My job is to stand on stage and to tell the truth.
When I'm asked if I'm a comedian, I say, "Only if the audience laughs, otherwise I'm a dramatist."
Either way, I've done my job.
"I was born in a small Ontario mining community called Sudbury.
Where the men are men.
And the women, are men.
And the dogs, are men."
-- Sandra Shamas, My Boyfriend's Back and There's Gonna Be Laundry (1987)
Sandra was born and raised in Sudbury, northern Ontario's largest city. Along the Trans Canada Highway, in a home painted pink, Sandra would often sit on her porch and watch cars drive by, daydreaming of better days. At the age of 17, Sandra left home to explore life, without any ambition or expectation of a career in the performing arts. To make ends meet, Sandra quickly landed a job at a Chinese restaurant as a waitress. Around this time, in 1978, Sudbury's main industry–nickel mining–endured setbacks that made strikes and layoffs commonplace. The decline of Sudbury's main economic driver filled the headlines of the local newspapers. Sensing there was little future for her in Sudbury, at the age of 21, having never traveled outside her hometown, Sandra decides to leave. Hoping to embark on new opportunities, Sandra sets foot in Calgary. Once there, Sandra would find work as a cashier and would eventually save enough to travel to Europe, in an attempt, as she would say, "to find herself" only to lament later saying "I wasn't there." After returning from her travels, she moved to Toronto in 1980 and found a job as a receptionist at a criminal law firm. However, before landing her job at the firm, Sandra had also heard that Second City was hiring. It is here that fortune smiled down upon Sandra, inciting a series of pivotal and fortuitous events. When she arrived at Second City to inquire about a waitstaff position, she asked for an application form. In return, she was accidentally given an application to apply to Second City's improvisational workshops. On a lark, Sandra filled both applications, but only heard back for the workshop. At 22, she joined the workshop, and the classes would inevitably introduce her to comedy and a high sense of structured play, and to others who were also willing to play; she found kinship in others and a new sandbox in which to frolic, and in the process, Sandra discovered an art form to which she would blossom.
Among her first class cohort were future talents Mike Myers and Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter, Alannah Myles. A year later, Sandra joined Second City's auxiliary touring company. Without any expectation to parlay her developing comedic skills into a career, Sandra took a chance with the touring group and quit her position with the law firm. Unfortunately, for Sandra and the rest of the auxiliary group, their time with Second City would be short-lived as demand for their work grew in short supply. Despite the group disbanding, Sandra's experience was a memorable one, as she promised herself never to return to a nine-to-five job again.
This photo was taken on the main stage, when The Second City was housed in the Old Firehall at Jarvis and Lombard, in Toronto. (ca. 1981)
Sandra Shamas with Kathy Mullen, on the set of Fraggle Rock. (Toronto)
Getting Her Stride
The experience at Second City had given Sandra an essential, primary direction of where she wanted to go with her career. Her nine-to-five existence would now be reduced to part-time labour, and to survive in the big city, Sandra would take odd jobs, while still practicing her improvisational skills at a place called Theatre Sports. This was a weekly event, a competitive scene for improvisational theatre that would show at the Harbourfront in a venue called the Brigantine Room. While continuing to hone her comedic skills, it was here that Sandra would also meet and practice alongside many talents including, Mark McKinney, Bruce McCullough, Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald and Scott Thompson, who shortly thereafter formed the sketch comedy group, The Kids in the Hall.
In the winter of 1981, while at Theatre Sports, Sandra meets a puppeteer from the show Fraggle Rock, a Jim Henson/CBC co-production based in Toronto. Soon after, Sandra is invited to a Fraggle Rock Christmas party, where her companion, the aforementioned puppeteer, was expected to perform improv with a colleague in front of an audience that included Jim Henson and a slew of creative executives from New York. The colleague stepped down and volunteered Sandra instead, who took to the offer almost instinctively and with great aplomb. Sandra's impromptu performance went so well, she was approached by one of the producers of Fraggle Rock. Based on that performance, Sandra was offered a six-week contract, and an opportunity to work with Henson and his collective brass. While still performing at Theatre Sports and at the Rivoli in a sketch comedy capacity, she would work as a puppeteer for Fraggle Rock.
On February 17, 1986, in what would later be described by Sandra as a pivotal moment, her father dies, and his death evoked in her a duty to tell his story. It is here, compelled by the gravity of this loss, that Sandra writes her first monologue, and performs it at the Rivoli. This is where Sandra discovers the platform for her future shows; empowered creatively, she becomes elevated by a sense of freedom and independence to speak her thoughts, her way, on her terms. This would meet her personal expectations of a voice that she felt was not being heard, and in doing so, she found the person she could not find in her travels, in other words, a strong, emboldened, independent woman, made visible by her own talents. On September 18th of the same year, on her 29th birthday, Sandra would find further inspiration while visiting New York. After purchasing a ticket to see Lily Tomlin perform her one-woman show at the Plymouth Theatre entitled "Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe", Sandra was imbued with a profound sense of purpose.
More to come. Please excuse our appearance as we are currently editing the site and its contents. Thank you.