No one says “fuck” quite as beautifully as Sandra Shamas. There’s a savouring happening there, as her mouth caresses the expletive, upper teeth gently grazing the bottom lip as the word rolls out in all its decadent glory. And she says it a lot, both onstage and off, with a gleeful abandon that is downright mesmerizing.
Anyone who’s been to one of Shamas’s one-woman shows already knows this, of course. From her explosion onto the indie theatre scene back in 1987 to sold-out tours, this astonishingly gifted writer, performer and full-time farmer (we’ll get to that later) can say just about anything and still make people laugh, cry and ponder the natures of ourselves and others.
Shamas’s first solo show, My Boyfriend’s Back and There’s Gonna Be Laundry, was an instant hit when it premiered at the Edmonton Fringe Festival 27 years ago. Two sequels followed, cementing the Sudbury native’s reputation as an incisive, witty, blazingly intelligent writer and performer who fearlessly opened up her personal life to the world.
Now, two years after her last show, Wit’s End III – Love Life, Shamas is returning with a brand new piece called Big Girl Panties at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. It’s not the first time she’s launched a show at the venerable LGBT institution, and she’s happy to be dropping Panties there.
“I love Buddies,” Shamas says. “I feel very free there. It’s a fantastic stage, with the added value of the culture which supports the venue. Both the theatre and the culture have been very supportive, and I’m endlessly grateful for that.”
Shamas’s last foray on the Buddies stage followed an eight-year hiatus, a tumultuous period she detailed in Wit’s End. The show was a distinct departure from the relationship themes of her previous trilogy.
“I’d been away, and the landscape of my entire life had changed,” she says. “I moved from the city to the country, I was divorced, I was single. So I rented Buddies to see how Wit’s End would fly.”
It soared. Shamas’s observations and personal experiences were, if anything, more engaging than ever. Her divorce had meant relocation to a farm she’d originally bought as a weekend property — a move born of necessity that ended up being a permanent joy. Wit’s End spawned two more sequels and enjoyed several held-over runs at the Winter Garden Theatre.
Big Girl Panties promises yet another departure from its predecessors. For one thing, its conception was as unexpected for Shamas as the themes that began to unfold.
“I was doing the dishes,” she says. “Suddenly I was ripping the gloves off to write it down. When I stepped back from it, I didn’t know if I had the emotional wherewithal to deliver the material. It felt incendiary to me. It felt heretical.
“This culture tells us that we are no longer viable individuals after 55. I started exploring this idea of viability and relevance at this age, and I was stymied by what this culture has to say, or not say, to women of my age. I’ll be 57 this year, and that’s the fucking best you’ve got? It’s unacceptable.”
So what has this vibrant and electrifying woman learned in this exploration of age and relevance? Shamas is already hardly your average quinquagenarian, with her mop of ebony curls and bangin’ bod. Aging definitely lies lightly upon her.
“It came to me at the same time I was climbing menopause mountain. You get to the top and think nothing can fucking kill me. Nothing. Like, death? Come and get me, because I just kicked the shit out of menopause. You just don’t care anymore what anyone thinks.
“And what they don’t tell you about not caring is that it brings you to your own oasis where only your good opinion of you matters. And nothing anyone else can say can ever touch you again. Because you have your own authority. You’re the total boss of you.”