Story by LISA ANDERSON
People think, ‘Oh, theater is fun, and it’s fluff.’ No! It’s not! It’s hard work.— Janet Shelley
Teaching isn’t always easy. “We have these days where you think, ‘Oh my gosh, why am I doing this? This so difficult.’ But I’ll tell you what, there are so many awesome moments that you don’t even think about. Like, you don’t even know how you’re reaching kids, until, sometimes, years later,” Janet muses.
“They had a surprise for me at our International Thespian Society ceremony. I was blown away. It was all of these kids that had graduated. They did Shakespearean soliloquies—little bits and pieces of Shakespeare that they edited together. They did a book for me, [too], Things that Janet Shelley Taught Me. Some of the things are hysterical,” she laughs heartily.
THE LEGACY OF THEATER
The graduates of Janet’s theater program have a multitude of jobs and careers. While some pursued theater, others chose different paths, but in the book they gave to Janet, they all talk about what theater did for them. “Like, how they have more faith in their ability to communicate, or they learned how to problem-solve. They learned how to be a part of a team. That’s what I love,” she says with fervor. “It’s not necessarily that they’re making a million bucks, but that they have used what they learned in a theater classroom in a variety of jobs and careers. And that’s what people need to know.
“People think, ‘Oh, theater is fun, and it’s fluff.’ No! It’s not! It’s hard work. It can be really stressful! You should see some of these kids, sometimes. They are in it, and they put their whole heart and soul into it. And then, when it’s over, they say, ‘I did this. I made this, and we did this together.’ The collaboration and the camaraderie that they develop is just wonderful to see.”
Janet fractured three vertebrae in 2017 that put her out of school for three months, and she began to think about retirement. It wasn’t until 2019, however, that she and Jim named 2021 as their year for retirement, because she had been deeply affected by the passing of her friend and OCT landmark, Mary Britt. Janet knew it was time to stop working and go enjoy life with her husband, children, and granddaughter.
Kiara Feliciano, a West Port alumnus, is taking over where Janet left off. She has some big shoes to fill, but as she is Janet’s former student and had shadowed her since 2019, Janet has every confidence in her. “I had great peace about leaving,” she states.
Don’t expect to catch Janet and Jim bumming around the Downtown Square. They are packing up, selling their home, and traveling the country in their RV. If they do decide to set down roots again, the couple are currently looking at Georgia.
We may be losing Janet to the open road, but for 37 years, Ocala was a better place because of her.
Thank you for your service. We’ll miss you and the fire you ignited in this community.