‘Beauty for Ashes’ a tale of transformation at Dover High

The cast of “Beauty for Ashes” gathers during a recent rehearsal. The play wil be staged Saturday night at 6 p.m. at Dover High School off of Del. 8. Tickets are $25 and will be available at the door. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — One woman’s story of overcoming the odds takes to the stage Saturday night in Dover with the play “Beauty for Ashes.”

Shawneya Ellis found herself pregnant in high school, and with five children by age 26, struggling to make ends meet.

“There were times when I didn’t think we would make it. We struggled to have a roof over our heads and had to rely on state assistance to get food on the table,” she said. “It’s terrifying to not know what’s going to happen with you and your kids or how you’re going to be able to feed them.”

Ms. Ellis took every job she could find, whether it was something she was interested or not, just to keep the family afloat.

“It makes you doubt your self worth when you’re coming in and out of jobs, and you don’t have the right skills, or it isn’t something you excel at. But it’s what you have to do. You’re at a point where you’re in survival mode,” she said.

While things were difficult, Ms. Ellis was hoping to find a man in her life to make her family whole but couldn’t find anyone dependable.

“It was definitely depressing because as a single parent, especially with multiple children, you get in this place of wondering if there’s anyone out there who would want or who could love a ready-made family,” she said.

Ms. Ellis began journaling about 10 years ago after getting out of a tough relationship and feeling down and out.

“I just started writing everything down as kind of a release and when I looked back on it, I decided to use everything to write a book,” she said. “I thought about everything that’s happened and knew that if I’d been through it, other people have too.”

When Ms. Ellis exercised her creativity, by transforming her journals into a book, she was able to enter a hopeful state of mind. She began to regain her confidence and finally got a good job that suited her and supported her family.

“It was a really transformative time,” she said. “There were a lot of positive changes happening in my life. I felt like I was rising from the ashes, which is where I got the title. It may seem like you’re in a broken place and things won’t get better, but there’s a plan.”

Author and motivational speaker Shawneya Ellis wrote, produced and directed the autobiographical play. A portion of the proceeds will go toward D.A.P.I., a school for adolescent mothers. (Submitted photo)

In addition to getting a great job, Ms. Ellis ended up falling in love and got married two years before her book came out, which she then decided to turn into a stage play.

“This play is for single parents, teen moms, anyone who has been in a rough situation and thought their life was never going to change,” she said. “I wrote this to give people hope and let them know that I was in that same dark place and I’ve been able to move past it, and they can too.”

But Ms. Ellis had never written a play before and before she knew it, the script was the length of a feature film with too many characters for an audience to keep track of.

“I’d never written a play before but I’d always thought my stories would make a great movie or performance, and with the help of some writers, I think I’ve made it into something people will enjoy and learn from,” she said.

In January she posted the casting call.

“I swear it was the coldest day of the year and no one showed up to audition. It was very discouraging and I didn’t know if it was something that was going to work out or even if I should try again,” she said.

But she did try again, holding new auditions in April to fill all the roles in “Beauty for Ashes.”

Elysha Mason came out to audition on that April afternoon and was cast in the play in two roles — Tessa and Sister Bunny.

“I’ve never been in a show before but I worked with Shaneya and wanted to support her in this journey,” she said. “I also set a goal this year to try something new, so this is it.”

Nikita Perry also auditioned and was cast in the lead role of Shanell. She has acted before in stage productions at her church, Emanual Pentecostal Church of God in Camden growing up and saw the “Beauty for Ashes” casting call on Facebook.

“I really enjoy entertaining people and using performances to get a message across to the audience and when I learned the message of this show, I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of,” she said.

The cast has rehearsed every Sunday afternoon for several months in preparation of the big day.

“It’s amazing how well the cast has meshed,” Ms. Mason said.

From left, Mara Sene, Nikita Perry, Tim Smith and Freeman Morrison star in “Beauty for Ashes” Saturday night at Dover High School. (Submitted photo)

But that comfortable feeling can be difficult sometimes when she portrays Tessa, a rude and mean character.

“She’s so unlike me and I always feel kind of bad being mean to my cast mates but my second character is fun and goofy, so she makes up for it,” she said.

“Rehearsals have been going great and I think it’s because there are a lot of aspects of this play that all the actors can relate to in one way or another, especially the women when it comes to love,” Ms. Perry said.

“We’ve all stayed with someone we know isn’t right for us because we want that love and someone to support us.”

But the play isn’t only about finding someone to love, it’s about loving yourself.

“We’ve all faced some kind of adversity in our lives and I think that everyone who sees the show will leave feeling inspired,” Ms. Mason said.

“And seeing Shawneya achieving her dream, being the writer, director, and producer, that’s something for everyone to admire.”

“Beauty for Ashes” will take the stage at the Dover High School theater Saturday at 6 p.m. Tickets are $25 and are available at the door.

A portion of the proceeds will go to D.A.P.I. (Delaware Adolescent Program Inc.) a school for pregnant teenage girls.

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