Becoming a female comedian without fear

I was in our Diva Flat in Leith when it happened. My fiance’s name flashed onto my phone. I’d just left him on a bus travelling to the airport back to Brum so I presumed he’d forgotten something insignificant, like his plane ticket. His opening sentence was:

‘Your review’s up’….

‘Is it bad?’

‘Have a read’

‘You’ve not raced back with a bottle of wine so it can’t be that bad’

My Diva team are über efficient and hit their mobile internet at the merest whiff of anything Diva-ey,  so before I’d hung up Diva PA Davina had googled Broadway Baby and was shreeking ‘do you want me to read it for you, do you want me to read it for you?’ as if I had any choice in the matter….

Sarah-Ann Cromwell, a Birmingham lass who has discovered that ‘you don’t have to be posh to sing opera’, chats and sings up a storm in Diva Gigs. Charting her opera journey, which has taken her around the UK and Europe, Cromwell summons several colourful characters to tell her story, including a disdainful opera coach and Rhydian, of X Factor fame. With the help of a skillful pianist [Ana-Maria Andritoiu] who isn’t afraid to join in the fun, Cromwell blasts out the numbers that have shaped her career, accompanied by hilarious explanations of the operatic story-lines, with the disclaimer ‘it sounds much more romantic in Italian’.

Cromwell breaks free from the yoke under which many female comedians find themselves – the idea that women can only be funny if they are making jokes about being women…

REWIND<<<<<<<< excuse me…

Cromwell breaks free from the yoke under which many female comedians

…..hang on…female what…shit it says I’m a what….?…PANIC ATTACK!

I’ve been quite clear about the ol’ comedienne title…I have long ago accepted that between me and my sister, she is the quick-witted, sarcastic one who has verbally sparred with many a pub pollock. In a stand up heckle situation she would trash them…I would die a stomach turning, headache invoking, nightmare terrors inducing death….and now the words Cromwell and female comedian have just been scribed in the same sentence and committed to print……farrrrrrrrkkkkk.

My fear was this: does this give people permission to descend upon Diva Gigs and heckle throughout the entire performance? Are people going to expect a 50 minute show of gags and be mightily confused when I actually ‘do’ sing opera? Added to that is the knowledge that I’m at the world’s largest arts festival surrounded by extraordinarily brilliant comedians and writers (some of which I have had the privilege of chatting with), whose craft I respect and admire. Putting myself into the same category feels…well, like someone reliably and proudly informing me that their 16 year old daughter is “an opera singer just like you” which is bloody remarkable as she managed to achieve this status without committing 10 years worth of continuing hard graft, technical study, coaching and lessons…why did I bother?

For 2 days the review was a blessing and curse which lifted me and dragged me down in equal measures. I came to the Fringe to help define Diva Gigs as a brand and as a concept and I now felt more out of control, confused and scared than before I landed in Edinburgh…

Yesterday I attended the TO&ST in the Afternoon session at Fringe Central. I wasn’t exactly sure what it was, only that it was about cabaret, and as that’s what I now do I ought to give it a twirl. On the panel was Ben Walters, Phil Kay, David Bates and Lady Rizo. These people are passionate about cabaret, and having spent my entire life listening to people talk opera stories, roles, conductors, editions, interpretations, harmonic progressions, technique, bel canto, modulations, linguistics, translations, coaches, teachers and directors, it was fascinating to listen to 4 highly accomplished and established, industry experts talk with passion and absolute freedom about ANOTHER ART FORM. Engrossed and inspired the terrifying haze of confusion began to evaporate:

Phil: Cabaret is a one off undefined act

Lady Rizo: A cultured chaos

David: where the audience are invited to be part of the act without being the star


Lady Rizo: I am a female comedian cabaret superstar. I do not do stand up, a driven, linear attack style of comedy where you win or lose…

Davis: where everything is about getting the laugh…

Phil: where the intricate art of humour cannot be drawn out and explored (his hand movement reminds of my Sister when she is waterpainting)

Lady Rizo: When I say I’m a comedian and people say “tell me a joke then” I say “if you F**king pay me I’ll tell you a joke”

The Brits have a strongly defined idea of ‘cabaret’ (tits and tassels) and ‘comedy’ (stand up). In reality saying ‘I am a comedian’, is the same as saying ‘I am a musician’, only the question is usually: What do you play? Yet nobody asks: What kind of comedy?

Ben advised me that Diva Gigs is a grass-roots production and I should think carefully before I withdraw my associations from any specific genre. It was a thought-provoking point:

graphThe online definition of a comedian is: A person who amuses or tries to amuse…and the main point of Diva Gigs is to remind people that Opera can be funny! Therefore by definition, I am a female comedienne…no, I am a comedian….Diva Gigs is Britain’s first award-winning comedy operatic cabaret…..Ben told me to be careful about saying that too…but I’ve googled the heck out of it and so far I’m the only one coming up with awards…sorry Ben, I’m green….I’ll die of shame later….when I’ve figure out another way to hook people into Diva Gigs at the Ed fringe x

Full review:


About Sarah-Ann Cromwell

"My name is Sarah-Ann Cromwell Britain's 1st Award Winning Operatic Comedian, 1st Female Singer (in 30 years) of Internationally touring Cantabile -The London Quartet and Awesome Facilitator (unlocking your awesome)! 4 star reviews from the Edinburgh Fringe, WINNER of Buxton Festival Fringe 'Spirit of the Fringe Award', WINNER of February's Cheese 'n' Crackers and Ice breaking, leadership role modelling and confidence coach for the Private and Public sector. Call me 'Diva'!"

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