How I became Britain’s 1st Award Winning Operatic Comedian

On the 3rd January 2013 I was an Operatic Soprano employed to perform Pitti Sing and undertake the role of production manager as part of a touring Mikado. The cast were fabulous and funny, the venues interesting and challenging (ever tried to inhale a deep breath of Cow Methane before singing a long phrase…’s something of a challenge) and it culminated in a packed out performance at Colston Hall, Bristol (with full orchestra and 300 strong Gurt Lush choir chorus…I grinned Colston hallfrom ear to ear).In parallel I still had to audition for more work. (Name another job where you are required to re-interview every 3 months!) I was bored with being nameless, faceless Soprano No.#99 of the 200 other Sopranos auditioning for one operatic role and utterly disheartened that despite going through a sole destroying audition (honestly some panels are just vile), weeks worth of brilliant and mind expanding rehearsals (one of the things I truly love about my job) and the final performance (where critics either: ignore you, love you or tear every ounce of your efforts apart, safe in the knowledge that their pay cheque will still come in at the end of the month), I was worrying profusely about how the hell I would pay my mortgage (the average rate for an Opera singer in 2012 was £60 per performance, including all travel and food and £0 for rehearsals…and that’s being generous). And so on the 3rd January 2013 I decided to bite the bullet and take my one woman (plus accompanist) Operatic recital: Diva Gigs: A week in the Life of a Diva, DIVA FLYER FRONTto the Edinburgh Fringe. In honesty it was my last attempt to get the Operatic World to notice me without becoming target practice for yet another sadistic audition panel, and if all the doors closed…well, I’d hang up my sparkly frock.


 I learned and undertook all the jobs required of a touring company: marketing, fundraising, planning and production. Tackling the work of 4 people whilst attempting to perform and rehearse (and continuing to teach, coach and lecture) was killing me until I was saved by: Graduate Advantage who managed to source the Diva intern: Helen Ross (on the left)20130802-100946-AM.jpg

I learned that Graduate interns are immensely energized, motivated and focused members of British society. Their grey matter is highly stimulated by learning and they absorb information like Upsalite. They are social media natives, risk takers and idea makers who can function on far less hours sleep than your average 30 year old. I consider them to be the most under-used asset of our present work force and I am honored to have had one on my Diva Team.

I was introduced to the concept of Crowd Funding: ‘the practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people’. Using Kick starter I filmed, edited and produced a video (which takes many more hours than one would think) and created a Kick Starter Project that, thanks to family, friends, friends of friends, a loyal audience and a little social networking magic, smashed my financial goal  by 234% and raised 10% of the funds needed to send Diva Gigs to the Edinburgh Fringe. See campaign:

My team grew from 3 (me, Ana-Maria & Helen) to 4 when my cousin Dav volunteered to become my much needed PA. This is her getting me out of my Marketing cock-up:

By June I had upgraded from Opera Singer to Diva Gigs touring company….not bad for 6 months hard graft. Edinburgh went by in a whirl. Helen and Dav flyered and networked like demons, spending up to 4 hours a day on the mile (and taking on any companies that DIDN’t do their jobs properly)

The whole team watched performances and talked to other artists, touring companies, comedians, producers, agents, journalist, bar owners, bar staff and booking office crew. We spent so much time in our Diva T-shirts and Hoodies that if we whistled for them they would have bounded towards us. I went out there with a ‘revolutionary operatic cabaret’ and the knowledge that this may be the end of my career…but thanks to a superb team of woman, enormous amounts of work, overwhelming support from people of the Midlands, Birmingham Mail and the Express and Star, and the advice of journalists, reviewers and artists in Edinburgh, I came back Britains 1st Award Winning Operatic Comedian.ludlowfringedivaflyerfront


 Well…. Diva has been invited to take part in Battersea Barge’s ‘Cheese ‘n’ Crackers’ in February 2014, she has secured a date at the Midland Art Centre in April, she is writing a new Diva Gig for Ingestre


and she has accepted an invitation to perform at Ludlow Festival in June. She has been asked by several Birmingham non-classical artists about a mashup and she has been requested to contact a handful of agents….so lets see…

And as for Sarah-Ann? I have recently bought a new frock, safe in the knowledge that if I do have babies, the comedic operatic cabaret world will happily wait for me and welcome me back! I continue to coach students and adults and thanks to my work with other consultants delivering emerging leadership programs and change management projects, I have learned how Diva performing skills can be adopted by businesses in order to create successful and efficient leaders and teams. And so on the 3rd January 2014 I have decided to go-it-alone! What’s stopping me from adding Independant Awesome Facilitator, Ice Breaker and Confidence Coach to my list of achievements?….answer….NOTHING! HAPPY 2014 Diva!!!!!!!Balloonphotoshopped2


