From politics to the stage


Ericka Barrett Greenham
Monday, November 29, 2004
Sheila Copps in Steel Magnolias
Sheila Copps (BA'74) has found joy again. Not in the Canadian political arena that has been her home for more than 20 years but this time on the stage.

In October, Copps played the character of Clairee Belcher in a dinner theatre production of Steel Magnolias at the Howard Johnson Confederation Place Hotel in Kingston, Ont. Before rehearsals for the play began, she had not performed live theatre since high school when she completed Grade 10 drama at the Hamilton Conservatory for the Arts. "I'm loving it. We're having a ball. The cast is so much fun. It's all women and all of the characters are strong in their own way," said Copps before she headed to a rehearsal in Toronto.

The atmosphere surrounding Copps' new endeavor is in deep contrast to the final months of her political career. "It's so positive. The last year that I was in the federal house was pretty negative. There was no karma. It was dread as opposed to joy. And this is joy. I get up in the morning and I'm just dying to tackle that script."

Copps admits to feeling more panicky than joyful when first approached by the show's producers. Reading the script, however, she saw "all these sweet little convergences" between Clairee's life and her own. "Clairee is older than I am but she is the wife of the former mayor who had a coliseum named after him, if you can believe it," said Copps, whose family name adorns the sports arena in Hamilton. The Copps Coliseum honours her father, Victor, one of the most influential mayors in the city's history.

Other personal links include the resemblence between the names of Copps' daughter, Danelle, and a young woman in the play, Annelle. Then there is the fact that Copps grew up running around the radio station where her father was an announcer before he entered politics, and attending Tiger Cat games where he did the play-by-play. Clairee loves football. She also buys the radio station in town because her husband has died and she's at loose ends. "With so many threads of interconnection between the character and myself, I thought 'I can do this.' If someone had called me up to do Shakespeare I'm not sure that would have been my first foray into theatre. I just would have been too nervous."

Copps, who earned an honours Arts degree in English and French (King's College) in 1974 sees a lot of parallels between university and acting. "Acting again has made me realize how much I love learning. When you're in the treadmill of politics, you do learn but you don't really have time to reflect. In acting it's much more introspective and reflective. It's a lot of what university is - finding yourself, finding others. Your world is small because it's the world of the campus but it's a world of discovery."

In addition to acting, Copps has also returned to her journalistic roots. After completing her degree at Western she wrote for the Ottawa Citizen and the Hamilton Spectator before entering politics. Today, she writes a weekly political column for the National Post and is promoting her recently released book, Worth Fighting For. "It's a book from the soul. I think it's uplifting. It certainly provides insight into politics, government and life experiences especially as a woman. Being a woman in a man's world really does shine out in the book."

Despite all of the plot twists of the last year, Copps is smiling. "It's sort of ironic. I think life sometimes has a way of looking after you, especially when you least expect it."















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