WAYNE CREED: Thank You Clelia — You Woke My Soul
By WAYNE CREED
Cape Charles Wave
March 9, 2015
Some years ago, fairly new to Cape Charles, I walked into a cold Palace Theatre to take part in a poetry slam that was being hosted by Chris Bannon and the Friends of the Cape Charles Library. As usual I was unshaven, probably a bit hung over, and dressed in flannel and a wool beanie — I must have looked like one of the dock worker extras from On the Waterfront.
As I took a seat and waited for the reading to begin, two elegant, beautiful women entered and sat down. I thought to myself that they must have taken a wrong turn somewhere, or just had the time and place confused with some other. This was my first encounter with Sheila Cardano and her daughter, Clelia Sheppard.
I remember that afternoon well, as I read a story I had written about an odd Russian street performer and his beloved pug dog, and Ms. Cardano read one of her stories about a crazy squirrel. Life is serendipitous, contingent, and I always think of two events that actually saved my life: meeting my beautiful wife, and meeting Clelia Sheppard.
Growing up in West Haven, Connecticut, I remember my mother and grandmother taking me to the great New Haven theaters, and a love and fascination (appreciation) of the stage, whether drama, musical, or dance (Mom actually took me to NYC to see the great Edward Villella) stayed with me through high school and into college. After school, though, the passion kind of seeped away, replaced by other things such as work and career. In all, I had not thought of stepping onto the stage in close to 20 years.
How did Clelia Sheppard and her mom save my life? After meeting that first day, they somehow talked me into taking on a few roles in their Eastern Shore epic A Piece of Eden. By bringing me back into the fold of the theater, they woke up something that even I had forgotten how much I loved. In the years since then, I have had the pleasure to work with and learn from Clelia, but also meet some of my most wonderful friends (Dianne, Susan, Michael, Don, Mary Ann, Sherri, Keith, Amy, and the beautiful David Glowacki). I wish I could say my story is unique, but it is not. In fact, once you get to know Ms. Sheppard and her entire family, you will realize that it’s really quite common.
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In my case it may have been a resurrection, but for most, especially for the children of the Eastern Shore, it has been a birth, all due to the heartfelt dedication of Arts Enter. The Palace stage has given them exposure to the arts, which for some has incubated a lifelong passion. I think of how many shows my children have been through, and how, thanks to that exposure, they have grown into such talented people. And over the years, I feel so blessed to have watched so many kids grow up on the Palace stage, like Hannah DeMarino, Colten Collins, Ashley and Brittany Glennon, and all the great dancers such as the Kratzer girls — and who could ever forget the King Sisters. At the core of all this was the careful, guiding hand of Clelia Sheppard.
One of my fondest memories of being with her was of one March morning during our rehearsals for Suesical the Musical, where, apropos of the story, chaos ruled the day. Fifteen Who children (ages 5 to 7) were running and screaming all over, there were some vehement arguments over costumes, and an actor was refusing to climb up in the tree we had built (I assured him that, even if the tree collapsed, the worst that could happen would be a cracked skull or broken neck, so GET UP IN THE TREE!).
This was all coming down after we lost the musical director due to, let’s just call it an ill humor. Opening night was three weeks away, and as usual, we were assured that the show was doomed, going to be a complete disaster, and destined to be a perfect train wreck. I was playing the Cat, and for a moment, my director Clelia had a distressed look on her face, just like the fish in the book. I didn’t have a machine to ride in on to clean up the mess, but I trusted and would do anything for her — so I just hugged her, we laughed, and I said, “The Cat will take care of this.” It turned out to be one of her best shows — as wild, chaotic, fun, and beautiful as her Plein Air paintings.
I could describe Ms. Sheppard in many ways, such as talented, caring, insightful, and loving, but I think what I admire about her the most is her dedication and tenacity, because that is what it really takes to help people — especially the underserved kids of the Shore. When you look at all she has accomplished in the last 18 years, you realize how blessed we have been to have her, and how only such a special person could have pulled it all off (and with such grace).
I have to admit that I am very sad to see her leave the post she has done so much to create, and I will miss working on projects with her very, very much. But at the same time, when I see all the incredible and beautiful young thespians and dancers we have waiting in the wings, I feel nothing but excitement and confidence in the future of Arts Enter and the Palace Theatre. And Clelia is to thank for that. Just like my Cape Charles home on Monroe Avenue, the foundation and structure of Arts Enter was built strong and designed for the long journey.
Going back to our first meeting, Clelia woke up my soul, and has helped restore my passion and a belief in the beauty of things, and made me once again realize just how much the arts can change the world, one kid’s life at a time.
Goodbye, my friend. And thank you.