Consequences of a crap work/life/diva balance

I am suffering from a poor diva/work/life balance. After finishing the Edinburgh Fringe, followed by a Dido and Aeneus with Opera Ingestre, followed by a holiday (in which I got super ill and ended up on a drip….don’t give me sympathy if I choose to work to the very end of my adrenals what do I expect from my body!) and concluded by taking the entire of September off (nothing like a sick note from the doctor to convince a workaholic to ‘freakin’ STOP’). I re-commenced in October with 4 star Ed Fringe reviews, verbal endorsements of my portrayal of Dido (which I didn’t record…idiot) and a massive hole in my credit  card and overdraft.  I should be diving into my Edinburgh box of contacts but I have a debt pressure to semi alleviate before I can even think about touring. Luckily, it turns out, I’m in demand as a Performance Coach and Corporate Ice Breaker! I say this as my coaching hours in Schools, University and with organisations have tripled. Nice! I thought 6 month out Diva-ing would see me joining the nearest Pub  (as if I could compete for a job against all the young, aspirational graduates who can survive on minimal hours sleep and still be cheery, efficient and gorgeous throughout their pub shift), so this flux of work has been a relief. Not only is it helping to chip into my Edinburgh Fringe debt mountain but I am captivated by the dedication of every one of my students/deligates! From students, NHS Staff and Bankers singing Classical-Music Theatre to Pop ballads, they plunge themselves out of their comfort zones and into the is enormously rewarding for me….and that’s where the whole diva/work/life balance thing goes a bit awry….I find it impossible to walk away from an enthusiastic work force. Unfortunately for me, there are consequences to this, because I say ‘yes’ to everybody and squeeze them into every available blank spot in my diary…including my rehearsal, creative, practice, rest slots…..and it’s not long before the body I have carefully looked after starts taking some serious abuse:

Former daily Diva routine:

7:00 wake up, drink a pint of water

8:00 Siren, steam, stretch, continue to sip water, eat breakfast of eggs and brown rice

9:00 – 19:00 6 meals a day, high in protein, complex carbs, my bodies weight in greens, raw veg and fresh fruit, snacking on sprouts, nuts and seeds, peppermint tea, gluten free cake (come on cake’s CAKE) warmp up, cool down, rest voice, walk, cycle, gym, study, read, revise, teach a bit, tweet, facebook, lesson plan, coach plan, read the newspaper.

Present not-so-Diva routine:

7:00 wake up neck a soya latte (tastes amazing but gives me the shakes..who cares I AM AWAKE). Make packed lunch which may consist of the curry I ate at 22:00 the night before, a piece of fruit and microwavable white rice (IT’S QUICK)

8:00 Drive/bus/train to place of teaching/coaching. Continue to sip coffee

9:00 Teach completely wired, talk constantly, laugh, joke, praise, wave hands round a lot, play piano too heavily, demonstrate classical/pop/theatre singing without warming up or drinking any water.

10:00 Almighty tired slump, start thinking about chocolate

11:00 Purchase high sugar gluten free item (there aren’t many and they are all lacking in nutritional value)

12:00 Eat last nights curry, head for coffee machine continue in this manner until 19:00

19:00 KNACKERED! Start talking at my live in lover and to myself (feel agitated and a bit ranty) go to the pub to relax.

20:00 Wind down with one or two large wines or Greygoose and Tonics. Snack on wasabi peas/crips/quavers.

21:00 Pub food arrives (it’s not going to be a salad) take some home for tomorrow’s lunch

22:00 Go home, neck some ibroprofin to stop wrist from burning, watch Newsroom or Scandal.

23:00 Go to bed. Lie awake, knackered but, for some reason, unable to sleep, check Facebook, twitter, on line news in the dark.

01:00 Continue to lie awake.Get up with a humph (annoying partner in process) watch TV.

02:00 Go back to bed, plug ears into iplayer radio play.

7:00  Start again feeling knackered…reach for the coffee

8 weeks later and (like the rest of the hard working population) I have a cold and worse: I.HAVE.LOST.MY.VOICE. I hasten to add this is not an overnight phenomena. It begins with vocal clearing (otherwise known as coughing) because a thick, unshiftable phlegm is squatting in my throat (that’ll be the coffee and lack of water).  First thing in the morning I wake with a burning throat, as though somebody has taken a kitchen blow torch and kindly caramelized the back of my Pharynx  (late night eating=acid reflux). Then comes the throat ache. I’m a trained vocalist, I know exactly how to get my vocal folds to meet and produce speech so the huskiness alarm warning doesn’t come into effect until it is too late. I have by-passed the warning signs and hit critical. I’m half way through delivering training session 2 and my voice fatigues. It’s a bit like the day after a grueling workout when walking up the stairs feels like hard core trekking. The muscles in my throat don’t want to work any more they want to be left alone….I know at this point that I’m in trouble…I’ve really buggered voice. And sure enough I wake up the next day with golf balls in my throat and zero possibility of producing a siren. This week I can’t sing, I can’t teach, I can’t lecture, I can’t coach, I can’t earn……and I have nobody to blame other than myself…Let the week of

