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Meet Shelly Elman

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shelly Elman.

Shelly, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Theatre was always my passion, from when I was a child playing “house” with my friends, to deciding to get University undergraduate and graduate training, to now. I realized in college that there was more to it than just acting. It wasn’t just acting that I was passionate about, but rather it was Theatre in a holistic sense that I loved. I love collaboration–sharing ideas and a vision for a production, or a theatre, or a theatre department.

Teaching became a passion that grew. I was like every recent college theatre graduate: I wanted to work professionally. Teaching was not for me. I started my career in higher ed a little later than most. My first two years of teaching were an adjustment. Then things seemed to click in my third year. It’s been quite a journey helping to train students embarking on their careers, whatever they may be, and helping others to understand the importance of the Arts in our society. I have enjoyed working with students at UWG and elsewhere through organizations like the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (I was the regional chair for the southeast 2009-2012), GA Theatre Conference (I was President of this organization in the early 2000’s, and helped to bring Playwright, Screenwriter, and Activist Tony Kushner to the 2017 conference that UWG hosted) and Southeastern Theatre Conference. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had. It’s rewarding and it’s humbling.

Has it been a smooth road?
Ha! No, it’s never a smooth road. I think the biggest struggle is having to explain the importance of Theatre to people who think of it only as a hobby. How Theatre contributes to society, how it enriches people’s lives. Many of our students at UWG are experiencing Theatre for the first time, so we have to understand that in our teaching. We also have to understand the technology and how we can use it to enhance and attract each generation that comes through our doors. How do we utilize social media that might separate people from the face-to-face interaction that Theatre requires? It’s something my colleagues and I struggle with daily.

Please tell us about your work.
The University of West Georgia is a medium sized public institution of higher education in Carrollton, GA. When I first started teaching here, in 1996, it was a small, rural campus. 23 years later, it’s grown and now the 45 minute jaunt to Atlanta is just a commute. It’s much better than being stuck in traffic for 45 minutes going to campuses that are north of the city.

I am the chair of the Theatre Department, which means I administer the program. Some of what I do is keep track of the budget spending, work with faculty to evaluate and revise the curriculum, produce a five show season as part of our curriculum, teach, be available to students, faculty and staff. I’ve seen the department through national accreditation, the building of a BFA in Theatre (in addition to our long established BA in Theatre), and the success of alumni across the country. We have students who work in or on live productions and film. One student performed on Broadway for a little over a year in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” one student who continues to act in television (series regular in the YouTube Premium series, “Step Up: High Water,” now in the Netflix series, “Locke & Key”), another who works as a media designer artist, who worked on creating the amazing effects for the film “First Man.” We have alumni working steadily in theaters all over the Atlanta area. I mention all of this because University programs are the people that make them up. The students, faculty, staff, alumni. I’m so grateful for the students I teach and have taught and for the people I work with.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
Higher education is somewhat vulnerable because there aren’t as many students as there have been, so it looks like the next five to ten years will be a difficult period of adjustment. In Theatre, I think opportunities will continue to grow, especially in GA with the booming film industry. A couple of our faculty members work in the industry and it’s exciting when they bring their experiences and knowledge to the students.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
All photos taken by the photographers in the UWG University Communications and Marketing Department (Steven Broome, Xiaojuan Christian, and Evan Greenleaf). All production photos of shows directed by Shelly Elman. Clockwise from top left: Photo 1: Derrion Burse as Romeo and Tyshawn Gooden as Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet; Photo 2: Rosie Gyselinck as Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter; Photo 3: Company in “Lift Him Up” from The Gospel at Colonus; Photo 4: Company in “We Will Never Die” from Evil Dead: The Musical.

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