Mary Jo Bellner Swartzberg
Her name is as familiar to SaddleBrooke residents as the name Neil Simon is to Broadway. However, her self-effacing personality negates such comparisons. But, frankly speaking, Shawne is a talent to behold.
To explain how this multi-talented person, chiefly known for producing and directing productions here in SaddleBrooke, came into the world of the smell of the greasepaint, one has to dig into her background and most interesting history.
Shawne was born in Lansing, Mich. to parents who were educators, both of whom graduated from Michigan State University. She and her sister and brother (who are twins) were also educators.
Shawne is a graduate of Alma College, a Presbyterian liberal arts college in Alma, Mich. She had a double major—physical education and elementary education. She taught for four years in Benton Harbor, Mich., then a life-changing opportunity was presented to her. Wanting to travel, she applied to the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) for overseas travel. The mission of the DoDEA is to educate the children of military personnel around the world, and it has been doing this for 75 years.
After some stops and starts, Shawne’s opportunity came to fruition, and she was sent to teach in Seoul, Naples, Adana (Turkey), and Keflavik (Iceland). She eventually became a DoDEA principal, working in Korea, Okinawa, and Germany. Her last DoDEA assignment was as an elementary school principal at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Her DoDEA career lasted 30 years.
So how did Shawne land in Arizona? There is a long answer, but the short answer is that friends whom she knew in Okinawa moved to SaddleBrooke—Shawne followed. Actually, there are several people whom Shawne knew during her DoDEA career who live here!
Shawne’s theater experience started when she was age 15. She played “the wall” in her high school production of The Fantasticks. While living in Benton Harbor, however, she became a member of the Twin City Players and acted in several productions, including: Jesus Christ Superstar, Camelot, Annie (in which she played Miss Hannigan), and Once Upon a Mattress (in which she played Queen Aggravain), among other productions.
In moving to SaddleBrooke, Shawne expanded her community theater experience to include being a producer and/or director of many productions, and she helped to establish the Community Circle Players (CCP) here. Her most recent production, An Evening of One Acts, was an enormous success. All the performances were sold out in record time! The production included 37 actors and crew and was a labor of love, considering that live theater came to a standstill during the last two years here and elsewhere.
When asked what Shawne would like to have in SaddleBrooke regarding community theater, she indicated that she would like to see a “really true repertoire theater here.”
I asked Shawne who, of all the actors/directors, she would like to meet. Her answer: Barbara Streisand. Hmmm. Talent recognizing extreme talent.
CCP’s next production will be in March 2022—stay tuned for further details!