Local actress and storyteller uses part theater, part history to evoke emotions and to teach
The neighbors circulated a petition to keep Shelley Moon’s family from moving into their new house in a Cincinnati neighborhood.
“It’s because of the color of your skin,” she remembered her parents explaining, but she said it still didn’t make sense to a 5-year-old.
In a yellow dress with matching ribbons in her hair, Moon marched next door to confront the woman who had begun the petition. She knocked and a white woman with a red beehive hairdo answered.
“I said, ‘Why don’t you like us? Why don’t you want us to live here?’” Moon recalled. “Then that white lady burst into tears.”
Her neighbor invited her in for cookies and milk, and softened up to the idea of a black family living next door.
Moon, a storyteller, performer, poet, public speaker and activist for social change, says that all of her stories are mostly true, but like the saying goes, “You can’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.”
Without prompting, Moon will launch into memories from her childhood — her granny doling out wisdom from the atop the toilet while smoking a corncob pipe, the prejudice she faced attending historic all-white schools, and her dad — a pioneering civil rights activist and radio DJ — rubbing elbows with music legends Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald.
The life stories flood out of Moon as her hands swipe the air and her face forms exaggerated expressions. She realized many years ago that sharing her experiences, especially the painful or uncomfortable, is therapeutic.
“Claim your story,” she said. “It’s empowering to tell your story even if it’s a hard story to tell.”
Moon, who moved to Corvallis in 2004, teaches workshops at local schools, theaters and organizations that follow that principle. She performs an original monologue and then, depending on the age group and type of class, uses that performance to spur conversations and coax students’ own life stories out of them.
“I go in with a one-woman show and model different kinds of stories and different topics to open up issues like racial issues, bullies and sexual abuse,” Moon said.
Moon is blown away by the stories that result from the workshop.
“The things they write about are so deep, and they have all these feelings, and they don’t know what to do with them,” she said. “I believe in words as medicine.”
She recalled working with a group at Oregon’s youth correctional facility. A pregnant teenager wrote an open letter to her unborn child.
“It was very moving to realize, ‘Wow, this story served you, this was your voice,’” she said.
Moon moved to Corvallis on a whim nearly nine years ago when her lease was up in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.
She had never stepped foot in Oregon before and was taken aback at the homogeneous make-up of the community.
As a female artist of African, Native American and Irish descent, she believes she offers her audience a new perspective.
Although it isn’t always easy to financially support herself as a single woman and independent artist, she’s found her niche in Corvallis, and she’s happy.
“I’m living my dream; this is my dream.”
Job: Performance artist, playwright, poet, public speaker, educator, activist for social change and ever a yoga teacher
Family: Great-great-granddaughter of a slave, daughter of civil rights activists, ex-wife of an NFL player