Climbing menopause mountain with Sandra Shamas

'The Big What Now' creator shares her thoughts on what it means to be a woman of a certain age

Sandra Shamas smiling
Sandra Shamas talked about her new show, life on the farm and comedy during a recent visit to Centennial College's East York campus. Rhianne Campbell/Toronto Observer

Comedic writer Sandra Shamas’s journey through menopause was a lonely and isolating experience.

In vintage Shamas style, though, she’s made it a little less lonely and isolating for the rest of us — and a heck of a lot funnier — with her latest show, The Big What Now, which ended a successful run in Toronto earlier this year and is now ready to hit the road.

The show looks at menopause through the Shamas lens, a blend of wicked wit and poignant insights into what it means to be a woman over 50.

“I’m writing a show I need to see, because I didn’t see a reflection of my experience anywhere in my culture — because we’re not going to talk to women who are in their 50s,” she said during a visit to Centennial College’s  East York campus last week. “We’re not going to talk about their bodies. We’re not going to because that doesn’t sell magazines. That doesn’t sell product.”

Shamas, a Lebanese-Canadian producer, writer and actor originally from Sudbury, Ont., has been performing her unique one-woman shows for over 30 years now. Her latest, The Big What Now, earned critical acclaim during its Toronto run and continued a week beyond the original closing date due to popular demand.

Early in her career, Shamas performed with Second City and Fraggle Rock. She said it was her dislike of the world of television production that motivated her to create her own work. On stage, she could speak her own language and live in transparency. She entered her first show, My Boyfriend’s Back and There’s Gonna Be Laundry, in the Edmonton Fringe Festival, which turned out to be the first in a trilogy of shows. The final of them was called Wedding Bell Hell.

She later produced Wit’s End I, II and III about her retreat to rural Ontario and farm life.

As a figure-head of Canadian comedy, Shamas said she has noticed a shift in the media in terms of who is being represented. “Symbolic annihilation,” the description she uses in her show, is an academic term for when any aspect of any culture is no longer represented in the media. In this case, it refers to women over 50.

During the show, she explains this phenomenon to the predominantly female crowd.

“Did you hear the audience go ‘ohhh’? Like you hear the whole room go ‘f*** no, are you kidding?’ It’s harsh and it’s happening and we’re still here so, it doesn’t make any sense,” said Shamas, who was born in 1957.

She described climbing menopause mountain as one of the most awakening experiences she’s gone through, which led to it becoming a major focus of her show.

“It’s not like anything you’ve experienced as a woman,” she said, adding that writing about menopause, at a time when no one else was, was a way of making the process less isolating and more accessible.

While women of a certain age are not represented as much as Shamas feels they should be by the media, she said she’s noticed a shift towards female-driven comedy. To her, that’s a very good sign.

“We’ve all had to overcome much in order to just be women on this planet. And then be women doing what we do (comedy) for a living,” she said.

Although Shamas will not likely be on Canadian television any time soon, she did say she’s working on a cross-Canada tour of The Big What Now.

For now, though, she’ll continue to live day by day on her farm, feeding herself and sharing what she can’t eat herself with her community.

As for the ‘R’ word, retirement is not part of her lexicon. Shamas said she is going to continue working until she dies, which means we can look forward to seeing her on stage for the next 40-odd years.

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Posted: Apr 13 2017 5:34 pm
Filed under: Arts & Life Profiles