The place: Tango Palace Coffee Company on Queen East. The people: comedian Sandra Shamas and actor Rod Beattie. The subject: getting a laugh, getting out of town and getting real
Sandra Shamas and Rod Beattie have a lot in common, most notably an all-out love of small-town living. The solo performers spend as little time in Toronto as possible, preferring their pastoral retreats: a farm an hour northwest of the city for her, a home in Stratford for him. Far from being a Green Acres–style urbanite, Shamas has taken to rural existence like a horse to hay—these days, she logs more hours picking up after chickens than jotting down jokes. This month, she’s putting on her first new show in nine years, Wit’s End III: Love Life, a continuation of the blockbuster series chronicling her adjustments to country life, her maturing body and just about anything else she wants to talk about. Beattie is also returning to familiar territory with Wingfield Lost and Found, the seventh instalment in Dan Needles’ popular cycle of plays. The actor has been playing Walt Wingfield—an uptight stockbroker who ditches Bay Street to become a farmer—for the better part of three decades (that’s 4,000 performances across Canada, give or take). We introduced the seasoned jesters, bought them a couple of coffees and listened in.
RB: I can drive 10 minutes from my house in Stratford and be in an orthodox Mennonite community where life is going on pretty well as it did 200 years ago. Being outside of the city gives you tremendous perspective.
SS: In the city, you know a lot about your world and nothing about your neighbour. I need to know my neighbours. The sexist, homophobic white supremacist down the road—I have to get along with him because he has a snowplow. Out in the country, you find similarities, not differences.
I have great audiences full of amazing women—their energy just comes arching up to me onstage. If there’s a guy in the audience on a Wednesday night, it’s like, “Holy shit, sir, what are you doing here?” But I’m happy to have the testosterone.
RB: Thinking you’re funny is death onstage. I aim for honesty. It produces a spark of recognition, which is what allows for humour. For a moment it makes us realize we’re not alone in this world.
SS: Early on in my career, I did shows with other performers. It was very dissatisfying. I need to be able to say the whole thing in my own way. That’s one of the reasons I don’t take corporate sponsorship: so I can say fuck whenever I want to.
RB: I’ve had the opposite experience. The thing I’ve always loved about acting is the other people. For my first 10 years at the Stratford Festival, I shared a dressing room with a bunch of men. When I finally earned my own dressing room, I realized, “This is shit. I want to be back with the guys.”
Wingfield Lost and Found
Jan. 12 to 30, Panasonic Theatre
Wit’s End III: Love Life
Feb. 16 to Mar. 13, Winter Garden Theatre