thinking about the potential for Olivia's expected October arrival to pair with her son and make a spin-off duo.
"I thought they could be The Up Dudes," laughs Esther, causing the room to break out in giggles.
"And wear matching T-shirts!" Olivia adds. "I can't wait for our little guys to be surrounded by music."

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