Home on the stage: UNO’s Roni Shelley branches out


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Danielle Meadows

When attending a performance, most go to be entertained. What’s frequently overlooked is the hard work, dedication and repetition it takes to make things perfect. University of Nebraska at Omaha junior Roni Shelley is an expert in this process and has been working at making her dreams come true since childhood. So far, she’s well on her way to achieving them.

Shelley began singing as a child, singing along to Barney at 3 years old. “I was put in vocal lessons when I was 4, but quit when I was 5 or 6,” Shelley said.

Shelley said she began vocal lessons again when she was 11, but was not interested in practicing until high school.

“In high school, I realized vocal lessons were actually benefiting me,” Shelley said. “Sophomore year I started taking it seriously.”

Shelley’s talents didn’t stop at vocals. She picked up the guitar at age 8 and started writing her own songs–even making her own CD’s. While attending Marian High School in Omaha, she participated in numerous choirs, musicals and any music-related activity she could.

After originally wanting to attend college for music composition, Shelley discovered the major wasn’t going to exist when her freshman year at UNO began. She eventually became a vocal performance major with a minor in theatre.

Opportunities started happening her first year of college, making her more interested in musical theatre than ever.

“My family has always been supportive,” Shelley stated. “I mean they were kind of skeptical about me going into music in general.”

Shelley admits going into music can be scary financially. She said her family suggested she pursued a degree in architectural engineering and pursue music on the side.

“I wanted to prove that I can do this,” Shelley said. “Now they see things are happening, things are going really well. “I’m in too deep now to stop.”

Shelley draws most of her inspiration from Beyoncé and local talent. With multiple community theatres, Omaha definitely doesn’t lack in excellent performers.

During Shelley’s freshman year at UNO, she received her first community role at the Omaha Community Playhouse in “Jesus Christ Superstar.” This piqued her interest in musical theatre, and she received a nomination for an Omaha Entertainment and Arts award for her role.

“I honestly didn’t believe it,” Shelley said. “I wasn’t even going to audition for that, but then a bunch of my friends told me about it, and my dad did it when he was in high school in the Philippines, so I just decided to try it.”

Her favorite role so far has been Veronica in “Heathers,” performed at the Blue Barn Theater. She’s also been involved with the Broadway Dreams Foundation, a summer program where Broadway stars help put on a showcase. Through this, Shelley did a workshop in New York City for an in-the-works musical called “Zanna Redux.”

Following a year-long process and a YouTube audition of three songs, Shelley was selected to go to Chicago to perform in the National Association of Teachers of Singing competition in July.

With help from her accompanist, she placed second in the nation out of hundreds of contestants.
Shelby VanNordstrand, a vocal professor at UNO, has worked with Shelley since 2014. Her favorite thing about Shelley is her complete dedication to work.

“She’s a stage animal,” VanNordstrand said.

After dozens of performances, Shelley doesn’t get very nervous anymore. She was once told nerves are negativity.

“Nerves make it seem like your performance becomes selfish because you’re freaking out about how you sound,” Shelley said. “But it’s not for you when you’re performing; it’s for them.”

Shelley is constantly practicing and searching for new opportunities, which she believes are keys to being successful in performing. Her next project is a play called “Love and Information,” which will be performed in September at Do Space.

Shelley believes that music and theatre are universal escapes from troubles.

“Everyone turns to music, which means it’s a way to get to people,” Shelley said. “When performing, I want to be able to show people an alternate, a little glimpse of happiness so they don’t have to be down. It’s very effecting, that’s why I love doing it so much.”


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