  1. Silence
  2. Steaming (nothing posh: half a cup of boiling water + inhale = temporary relief)
  3. Never eating after 6:00
  4. Sleeping
  5. No fat, dairy, caffeine or alcohol
  6. Copious amounts of vitamin C


Diva bereaves the Edinburgh Fringe

I’m recovering from a love/hate relationship of the best and worst kind. You will all have one in your life time that, despite the warnings from your friends, draws you in. That highly intoxicating poor choice of a partner who offers all consuming excitement and drama. For me, the relationship was bad and good in equal measures. She was a time thief and made hours feel like seconds and minutes like years. She intrigued me and mentally challenged me and was irritatingly capable of switching my emotions from delight to outrage in a single breath. She was unquestionably, simultaneously sexy and repulsive and insisted on introducing me to people I never thought I’d meet and at times truly wished I hadn’t. Dangerously, she made every part of my life fade into grey insignificance, I didn’t see my friends, my family or my partner and it was only exhaustion and a new job offer that enabled me to drag myself away, her mark forever stamped for prosperity all over my credit card bill and my over draft. At first, once I’d left, I didn’t miss her. I reveled in the routine of life, structure, sleep and certainty….but then I heard she’d gone, disappeared….consigned to memory, leaving nothing but an on-line legacy and stories to be retold in pubs for decades to come. Very quickly things seemed dull, boring and predictable. Having consumed me for so long, dominating all my thoughts I was now bereft, consigned to the normality of teaching, mortgages and car break downs and I realised I was hooked, addicted even. This is why people can’t give up the liason, despite the danger of losing a social life and money….a passion for an engagement which can create relationships as quickly as it can destroy them, a roller coaster of endorphin releasing escapism. I’m trying not to go back….but my resolve is weakening….

Ms Edinburgh Fringe, you exciting little bitch……I miss you.

Best audience yet!

Guest blogger: Helen Ross – Social Media and Marketing Diva

Hello from #divagigs at Surgeons Hall outdoor bar!

Tonight was our 8th performance (sleep depravation made that a very hard calculation!) here at #edfringe and we have just had our best audience yet! So thank you to everyone that came and made our night brilliant! We, #divagigs couldn’t do it without you!

Lots of love, #divagigs

Diva Day Off: Being a civillian!

The meaning Diva is a ‘High maintenance women’ but the simple truth is: I’m an opera singer, my body is my instrument, if I knacker it I’m out of work. This usually means:

No caffeine: It’s dehydrating, increases speaking speed, makes you cough A  LOT and creates phlem = loss of voice

No sugar:  Instant high followed by an instant energy crash, tiredness compromises technique = loss of voice

No wheat: Bloating and tummy ache: diaphragm hits stomach: acid rises and coats vocal folds = loss of voice

No Alcohol: dehydrating, makes you cough, speak too much and too loudly = loss of voice

Fatty foods: Chip, Pastry, creamy, anything fried, acid reflux coats vocal folds = loss of voice

Yesterday I had my first proper day off….since January….I decided to be a NORMAL PERSON FOR THE DAY! It was brilliant!

I drove to Portabello with Davina my Diva PA. Edinburgh people don’t seem to like Portobello but I bloody loved it. It’s like Blackpool only cleaner and without the stag dos!  We had chips, covered in ketchup in a COB whilst walking along the sea front.  We ate full fat dairy chocolate ice cream whilst dangling our feet off the sea front wall. We went to the FUN PARK (an oxymoron) it was dark, smelt of old  chip fat and housed half filled, broken and stiff coin pushers (you know like the ap you can get on your phone…only…real!)….which kept paying out

and we used our winnings (a whole £2) to play the old fashioned shooty game, ie not a fancy computerised 3D thing but creaky puppets, wheelies and levers that (surprisingly) still spray you with water when you hit the bulls eye.

In the evening I watched an Opera and ate a massive pie from the The Pie Shop and then at 11:00pm filled with sugar, pastry and wheat I passed out… was a great day…my voice’ll pay for it tomorrow….blurgh…Diva x

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:

And on the ninth day…

… #edfringe created naps. After 2 days off which only seems like 2 hours the Divas are feeling refreshed! Really? Who are we kidding?! We are massively tired but we are loving every minute of our first #edfringe

Guest blogger: Helen Ross – Social Media and Marketing Diva