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Art Is Life: Interview With Shelah Marie

“I’m not an Instagram model; It’s hard when people want to put you in one box and keep you there.”

—Shelah Marie

Maybe it’s because I’m a father of two wonderful daughters, but I find myself relating verbatim to Nas’s “Daughters.” Whenever I see women being negatively or unfairly portrayed in the media in any way, I see my daughters, and my heart breaks a little. This was the case when I started seeing the [extremely surface] fashion in which some outlets were shining light on Ace Hood’s girlfriend, the lovely Shelah Marie. She’s a yoga loving, theater performer that’s easy on the eyes — no question. But she’s also a well educated, articulate, and creative soul, who’s used theater as a philanthropic tool to create positive change in the world. Definitely, more than just “Ace’s Bae.”

I decided to reach out to Shelah and learn a little more about her background in the arts, her work, and her relationship.

Check out the interview below.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I’m an actress, a playwright, and a meditation enthusiast. I focus on self-love in no matter what avenue I’m using. Right now I’m focusing on planning the #curvyandcurly conscious tour for summer 2017.

Maybe tell me a little bit about that [#curvyandcurly]. How did it come together?

Well, It began when I was just starting to get (Instagram) followers beyond people that I already knew. I was like, “What — people that don’t know me want to follow me, why?” You know, so I started to think, “Okay, I should make a hashtag that resonates with me so that everything can be in one place.” I just thought of something that was true for me; I was curvy and curly, and that’s how the hashtag started. I began to notice that it seemed to draw people in. Women appeared to be drawn to it as a support system for body love, and men were drawn to it because — well — they love curly and curvy women. I mean, mean who doesn’t?

Something that is interesting about you [that seems overlooked] is that you’re insanely well educated — and you’re deep in the theater community. How did you get involved in theater?

I started acting when I was in high school. At that time, l worked at TGIF Fridays. This agent came for lunch there one day, and she saw me and she was like, “You should be modeling.” Long story short, she became my first manager, and I started booking every single thing I went on an audition for. I didn’t have any training at that point, and decided I wanted to hone this tool and make it work for me. So I have a bachelors degree in theater from Florida University, and I also have a master’s in performance studies from Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. With that education I transitioned into teaching artists training, which means I’m an artist first, an educator second. So I use the skills that I learned from the theater – from acting to developing other skills – with people both in school and outside of school.

I’ve also written and produced plays that have traveled throughout the country. I’ve performed on TV; I’ve performed on film, and in many theaters in New York City. So acting is something that I love to do, and I’m looking forward to manifesting that more here in South Florida which is like a whole new world to me.

Tell me a little more about the teaching work you do.

Regarding teaching work, I was very lucky. New York has a high standard of education in general and especially arts education, and I worked for one of the biggest and oldest theaters for children and families in the country called The New Victory Theatre. While I was there, I gained a lot of skills. They trained us all the time; they gave us workshops and professional development.

Inside of the school, I worked from eight through 12. I’m wasn’t a full-time teacher so I could push in and out of the school. I could do workshops for four weeks, three months, or even one-off workshops. In New York, my curriculum was surrounding a work of art or a live performance. But now what I do is I work with all kinds of groups. I work with homeless groups, I work with the elderly, and I work with young people. And I work with them to use skills learned from theater to make their lives better.

How do you do that?

One of the things I used to do is audition prep for young people that were going to audition for programs, like a theater program for example. What I found in doing that, is that I don’t like teaching acting. I do not like teaching drama skills for performance. I do not like what it does to people, like for example; I was working with a girl, and I thought she was great — and she works hard. We were like three months in and then she doesn’t get into the school, all of a sudden she feels like a failure. I didn’t want to be associated with that. So what I do is I use skills and tools in the theater, for example, communication, eye contact, and being present, and I use all of that to teach life skills.

I just finished working with inner city girls that were kind of on the edge; I used theatrical tools to develop self-esteem and self-love. So I do not teach acting.

That’s really interesting.

Thank you, I love it. I live and breathe it.

It’s a really interesting approach; it’s more like using theater as therapy.

One of the things that I was going to do was drama therapy — and I do it in a weird way. I’m not a certified drama therapist, but a lot of my work looks like drama therapy for sure.

Explain to me how your sustainability theater workshops came together.

I haven’t done one in years. But the sustainable theater workshops is something that I created following my first trip to Haiti; I’ve since been to Haiti four times. First time I went, though, I was shocked. I was teaching kindergarten at this time in Harlem, and while I was in Haiti, I was teaching five-year-olds that were working so that their families could afford for them to go to school. I was affected by that. I just couldn’t come to terms with the fact that five-year-olds in one place get so much privilege and then five-year-olds in another place are working all day. With that, I was like, “Let me see which tools and skills I have that I can bring into areas where they don’t have them.” What the workshops did was use theater help the children to tell their stories as a form of therapy.

I held the Sustainable Theatre Workshop in Haiti first, then I did it in Jamaica, Senegal, and I did it in conjunction with the United Nations here in New York City. It’s about giving a group of young people the skills to create their work of art.

Is it something that you think you are going to do again in the future?

I am going to do it again in the future, it just needs reworking in my mind, because I found that it wasn’t sustainable. There’s something about it at the core that I think needs to be revisited, and that’s why I haven’t done it again. Because I can’t do anything, I don’t feel totally passionate about. Like everything I do, I have to believe in it 1000%.

