Story by LISA ANDERSON
“All my life, people told me I should be a teacher, and I completely turned that idea away. No. Way. Could I ever be a teacher,” she says emphatically.
Janet Shelley has a personality that extends far beyond her small stature. She’s as animated as one would expect in a person who has spent her life in the theater. Her voice is intoxicating, and her stories demand that you stay and listen to more.
Ask her what her favorite moments were during her 33-year teaching career, and she’ll tell you, “It’s hard to pinpoint just one. With teaching, everything comes in waves. You get a new batch of kids every year. You have them for four years, and then, they graduate. You always feel like you’re starting over, you know? Because they come in fresh, and they don’t know a whole lot, and you have to build them up. Then, you lose them!”
From Boston to Ocala
Janet grew up in the Boston, Massachusetts area and attended Emerson College for two years. At the start of her junior year, she auditioned for and was accepted into the Bachelors of Fine Arts program at New York University (NYU). The school had been looking specifically for transfer students, and Janet ticked all the boxes.
While at NYU, she met her husband of nearly 45 years, through a mutual friend. She graduated in the spring of 1977 and married Jim Shelley in the fall. The Shelleys were both in love with theater and remained in New York, but shortly after her marriage, Janet’s parents moved to Ocala. “My dad retired right after I got married. He sold his business, and they had bought a house in Ocala the year before.”
Janet and Jim would frequently fly down to spend time with her parents. They would always have a great time, but leaving wasn’t easy. “I’d cry on the plane all the way home,” Janet recalls. “I was really close to my parents, and I hated being that far away.”
In New York, she was involved in a lot of off-off Broadway shows. She worked in Greenwich Village and took all sorts of jobs, including performing, stage managing, assistant stage managing. She acted quite a bit in student films, as well. The first show that she directed outside of college was at the Royal Court Repertory Theatre, which was fully produced by her boss from the full-time job she worked at the time.
The Shelleys eventually tired of New York living and moved to Ocala in 1984.
Follow Janet’s Story
Posts will appear on July 7, 14, 21, & 28, 2021. The conclusion of this story will appear in the August 2021 issue of the magazine.
Posted on Facebook & Instagram on July 7, 2021
FOLLOW ME (1 of 4) “We just decided to sell all our stuff, dope our cats up on Dramamine, and drive to Florida! Why not?” Janet’s voice is animated and has hints of laughter threaded through it. “Not knowing we were pregnant with our first child. So, we got here and got jobs and everything.”
“Oops!” was her reaction about starting a new job and learning about her pregnancy right afterward. She had found a position at ClosetMaid where she worked for several years in both their human resources and sales departments. “I really liked it, but something was pulling at me. I really wanted a job in theater. I had done a lot of work at Ocala Civic Theatre (OCT). I had taught some children’s workshops. That was before they had a formal education program.
”Janet began to think that there might be a career in theater education. She had been told all her life that she would be a good teacher, but she didn’t think she would ever be one. She was the kid who used to line up her dolls in front of a chalkboard to teach them. Teaching seemed inevitable, even though Janet couldn’t see it at the time.
Posted on Facebook & Instagram on July 14, 2021
FOLLOW ME (2 of 4) “I applied for a teaching position at a high school, and they didn’t have an opening at the time. I got this really nice letter from Principal Leon Rogers. He was so nice. [He] said, ‘You should be a teacher. I could see so much potential in you. I’m so sorry I didn’t have a position for you, but I encourage you to keep applying.’ So, I put my resume out to all the high schools, and I got a call from Barbara Floyd, who was the Vocational Administrator at Vanguard High School.”Janet’s resume showed she had a lot of experience in business, so Barbara put her in front of Principal Ken Vianello. (Ken passed away in 2016). “I taught marketing and drama. I taught both, but my primary thing was marketing,” she clarifies.
She remained at Vanguard for 12 years, and she loved working there. “But theater was still tugging at me. I was constantly at the Ocala Civic Theatre, when I wasn’t at Vanguard.”
Then, in 1999, Ken let Janet in on a little secret.
Posted on Facebook & Instagram on July 21, 2021
FOLLOW ME (3 of 4) Ken Vianello told Janet he was going to be the principal at the new high school, West Port High School. He took a group of teachers, including Janet, to the property and explained the layout. When he said there was going to be a large theater, she became very interested. “I told him if I go, I get to teach theater. That’s what I was put on this earth to do.”
The school opened in 2000, with Janet as the new theater teacher, where she stayed for 21 years.
Posted on Facebook & Instagram on July 29, 2021
FOLLOW ME (4 of 4) West Port became Janet’s life, other than her husband and two children, and she stopped volunteering at OCT in 2002. In 2010, she directed a play at Insomniac Theatre, but otherwise, her primary focus has been the theater program at the school.
Her daughter graduated from Vanguard in 2002, but her son, born in 1992, graduated from West Port in 2011. Janet had a lot of fun while her son was there. He was a part of the Tech Theater program, and he wrote scripts, which were performed at the school. Janet beams with pride as she talks about her children and their accomplishments.