The Lady is a Ham

By Mike Matthews

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“If I can teach one more person in the world to be as selfish as I am, I will not have lived in vain.” That’s Sharron Bertchilde speaking in Nanaimo, where she is making another life, another persona for herself; another in a long line of lives. She’s been a student, a teacher, an administrator, an athlete, a wife, a mother, a grandmother and, as an actor, many versions of wife, mother and grandmother. In some of these roles, she will surely raise eyebrows, but there has been little real selfishness in any of them.

The different selves of Sharron got their start in Kenora, Ontario, where she was born into what she describes simply as “a railroad family” and where she attended many different schools, dropping out before the end of Grade 12. She graduated from high school in Winnipeg, by means of adult education, and became an educator herself, first as a teacher with a degree from the University of Winnipeg. She employed her “strong instinct for ham acting,” using drama as a teaching tool in Winnipeg schools and in adult education programs.

When Sharron achieved a master’s degree in Public Affairs from the University of Manitoba, she ventured west and took administrative posts at Malaspina College, now Vancouver Island University. Husband and tennis partner Harvey Jenkins found employment at the same institution. Harvey is now nearing retirement and, like Sharron, is moving into a life in the arts, writing poetry, particularly haikus, and winning competitions with his verses.

The “meetings, meetings, bloody meetings” of administrative life eventually palled on Sharron, and she resolved “to do something interesting while I was still able to.” She retired at age 60 and made her way to Nanaimo’s Red Room studio, where actor training from Jackie Casey and Andrew McIlroy prepared her for work in Vancouver’s burgeoning film and television industry. Her first professional job, she recalls, was as a grandma in a Mattel Toys commercial, about five years before she became a grandma in real life.

But it is the stage that has brought Sharron the greatest pleasure; the electric thrill of immediate direct connection with audiences. Local audiences have enjoyed her work in performances for the Nanaimo Theatre Group and in the summer theatre, Bard to Broadway, in Qualicum Beach.

Now, cheerfully doing things backwards, she attends classes at the university where she once worked at the administrative level, studying second-year acting in VIU’s Theatre Program. Fellow students, decades younger, appreciate Sharron’s energy and talent. “Sharron rocks, she f***in’ rocks!” declared a classmate, amazed at Sharron’s performance as Naomi, the title character in Christopher Durang’s *Naomi in the Living Room*. Sharron’s mimed demonstration, centre-stage on a sofa, of the joys of orgasm may very likely have been the bit of stage business that brought out that gasp of admiration.

Sharron shrugs off any suggestion that people her age should be cautious about presenting themselves for public view in the wildest sort of behaviour.

“In for a dime, in for a dollar,” she shrugs.

This April, she performed again on the VIU stage in Eve Ensler’s multi-voice *Vagina Monologues*, in which she has performed various roles over the years.

In her acting class, she performed a scene from Harold Pinter’s *The Birthday Party*. One of Pinter's early dramas, this play offered Sharron the role of Meg, a “succulent old washbag” all too ready to have some jolly fun, regardless of circumstances.

The circumstances in the play are sinister. That never fazes Sharron. She will scream, she will laugh hysterically, she will bounce in any direction called for. It’s the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd, and another new Sharron trotting out to greet her audience.



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Showing 1 to 2 of 2 comments.

Hi Sharon, I am a drama teacher at NDSS nd very much enjoyed reading about your ventures n acting. From Dr. Seuss, "you have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own and you know what you know. And (it's you) who'll decide where to go." Break a leg, kiddo!

Posted by Martha Parker | January 19, 2013 Report Violation

Wonderful! A true inspiration. I wish you lived in the Fraser valley I'd try to talk you into acting in one of my plays. Thank you for your story!

Posted by Gord E. Sutherland | July 13, 2010 Report Violation

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