Which is fair – makes for a better product, right?

Right, exactly. I’m not here to bullshit anybody; you know what I mean?

Art Is Life: Interview With Shelah Marie

So tell me about you and Ace – you’re the new hip-hop “it” couple.

Really? That’s a huge compliment, thank you.

How did you guys meet?

Oh, we met on Instagram. Every time I say this, I think of the fact that like when I first got an interview about this — and I was like, “What do I say to this?” I called him, and I was like, “Ace should I make up a story about how we met?” He was like, “No, you should tell the truth.” We were just following each other for a long time, and commenting back and forth and, you know, it was a year full of that kind of stuff. I was like, “Why is this guy following me?” I’m thinking that I’m not his type; I’m not on that – you know, if you think of every rapper’s type, I’m not that type. So I didn’t think anything of it.

I was living in NYC at that time, and he was visiting, and my friends dared me to write him. I said, “No way, I’m not going to write him, because it does not go down in the DM — he’ll obviously think I’m a thot.” You know what I’m saying, right? I am not about that life. Anyways, they broke me down, and I wrote him, and that was it. I think we met up the next day, and there hasn’t been a single day that we haven’t talked since.

A lot of hip-hop industry couples end up on TV. Do you guys see yourselves being on Love and Hip-Hop, or that kind of thing?

We were already approached by Love and Hip-Hop a few times, and we have both decided against reality TV. We don’t want to be a reality couple. We don’t want to be identified as reality stars; we want our work to speak for us. Ace is an artist at the core. He does care about fame, he does care about money, but really, he cares about his music, and he wants to be known as an artist. I feel the same way. So no reality for us, as it stands now. Unless the face of reality just completely changes out of nowhere. I mean, where it is now, no. And I don’t want people in our fucking business, to tell you the truth. I feel like I’m a little bit of a shit show now and then, and I don’t want people judging me. I don’t want people in my relationship, you know. I just think it’s too much access.

I don’t want to say it can destroy you, but it can destroy you. Everybody in America can think you’re an asshole because of the way the show makes you look, right?

Exactly, and then the thing that I’ve learned is that one-minute people can love you, and the next minute people can hate you, and you just never know when it’s going to be. You can never predict it. And I don’t want to get too wrapped up in that. Because It could twist in the drop of a dime, you never know.

I mean look, LHH has been notorious for that. Where someone steps out and tries to do something and it just flops.

It’s so funny too because that’s one of their talking points. Look at Omarion; they were trying to explain to us that it can enhance us as artists – I was like, “It’s the exception, but that’s not the rule.”

What it can do is completely change your perception of how you look at those people. I mean, LHH Hollywood made Soulja Boy look like an asshole — as a legit bad person.

And guess what? It makes a difference. It makes a difference because now do you listen to his music as readily? Like Stevie J; he lost all his credibility. But Omarion and his girl, they had a very good team. Like they had a very good balance of visibility and private life — and they came out pretty good. But I think just like I said, the exception is not the rule.I just don’t want to put myself in that. I don’t want to be a reality star; I know I’m better than that. No shade to any reality star, just for me.

And then if you try to do other things they’d be like “oh yeah, you’re that reality star.”

I don’t want to be a reality star; I know I’m better than that. No shade to any reality star, just for me.

Exactly, and I’m like, “No.” I mean like even now, it’s a challenge for me not to be on some Instagram model shit. I don’t even know what that is. I’m not a model. I’m not an Instagram model; It’s hard when people want to put you in one box and keep you there — in anything.

I mean, that’s part of why I wanted to interview you too. Because when I started looking you up, you do a lot of things, but I saw articles like, “Ace Hood’s Bae, Top Ten Sexy Photos on Instagram.” I thought that downplayed you as a person…

I hated that. Let me tell you; I cried the first time I saw it.

I was like, “Come on guys!”

XXL did something, Bossip did something a while back, a few other ones, but I mean, that’s what they do. It was a bit tough in the beginning when you have your whole family, and all of your extended friends, and everybody watching you and reading those articles, but you know…it’s much easier.

What’s your favorite Ace Hood song?

I like “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” because I’m a theater person, and I think that song is so theatrical. I just love it; it’s dramatic. Then I love “All The Way G,” because he’s honest throughout that song — and he addresses a lot of things that he would never talk about. To me, that song marked his transition to being able to articulate himself more in his music.

On a personal level, what are you working on right now?

I’m working on the Curvy,Curly, Concious tour for 2017; we are going to go to six different cities over the summer of 2017. We’re trying to decide the cities right now, and we’re getting funded together. So that’s one of the things that I’m working on right now. And then I’m also writing a one-woman show because my creative side is something that I haven’t been nurturing as much lately, and I need it. So I’ve been writing, it’s been a few months. I write every day –I’m in the process.

Do you have anything else you want to leave the interview with?

I think no matter what you do, no matter how you do it, I think people should find ways to love themselves — and each other — more, and just be more positive. I see a lot of it happening on my social media, and Ace’s social media, and if I can leave anything, it would be that.

Riley About Author

Riley here — father, artist, videographer, professional writer and SERIOUS hip-hop head. I'm a member of the Universal Zulu Nation, and I think everything is better on vinyl. Add me on Twitter! @specialdesigns