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Origin Stories: Finding her voice anew

"When people hear my accent and ask me whether I'm planning to stay in Toronto, I smile, then show them my ankle, where I now have a tattoo of the CN Tower."

Marsha Shandur near her Toronto home.

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Marsha Shandur near her Toronto home.

As I stood at the bar with three people from my improv class, I suddenly had an idea.

Trying not to smirk, I arranged my face to look full of disdain, and said, “Not again! EVERYONE in this bar is checking me out. This ALWAYS happens, it’s SO annoying.”

Deadpanning that I love myself was one of my favourite jokes! I waited for them to fall about laughing.

Instead, silence. The three of them shot uncomfortable looks at each other.

Oh, I thought. I guess I’m not funny in Canada.

A difference in sense of humour was one of the things I wasn’t expecting when I decided to move from London, UK to Toronto in 2011.

Another was how hard it was.

Making new friends in your thirties — when you’re not at school or out on the lash every night — isn’t easy. I took improv, but didn’t click with anyone outside of class.

I couldn’t meet people at work — because I didn’t have a job. In the UK, my career looked wildly successful. I was a radio DJ and a music supervisor for hit TV shows.

Deep down, I knew that I wanted to do something different, but I didn’t know what. Switching careers as I was switching continents seemed like a natural break — I would figure this out in Canada!

I hadn’t anticipated that, while everything else is changing, throwing a giant identity crisis into the mix wasn’t the smartest idea.

Feeling lost, lonely and with no idea where my life was going hit me hard. For the first time ever, I felt suicidal.

I knew I needed help. So I found a therapist.

I also started forcing myself to leave the house and go to events. Through my improv classmates, I learned about a live storytelling show.

Chatting afterwards to the host, Erin Rodgers, I confessed that I wanted to start my own night. She explained, “There’s a huge storytelling scene in Toronto, and we’d welcome you. Do it!”

A month later, I sat in The Common cafe with the five people I’d asked to speak and an audience of three. We all loved the show. So I put on another, and another.

Soon, others in the Toronto storytelling scene started showing up, plugging my show, and asking me to perform. Everyone was accepting and encouraging. Within a year, True Stories Toronto had moved to The Garrison. Each month, 150-200 people were — and are still! — showing up.

Still in career crisis, I made friends with some local entrepreneurs. They told me, “You know how you coach the storytellers every week for your show? You could do that for money.”

I’d never heard of coaching before. In the UK, people are even skeptical of therapy!

I launched my business, Yes Yes Marsha, and started getting clients.

Now, my full-time job is helping people tell true stories on stage or online, doing talks about the power of storytelling and running workshops for companies. I can’t believe I get to make a living from helping people connect and build trust using personal stories. It’s SO FUN!

Meanwhile, I fell madly in love with Toronto.

I discovered how many incredible live events the city has, like Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids, High Stakes Storytelling, Trampoline Hall, and PressGang.

I bike everywhere. In London, I was far too scared to do that!

I love how close by nature is. In an hour, you can be in the countryside, or just bike for 10 minutes and find yourself deep in the woods of High Park.

When people hear my accent and ask me whether I’m planning to stay in Toronto, I smile, then show them my ankle, where I now have a tattoo of the CN Tower.

I’m home.

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