Armed with an arsenal of comical costumes, Mardi Wareham, the proprietor of “Singing Telegrams of Austin,” is spending her Valentine’s Day traveling all over the city to deliver personalized songs and messages to her clients.
Unlike the original telegram, these messages are a novelty reinvention in which people hire a human messenger to communicate to friends or family on their behalf. Boasting a repertoire of popular music standards and an incredibly versatile wardrobe, Wareham delivers everything from birthday wishes to apologies.
Valentine’s Day tends to be Wareham’s busiest day of the year, although Christmas and Mother’s Day are also popular times for telegram requests.
“[Valentine’s Day] is a very big day, I will be doing 10 or 12 [telegrams]. So far I have nine booked,” Wareham said. “A lot of people will think of it because they can’t be [with the intended recipient].”
Despite her innate talent in performing, however, Wareham was first a freelance writer for various daily newspapers. With a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Carleton University in Ottawa, Wareham spent a number of years in pursuit of a writing career before deciding that reporting was not her passion. Music, on the other hand, provided a break from the norm.
Considering Wareham’s vibrato-enriched voice and her rather confident composure while performing, it’s hard to believe that she only started singing in her mid-thirties.
“I started off singing in choirs, but I don’t have any background in music,” Wareham said.“I was not brought up in a musical household at all. My parents were not performers. My siblings and I, we’re all Canadian, so there’s a little bit of British reserve.”
With a couple of years’ experience in singing under her belt, Wareham moved from her home in Vancouver, British Columbia to Austin. The city’s musical ambience fostered her already sparked interest in the telegram business, and she soon befriended Abby Green, the previous owner of Singing Telegrams of Austin. Over time, Green found it increasingly difficult to manage the business on her own.
“I went on tour the year that [Wareham] bought it and I contacted her to see if she wanted to deliver the telegrams and be a contractor for the company. Eventually, with all of her ideas, I told her that she really needed to buy the company,” Green said.
Since becoming the owner of the company, Wareham has accrued a number of new costumes and instruments that she uses to deliver messages. Although her first couple of telegrams did not go as smoothly as she might have hoped, Wareham claimed that confidence came with practice, as well as her costumes.
“When you show up in a gorilla suit … that really helps,” Wareham said. “As a performer, when I put on a costume, I feel the confidence to become that character.”
On the side, Wareham also teaches ukulele, performs for private groups and entertains senior citizens.
Terri Ettner, an activities coordinator at Wyoming Springs Assisted Living & Memory Care in Round Rock, wrote in an email that [Wareham] has been an outstanding entertainer at the home. After singing and leading a number of Valentine’s Day-themed activities on Tuesday, Wareham left a notable impression on both Ettner and many of the Wyoming Springs residents.
“I was highly impressed with her energy from the first conversation,” Ettner wrote. “She came with ukulele in hand … and is a great asset to our life enrichment program.”
For now, telegrams continue to be Wareham’s primary focus and interest. Special occasions like Valentine’s Day make work for her particularly gratifying.
“I really consider it a privilege and an honor to be performing telegrams, because what I am is a conduit for peoples’ love for one another,” Wareham said. “I’m just the person in the middle.”
Printed on Thursday, February 14, 2013 as: Cupid sends his love through woman of song