The Canadian Art Database


The Winnipeg Effect: Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

The Winnipeg Art Gallery, November 3-5, 2016




Doug Melnyk: The Revival of the Sleeping Beauty Cabaret

I was so excited when Bill Kirby and Kegan McFadden invited me to organize a revival of the Sleeping Beauty Cabaret. Kegan later commented that this came about because I had raved and bragged to him about the cabaret ever since I first met him.

And my excitement just increased when I began contacting the Sleeping Beauties one by one. I felt like Santa Claus. It was such good news. Everybody wanted so badly for it to happen.

Here I have to begin to thank people for their help, and never stop with the thanks. In collecting some kind of history of the Cabaret, Martine Friesen was so helpful, and Maggie Nagle, and especially Ellen Peterson, who will be mc at the revival. And Sharon Bajer threw herself into the task of organizing a dazzling line up of performers for the revival.

I found out from Ellen that the first year of the Sleeping Beauty Cabaret was also the first year of the Winnipeg Fringe Festival, 1988. It seems that the organizers of the Fringe phoned Maggie and virtually begged her to put together a show because the festival was looking so empty and so lame.

They said to Maggie, "You know actors and singers and musicians. Can't you do something?"

Maggie went to the library and got out a pile of books on the history of cabaret, and had a meeting with Ellen and Martine Friesen. Everything grew from that meeting.

The performers the first year were Maggie Nagle, Ellen Peterson, Martine Friesen, Monica Dufault, Judy Cook, and Donna Lewis.

Ellen wrote: "Donna was in the first one. We all wore fishnet stockings but she wore fish nets and dressed as a mermaid and ate a can of sardines while the song "Popcorn" played."

The other thing about the Fringe then was that they didn't spread the scheduling around. So the slot they offered us was midnight every night. Also that first year Maggie Nagle (my own personal superhero) got a liquor licence for our venue. The Fringe never allowed it again, but it was a great draw for us as the beer tent closed at 11 in those days. We would go to the Leland in our fishnet stockings and buy, I don't know, six cases of beer? And then carry them past the beer tent around 10:45 and pass out hand bills. Now that's good marketing!

It was also Maggie Nagle who insisted brilliantly, that we end by singing together. The first year we sang, "The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music.". I'm pretty sure for no discernible reason, but it was perfect.

The Cabaret returned very summer for about ten years, and I saw many astonishing and unforgettable acts.

Debbie Patterson as the Topless Accordion Player.
Judy Cook actually doing a tap dance in a kitchen sink.
Jan Skene as "Screaming Mama Skene".
Shawna Dempsey in "We're Talking Vulva"
Maggie Nagle as Wilma Frechette with her degree from the University of Polo Park.
Ellen Peterson as the love child of Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson, Ellen Fitzgerald Peterson, playing a jazz solo, using a unicycle as a musical instrument.
Martine Friesen's Master of Ceremonies who was a nazi–styled s m dominatrix.

The Cabaret generally had a theme, and themes included "The Inner Beauty Cabaret", "The Self Help Cabaret", "The Cabaret of Forgotten Sisters".

The Forgotten Sisters Cabaret showcased Sharon Bajer in her gorgeous and eerie musical portrayal of Speck, the Forgotten Sister of Spock from Star Trek.

The Forgotten Sisters also presented Donna Lewis in her comic monologue about Johnny Cash's forgotten sister, Petty Cash.

I can't forget Donna Lewis's portrayal of the thrilling Madame Oublier, who did typing with her feet on a giant typewriter.

I always knew I could never really be one of the Sleeping Beauties, but with the typical generosity and imagination of Donna Lewis, I was able to join one onstage.

I'll end with a video of Donna and me, and a tender memory of hilarious Donna Lewis.