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January 14, 2004
Shelley Delaney accepts new roles on and off stage
By George Mauzy

Acting and teaching are two professions that seem to sink their massive teeth into those who try them even once. That was the case with Ohio University Assistant Professor of Theater Shelley Delaney - a professional actor by trade - who came to the University in fall 2002 to begin a career as a full-time college professor for the first time.

Delaney will portray Jane Wilson, wife of former Ohio University President Robert Wilson, in the upcoming theatrical production of "Free Man of Color," which runs Jan. 16 through Feb. 29 at Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago before traveling to Athens. Once in Athens, it will run from March 10-13 at the University's Elizabeth Evans Baker Theater in Kantner Hall.

President Wilson

The play is an original production written by renowned Ohio University Professor of Theater Charles Smith as part of Ohio University's bicentennial celebration. A mix of fact and fiction, the play takes place in the 1820s and revolves around the life of John Newton Templeton, the University's first African-American graduate and the fourth African-American to graduate from college in the United States.

Accompanying Delaney in the three-character play is Chicago actor Gary Houston, who plays Ohio University President Robert Wilson and is a graduate of Ohio's College of Wooster. Houston was a cast member in the world premiere of "Grease" in 1971 and is a seasoned veteran of the Chicago theater scene. Portraying John Newton Templeton is Anthony Fleming III, an exciting up-and-coming actor who Smith says is definitely on his way to a stellar career. Cleveland native Andrea J. Dymond will direct "Free Man of Color."

"This play is entertaining and unique," Delaney says. "In that, it explores life at Ohio University and Athens, Ohio, during a very important time in our nation's history."

Hired to teach acting courses at Ohio University, Delaney, a Cleveland native and Marietta College graduate, knew she was entering uncharted waters. After more than 16 years as a working actor based in New York City, she was moving to Athens to pursue her love of teaching, while still maintaining a professional acting career.

"I wanted to participate in the world through theater everyday," she says. "As a freelance actor, you don't always get a chance to do that because you have to go out and find work. There are times where you are between jobs and you don't get to be creative for long periods of time. Teaching also allows me to share the art of acting with students who want to become professional actors."

One of the most important benefits of the move was closer proximity to her family. Her mother, Anna Belle Faile, lives in Painesville, Ohio, and she has sisters living in Cleveland and Toledo.

"Since I have moved back to Ohio, we've become much closer and get to see each other more regularly," Delaney says. "It has been great to spend more time with my family than I have in many years."

Before arriving for her first quarter of teaching at Ohio University, Delaney prepped herself by paying a visit to William Esper, the master acting teacher she trained with during graduate school at Rutgers University.

"I sat in on some of his classes just to get a sense of how he taught, because he was the best acting teacher I've ever had," she says. "Observing him further fueled my desire to teach and convinced me that I had made the right decision."

In the play, Jane Wilson has trouble coping with the pain and grief associated with the deaths of her three sons, and playing the University's first lady has really tested Delaney's considerable acting skills.

"The role of Jane is complex and emotionally challenging," she says. "It is one of the most difficult that I have been asked to perform, and she is very different from the women I usually play. Hopefully, the audience will see her humanity and even a bit of feminism in this role."

Smith says he handpicked Delaney for the role because of the professionalism and skill she showed him during the 2002-03 academic year.

"I picked Shelley because she was so right for the part," Smith says. "She impressed me with her range when she did volunteer readings in my play writers workshop last year, so I knew she had the skills that the character demands. If there was an open call in Chicago for the role of Jane Wilson, there's no doubt that Shelley would have auditioned as well as anybody in the room."

Delaney's love for live theater was hatched when she participated in several high school productions. It didn't take long before she realized that acting came naturally to her.

"It helped that I was used to performing on stage from my days in ballet," she says. "I found acting was a better fit for me than dancing. I had to work twice as hard as other women in class to become a good dancer."

Like most thespians, Delaney readily admits success didn't come easy. To sustain herself between acting jobs, she worked at one of the nation's leading catering companies where she ran events. Not only did the job help make ends meet, but it also allowed her to work a flexible schedule and travel for auditions and roles.

Although she has acted in several independent films and earned small roles in a few big screen movies, most notably Woody Allen's "Radio Days," her true love is the theater.

"Live theater is more language driven, which plays to my strengths," she says. "I find acting to be great therapy because it lets you explore your emotions through your character. You can experience all of the fullness of life when you go to work everyday."

Delaney says that working on this role while teaching constantly reminds her to "practice what she preaches."

"I try to teach my students to never look for a result when they take on a role, but to go through the process and discover how the role should be played as you go along," she says. "I tell them to never close the door to discovery and to keep an open mind and find the best way to play the character. That is the only way you won't cheat the audience and yourself."

All Athens shows begin at 8 p.m. For ticket information, call the Ohio University College of Fine Arts Box Office at (740) 593-4800.

George Mauzy is a media specialist for University Communications and Marketing


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