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Shaunta Ellis to perform Feb. 16
ONE Series brings local talent to the stage at the Black Box Theater
W Shaunta Ellis 2.jpg
Shaunta Elllis

Is Shaunta Ellis a diva? The dictionary defines a diva as a celebrated female singer or a woman of outstanding talent. The Urban Dictionary expands on that definition: “A diva exudes great style and personality with confidence and expresses her own style.” Given those definitions, yes, Shaunta Ellis is a diva.

Ellis’ vocal talents will be on display in the Whitaker Black Box Theater Feb. 16. She is being featured as part of the ONE Series, which showcases several area performers. Vivian Summers performed on Nov. 3, 2018, and Nora Franklin is scheduled to perform on May 4.

The series is the brainchild of local theater legend Mical Whitaker, who says he wanted to create the kind of theater experience that would be unique to the space at the Black Box Theater.

“Each event will focus on one person — up close and personal,” he said. “This format is made for someone like Shaunta. Many small towns have these brilliant talents, such as Shaunta. This series will illuminate these types of artists.”

Whitaker has a long history with Ellis. The two met in 1981 when Ellis was just a high school student with a big voice. Whitaker had returned to South Georgia from a theater career in New York.

“We were introduced by Alton West,” says Ellis. Whitaker was preparing for a production at what was then Georgia Southern College. The show was entitled “Before the Flood.” According to Ellis, it was a retelling of the story of Noah and the ark from the point of view of some of the animals that were on the journey.

This was Ellis’ first foray into theater and performing. She was a student at Metter High School, which at that time had no chorus, drama or performing arts program, other than band.

Ellis was pleased to be chosen to be in the chorus of Whitaker’s production. As the summer rehearsals went on, the actor who was portraying Noah had difficulty learning his lines. Ellis explains the solution that Whitaker created: “Each of the animals was paired with a spouse, but Noah, in the script, had no wife. Mical decided Noah needed a wife to ‘ease his burden.’”

That meant that the wife would take many of the lines so that Noah would not have to carry so much of the play.

“I was the chosen one,” beams Ellis, admitting that she was “chosen” because she could project her voice the best. The play was to be performed outdoors on the Georgia Southern campus, so voice projection was of utmost importance. Ironically, rain caused the performance to be moved indoors to a little snack bar area called Sarah’s Place that occupied the bottom floor of the college’s Williams Center.

Since that first play, Ellis has been in more than 20 shows, most often musicals. Most of these shows have been under Whitaker’s direction. As a student at Metter High, Ellis was performing in Statesboro, Savannah and other venues throughout Southeast Georgia.

She says that her teachers were very understanding. 

“I had wonderful teachers at MHS. They pushed me and didn’t block me when I was having so many late night rehearsals and shows with Mical,” she says, By SUZANNE TYSON | Special to the Herald

Is Shaunta Ellis a diva? The dictionary defines a diva as a celebrated female singer or a woman of outstanding talent. The Urban Dictionary expands on that definition: “A diva exudes great style and personality with confidence and expresses her own style.” Given those definitions, yes, Shaunta Ellis is a diva.

Ellis’ vocal talents will be on display in the Whitaker Black Box Theater Feb. 16. She is being featured as part of the ONE Series, which showcases several area performers. Vivian Summers performed on Nov. 3, 2018, and Nora Franklin is scheduled to perform on May 4.

The series is the brainchild of local theater legend Mical Whitaker, who says he wanted to create the kind of theater experience that would be unique to the space at the Black Box Theater.

“Each event will focus on one person — up close and personal,” he said. “This format is made for someone like Shaunta. Many small towns have these brilliant talents, such as Shaunta. This series will illuminate these types of artists.”

Whitaker has a long history with Ellis. The two met in 1981 when Ellis was just a high school student with a big voice. Whitaker had returned to South Georgia from a theater career in New York.

“We were introduced by Alton West,” says Ellis. Whitaker was preparing for a production at what was then Georgia Southern College. The show was entitled “Before the Flood.” According to Ellis, it was a retelling of the story of Noah and the ark from the point of view of some of the animals that were on the journey.

This was Ellis’ first foray into theater and performing. She was a student at Metter High School, which at that time had no chorus, drama or performing arts program, other than band.

Ellis was pleased to be chosen to be in the chorus of Whitaker’s production. As the summer rehearsals went on, the actor who was portraying Noah had difficulty learning his lines. Ellis explains the solution that Whitaker created: “Each of the animals was paired with a spouse, but Noah, in the script, had no wife. Mical decided Noah needed a wife to ‘ease his burden.’”

That meant that the wife would take many of the lines so that Noah would not have to carry so much of the play.

