Saturday, March 16, 2013

Dr. Shellie O'Neal

"Lone Star Historian" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College ( in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published almost 40 books, half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine.

Dr. Shellie O'Neal, director of he Theatre Department at Navarro College in Corsicana, has utilized her skills and training as a dramatist to create historical theater. Shellie, one of my daughters, was a faculty member at the University of Texas in Tyler when, in 2001, she was selected to revive Navarro's Theatre Department, which had been discontinued years earlier. Because her budget was limited, she began to write her own plays to avoid the royalties required for published plays. Through the years she has written, produced directed, and occasionally acted in more than 20 plays. Shellie has created comedies, romances, children's plays, and religious plays. Some of her work has a Texas setting, such as Love in Lampasas, and Bluebonnets in the Back Yard, set in Nacogdoches County. Hope in Hemphill won the Texas State Playwriting Award of the Texas Educational Theater Association. Traveling the Gnome Star State is a children's play in which a band of gnomes make their way across Texas encountering longhorns, bluebonnets, mockingbirds, and other icons of the Lone Star State.

For several years Dr. O'Neal has researched medieval cycle plays, including work in England. While cycle plays remain popular in England and Canada, there is no record of a cycle play ever having been performed in Texas. On Palm Sunday weekend, the Navarro College Theatre Department will present Clothed in Glory: A Palm Sunday Pageant, written and directed by Dr. O'Neal. Her students have constructed two medieval-style pageant wagons, and numerous costumes have been assembled. The cast is composed of Navarro students and faculty members. Within an area of a few blocks in Corsicana, four churches form a rectangle. Shellie consulted with each of the four pastors of these churches, and an appeal was made to the church choirs.

The pageant will begin at the ornate 1896 First Methodist Church, then will proceed to the nearby First Presbyterian Church, where scenes from the life of Jesus will be portrayed by 43 cast members, 34 members of the combined choir, and assorted sheep and horses. The crucifixion will be dramatized at St. John's Episcopal Church, and the resurrection scene will  take place across the street at the First Baptist Church. There has been enthusiastic support from Navarro College, the four churches, and the community, and this unique event is widely anticipated. Performances will begin at 3 PM on Saturday, March 23, and the next afternoon, Palm Sunday. 

Shellie's other major venture into historical drama is a one-woman play about Fannie J. Crosby, the blind composer of more than 8,000 hymns. Shellie approached the project with the methods of an historian. She read and noted Crosby's two autobiographies, her hymns, and her nine biographies. She conducted primary research in New York City, the site of Crosby's home life. Shellie first performed the play in November 2011, and numerous appearances since have included two performances in New York. This is My Story, This is My Song: An Evening With Fannie Crosby features several of Crosby's most beloved hymns, and Shellie will next perform as Fannie on Sunday evening, April 7, at the First Baptist Church of Graham. 

For more information:

Shellie in New York City

Portraying a blind woman Shellie must
be escorted onto the podium, a service
I proudly provide whenever possible.

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