Funny Girls & Dynamic Divas + An Interview with Sandra Shamas

A crowd made up of mostly women eagerly awaited the 10th anniversary performance of Funny Girls & Dynamic Divas on June 14 in Toronto. This annual event is a major fundraiser for Sistering, a multi-service centre that provides hot meals, clothing, access to health care and informal counselling for women in need.

Host for the evening, Elvira Kurt

Regular attendees knew they were coming for a fun time! Jane Bunnett and fellow musicians set the tone with great rhythm, sexy sound and full-body energy. They played for all the singers in a variety of moods and with a variety of instruments. Host Elvira Kurt got the crowd laughing right away while she mocked the sponsors and made fun of the silent auction items.

Opening singer Shakura S’Aida got our emotions juiced and our voices warmed up with “Geechee Woman.” Her cover of the Billie Holiday tune – also covered by Nina Simone (one of my old favourites) – had us wanting more.

Award-winning comedian Sandra Shamas was back after hosting the first fundraiser in the Bamboo Club 10 years ago. Her hilarious personal stories about being 50+ and living in the country made us howl with laughter, discomfort or both. Her amazing facial gestures and mimed movements were so raucous that I was glad I didn’t bring a man with me! About the unexpected effects of aging she said, “That was not in the manual!”

The Latin sound was well represented. Luanda Jones from Brazil is a graceful, lyrical singer who sang sultry numbers in Portuguese. Laura Fernandez sang artfully in Spanish, then played piano and sang “Believe in One Love” in English. Amanda Martinez encouraged us all to rebuild our lives with “New Paths,” sung in Spanish. And all three women together inspired the women of Sistering with their rendition of “Dreams that are Possible.”

Liberty Silver graced us with her long-time support for Sistering and belted out great old hits like “At Last.” By the end of the evening, she had her fellow performers and all of the audience singing James Brown’s “I Feel Good.”

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Passionate. Intense. Curious.

Sandra Shamas (courtesy of Post City)

Sandra Shamas (courtesy of Post City)

These are just a few of the words to describe performer Sandra Shamas. Although recognized for her comedic repartee and impeccable timing, her goal is to tell her truth, not entertain, although she absolutely loves having a rapport with her audiences.

“Am I a comedian? Only if you laugh. Otherwise, I’m a dramatist. I don’t call myself anything. I never have, have never categorized it. It allows me the freedom to do what is most recently revealed to me as the truth.”

This year marks Sandra’s return to the Sistering gala charity event after several years away. She explains that she needs to be in performance mindset to do this, and menopause has given her some challenges in this regard. “On any given day I may not have pants, so I can’t leave the house, or, I may not want to. I think it’s very fair of me to do this, for all of humanity.”

Sandra has chosen the life of a farmer for the past 16 years. That includes getting more comfortable each year with nature’s rhythms and her place in the universe. The day we spoke she was having mechanical problems with some farm equipment. She admitted, “I have accrued some talents over the years… including when to call in an expert instead of trying to fix everything myself.”

Her garden represents the fruition of ‘the change’ (menopause) in her life. She has everything she needs. “My garden is my grocery store.” And what about this change? “I really like it,” says Shamas.

I suggest to her that her comedy is a glorious combination of story-telling, physicality, impersonation and wit. She replies, “As an artist and creator, my job is to deliver. What’s happening in the audience is your business. The connection happens inside you, with me. I make a meal, I put it on the table. You take a spoonful and you taste the flavours. That’s my offering. How it’s being internalized is the responsibility of the audience.”

Some will cry, some will laugh. Each person hears it in a different way. As for herself, “I speak the truth as plainly as I can.”

Then I asked, putting my foot squarely in my mouth,“Your audiences love your frankness. Where does that come from?” Shamas replies, “No, not Frank (the name of her ex!) Honestly, I have no sympathy for the word frank. Just call it the truth.”

“In fact, the truth keeps knocking at my door. It knows me by now. We have a relationship. What I do on stage is only funny, disarming or evocative if it’s true.”

And that’s why Shamas can’t predict what’s coming next for her. She produces her own show so she has maximum freedom and flexibility. But she hints that it might include collaboration, something other than a one-woman show.

I, for one, will be waiting patiently, because no one but Shamas makes me laugh and cry so hysterically at the same time that I pee my pants.