“I was the chosen one,” beams Ellis, admitting that she was “chosen” because she could project her voice the best. The play was to be performed outdoors on the Georgia Southern campus, so voice projection was of utmost importance. Ironically, rain caused the performance to be moved indoors to a little snack bar area called Sarah’s Place that occupied the bottom floor of the college’s Williams Center.

Since that first play, Ellis has been in more than 20 shows, most often musicals. Most of these shows have been under Whitaker’s direction. As a student at Metter High, Ellis was performing in Statesboro, Savannah and other venues throughout Southeast Georgia.

She says that her teachers were very understanding. 

“I had wonderful teachers at MHS. They pushed me and didn’t block me when I was having so many late night rehearsals and shows with Mical,” she says, praising her alma mater. “Metter has been a vehicle for me to spread my name, and I love this place. Metter has helped make me who I am.”

As a youngster, Ellis attended kindergarten in Savannah because there was no kindergarten program available to her in Candler County. She lived in the country, and there was no bus service to town for her to attend the program. She returned to Metter to start first grade in 1970. That was the first year that the Candler County Schools were integrated. She admits that she was a shy and bashful child.

“I would not look at my audience. I would do this,” and she demonstrates holding her head up high but with her eyes firmly shut. Getting involved with theater helped her to overcome that shyness.

Following graduation from MHS in 1982, Ellis enrolled at Georgia Southern. She already had connections through her experiences as a high school student being mentored by Whitaker, who was teaching at the nearby college.

“Then, I quit,” she says firmly. “I got married, got divorced, and I went back to Georgia Southern and graduated in 2009.” She received a degree in General Studies with an emphasis in education and criminal justice. Through it all, Ellis continued performing, often in churches.

For many years, Ellis put her degree to work in the penal system, working in a women’s facility. She was hired to teach in the facility, but in addition to teaching the women who were incarcerated there, she ministered to them.

“I would tell the incarcerated women that there is better; you can do this and no one is better than you,” she said. Her reputation for helping grew and many of the women detainees looked to her for advice and help. It was a sad day for the women and for Ellis when she had to leave her job for health reasons.

Ellis also worked in an assisted living facility caring for elderly residents. Her reputation as a songstress spread there as well.

“I was asked to sing at a resident’s birthday party, which I did,” she explains. Later that resident called Ellis over in the dining room. He told her that his birthday was the following day, but he wouldn’t be there. He wanted her to sing for him right then and there.

She laughs when she remembers the event, but she knows her music was just one way she could show her compassion for the elderly who were living there.

West often calls on Ellis to help him with the chorus program at MHS. She often talks with some of the girls who demonstrate musical talent but are too shy to apply it. She enjoys her time with the students and with West. The two often record each other on their phones as they work through some musical challenges.

“Neither of us is getting any younger, and we sometimes have trouble remembering what we did to a particular song,” she laughs.

These days, Ellis is a bus monitor for Candler County Schools. Many of the youngsters on her bus don’t know that she is a diva. They just know that she is someone who cares.

“I try to pay attention to the kids to see how they are doing day to day,” she explains. “I spent several years working with Mrs. Josephine Parrish and the Communities in Schools program, so I learned that children have so many needs that affect their education. If I can help a child with a problem, maybe he can go on into school and learn.”

Ellis herself continues to learn. She is in the process of figuring out how to pursue a higher degree. 

“I am praying and waiting to find out just what direction that needs to be in,” she says. 

Ellis says her faith is everything, and it will be featured in her upcoming concert. 

“My genre is ‘everything decent,’ no rap,” she explains. “My concert will be largely gospel and inspirational music, but will include several show tunes.”

The playlist for the concert includes the Beatles’ “Imagine,” Billie Holliday’s “God Bless the Child,” and hymns such as “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” which she says is her favorite. Ellis will be accompanied by her long-time pianist David Sharpe, from Reidsville.

Even though Ellis says “no rap,” her concert will include Tupac Shakur’s “Mama.” 

“A pastor encouraged me to be intentional in my listening,” she says, explaining the song choice. Hesitantly, she turned the satellite radio in her car away from her beloved gospel channel to a rap station. She wasn’t really open to rap music because of some of the language and themes that pervade the genre. “Mama” came over the airwaves and Ellis began thinking about her own mother.

“I re-wrote the words and made it into a song that I am comfortable sharing,” she says.

The concert will begin at 7:30 p.m., and will include a 40-minute “interview” segment. Following an intermission, with light refreshments, Ellis will take the stage to perform. Tickets are available at www.averittcenterforthearts.org, or by calling (912) 212-2787.

This article is courtesy of The Metter Advertiser.