I was sitting backwards on a highback stool (no easy feat, may I add) shaking my ass at an audience while singing some saucy song that I can’t even remember now...I was on the stage (there wasn’t a raised surface...stage was a relative word...a suggestion, really) at the third version of the Queen’s Bedroom on Church Street...the year?
I think. (Bad with dates and years.)
You were sitting in the audience with about 50 other people (the room was packed) and I was doing 15 minutes at someone elses variety night. After my gig was done I went to my dressing room (read: broom closet...that I stored my purse in...because I didn’t trust a one of you bastards not to steal it) and you came in after me...to meet me. What? I was 26...you were in Moxy Fruvous...you told me you were working on a musical with this dude named Des from the La Jolla Playhouse in California and that you were interested in the way I told my stories (I am paraphrasing here, of course...because I was all overwhelmed by the coolness factor of this moment to hear EVERY word you were saying) and you asked when I was gonna do my own show...so I invited you to my show the next week...and you effing SHOWED...which was ALSO pretty cool. There was nothing romantical or overtoney...it was the meeting of two artistic minds...which sounds lordy...but you know what I mean. You were very kind and very supportive.
I was all chuffed that someone well known in the Canadian pop world would take an interest in something so musical theatre-ie, a bit campy and all round “in” at the time. The audience was largely people from the musical theatre and comedy community.
It was cool of you to come to the gig.
We have both gone down many roads since then.
Oh yes, we have.
You are now in radio...and I, still in cabaret. Oh yes, I have done a number of different things (people other than Mr. Ghomeshi, who have followed my career and have sat through the speeling of my credits can skip along to this * sign...because the listing will begin...thank you for your patience and continued support)...I have done blockbuster movies (Mean Girls, Cinderella Man, Hairspray), had the good fortune to be a part of the big mega musical boom in Toronto (Showboat, Les Miserables, Beauty and the Beast) and have just completed my second season on the wonderful TV show, Canada Sings, on Global TV (as a vocal coach, musical director and on camera personality...it has been one amazing gig)...but cabaret has always been my day gig. Yes, my day gig. In Canada... and I fucking love it.
* While I was finishing out my time in musicals in the early 2000’s, I was trying to figure out a way to make cabaret my day gig. There were no rooms in Toronto that were ‘cabaret’ rooms. There were no cabaret artists in Canada, that I knew of, to model myself after. So, I came up with my own idea of what I thought cabaret was...but it wasn’t lucrative and it sure as shit DID NOT draw an audience of regular people (read: not artists)...AHHHH....the holy grail...an audience of regular people. Imagine.
In 2003-ish (Badnamesdates) I went to New York to stay with Elaine Stritch (Do you know Elaine Stritch?...please tell me you do...lately she plays Alec Balwin’s mother on 30 Rock) and my friend, Marge, who was Elaine’s sound person/assistant/residentGirl Friday at the time. I was doing an audition for some freakin’ Andrew Lloyd Webber show in NY. Elaine was staying and doing her cabaret show at the Carlyle Hotel on the upper east side. Elaine invited me to stay in her gorgeous rehearsal suite in the hotel. Again, WHAT? I stood in that fucking amazing rehearsal room and thought I had stepped into heaven...there were bound scores for Elaine’s show on the grand piano...the attached bedroom was her dressing room where she got ready...there were post cards and flowers from Elaine May and Mike Nichols...Stephen Sondheim...and, oddly enough, David Schwimmer...who was still huge due to the ‘Friends’...the windows were pulled up a little bit...and I swear to effing god...there were white shear curtains that blew in the wind...and there was music playing softly, from some corner of the room I couldn’t find...and I sat there and thought, “Eartha Kitt, Barbra Cook, Ute Lemper, Betty LaVette and Judy Collins have rehearsed here...holy fuck.” Possibly, I laid down on the persian rug and had a cry...maybe I stole a diet coke from her bar...maybe I touched the piano...a bit.
After I saw her show in the Cafe Carlyle (she managed to stuff a 6 piece band into one of the smallest rooms I have ever seen a star work in...she was fucking awesome...of course...amazing storyteller...she dated Brando...enough said), I talked with Elaine and she asked me what I was going to do...I told her that I couldn’t really do cabaret in Canada, because no one cared about it...there were no rooms...I was 35ish (not sure) and it was a dead art form...NO WAIT...cabaret was an art form that had never really been properly born in Canada....saying you were a cabaret artist in Canada opened nary a door...nary a door...it was like saying you were (insert awesome analogy here and don’t forget to take it out if you can’t think of one...good work, Matthews).
And she said, with the grace of Buddha and the wisdom of an elder... “Just fucking do it...and stop whining...you aren’t getting any younger...and bitching gets you nowhere.” (I am also paraphrasing here because I was hoping for something a little more poetic....but this was the gist).
So, I did the ALW audition (so wrong for it...didn’t get it...for the best...though, still would have liked another call back for my ego) and flew home...and started to look.
I am gonna try to short form the rest...because this shit took a great deal of time, Mr. Jian Ghomeshi...are you still reading?...I know this is long...but life’s work takes some time, man.
Played super small rooms and had to yell over drunken crowds and tell them to shut their pie holes. I used to call it taming the tiger. One super drunk dude told me that if I sang another ballad he would kill himself, I paused and said, “Well, please do us the courtesy of doing it quick and outside so the rest of us can get on with it.” (Lesson to self...sing less ballads)
Played bigger rooms with a show I formatted based on Late Night Talk shows. If I was going to get the ‘holy grail’ of the regular audience, I was going to have to draw them in with a format they were familliar with and...most important...sing songs they knew. I would have to (and this was a life changer) put away the musical theatre and get right to the popular music. Which had, actually, been a great love my whole life. I fucking loved pop radio...and I knew I wasn’t the only one...people love songs they know. I called the show ‘Sharron’s Party’ and performed, wrote, produced and cast a new ‘Party’ every month...you see, I also knew to build an audience I would have to bring other artists...amazing artists...every month I had on an established artist, I had on Tony winner Brent Carver, Tony nominee Louise Pitre, TV’s Gavin Crawford and Teresa Pavlinek...and so many more...and every week I had on an 'up and comer'...I went to a hundred cabarets (because, by this time, they were popping up all over...) and saw so many talented young artists and I asked a new one to come on the show every month.
I went on to do 52 such parties...at the Gladstone Ballroom, at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, the Diesel Playhouse, all over Ontario...out east...out west...I toured that shit. I toured cabaret around Canada. Yes, I said it, Mr. Jian Ghomeshi...I effing toured cabaret around Canada...yes, sometimes we (me and my booker) called it a one woman show...a comedy concert...whatever words were not scary to a presenter...but I toured my cabaret.
And then I took my show around the world.
Did you know, Mr. Jian Ghomeshi, if you are an independent and commercial artist in Canada how effing hard it is to get an effing grant to tour your uniquely Canadian work outside the country? It is...as Jann Arden would say...shitballs.
So, I raised $40,000.00 (NO GRANTS) with the help of my husband and many supporters and got my show (this is TRULY SHORT FORMING BECAUSE THIS WAS SOME OF THE HARDEST WORK BUT I AM DOING MY BEST NOT TO BORE YOU...myself...or the others who have continued along...god bless you...) accepted to an Edinburgh Fringe venue in Scotland and to Joe’s Pub at the Public Theatre in New York City...where Leonard Cohen, Judy Collins and Pete Townsend have performed. I was the first Canadian cabaret artist to tour their show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the first Canadian cabaret artist to debut their show at Joe’s Pub....who wasn’t already living in NY or on Broadway. Yes, I know...very specific acolades...but I imagine that if I want to be on your show...I should be specific, Mr. Jian Ghomeshi.
And yes, I called the tour “Sharron Matthews Superstar: World Domination Tour 2010”...I figured one should go big or go home. And I did go big...the tour went very well...I got great revues....lots of attention and felt very pleased with the whole experience.
One reviewer in New York City named my show the “#1 Cabaret in New York City in 2010”...well, shit balls...and the good shit balls...not the shitty shit balls.
Another reviewer in Scotland simply proclaimed “How Fucking Good Are YOU?”...well, non shitty shit balls, again.
And who would I be to not try it again...so I went back to Scotland again last year, Mr. Jian Ghomeshi...and knocked that shit out of the park...better space, sold out crowds....top of the line reviews...the cover of “The Scotsman”...my articles got published...I got to do the awesome appearences...not the ones with the Kylie Minogue type stripper/performance artist...and then sold out my London debut at Leicester Square Theatre with no advertising. ( A couple of Scots dudes had a fist fight outside of my venue one night over the last two tickets...awesome true story)
If this sounds like bragging...maybe it is a bit...I wonder if I should apologize (We Canadians do NOT know how to toot our own horn...I get some flack about my promotion...but what is an independent artist to do to sell their shows? Whisper the info into people's ears...lord.) but I have come a great distance and I am thrilled.
And I am proud. I am (happily as hell) supported by many artists in this country...and other countries ...by many a ‘regular’ person...who have traveled to NY, Scotland and London to be a part of my debuts and opening nights...to see my journey through. And I am also extremely grateful.
This year, my tour is so huge...for a Canadian cabaret artist...for a gal from Hamilton...a musical theatre artist...a self producer...a girl who took tap dancing fron the ages of 4 to 12....are you getting all this?
Toronto, Scotland, London, New York City and South Africa...yes...a new cabaret festival in South Africa has invited me to come...and I am very excited...and, again, proud. And excited. As all hell....I am excited, Mr. Jian Ghomeshi. For an art form that is still struggling to live in Canada...our small community of creative and singular artists are starting to export their works all over the world. And we are doing it ourselves. The government and funding bodies thinks we are too commercial...they don’t understand what we do...”Can you please describe to me what you do again?”, said the lady on the phone from the Canada Council. Sigh.
And, in an effort to bring this shit full circle...I now live in Stratford, Ontario...and do you know who works here.?..that dude named Des...though I have never formally met him. (I see him at openings...and he walks by my house sometimes when I am putting out the garbage...Sometimes the effort to bring something full circle involves a great deal of reaching) I wonder what became of your musical...how you ended up on radio, (And let me mention here I am a avid listener of Q ) still in music and storytelling...and I ended up touring my shows all over the world...with music and storytelling.
Wouldn’t we have a wonderful time chatting?
Do you remember me, Mr. Jian Ghomeshi?
I am a Canadian artist, in a genre that is still growing out of infancy...a very precarious infancy...who has used that genre to move into bigger mediums like TV and film...it is a funny road...but you have had some my cabaret and comedy contemporaries on your wonderful show...artists like ‘Meow Meow’ from Australia (who I adore!)...Danny Bhoy was just on...he worked down the street from me last year in Scotland...why not this homegrown girl...I am doing my shows at Buddies in Bad Times (the WORLD’S largest queer theatre) on July 19th to the 22nd....and then on the 27th I am go international...it would be great to talk with you about this genre that I love...what do you say?