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Retired teacher living dream of a Western

The Baltimore Sun

A retired high school teacher and former head of the Chesapeake Arts Center is galloping off in a new direction -- and taking 200 colleagues along for the ride.

With the wrap of filming this month on One-Eyed Horse, lifelong horseman Wayne Shipley is fulfilling his long-held dream of writing and directing a feature-length Western.

Upright, hard-working, quiet-mannered and reliable, Shipley might have easily inhabited a classic cowboy Gary Cooper-type movie. But Shipley had been preparing for this venture for most of his adult life -- his talents leading him in artistically creative directions and to several gifted performing artists who've become colleagues and friends.

Having taught English and theater arts for 30 years at Andover and North County high schools, Shipley brought an extensive educational and theatrical background to Chesapeake Arts Center. He was involved there as early as January 1998, when he helped plan a pre-opening fundraiser that featured Actors Company Theatre colleagues Gary Wheeler and La Don Hart Hall as singing hosts.

Shipley guided a tour of the $34 million Brooklyn Park site in February 2000 with a small group that included Annapolis Chorale's J. Ernest Green and entrepreneur/jazz authority John Tegler.

Shipley mentioned the possibility of "doing film festivals, maybe a B-Western series" in the 100-seat Studio Theatre. Later that year, the main 900-seat theater opened with a show of singing, dancing, and acting arranged by Shipley, then the executive director.

In August 2001, Shipley began the center's tradition of showcasing entries submitted to the Baltimore Playwrights Festival with a premiere of Theodore Groll's Run Past the Sun. And with Actors Company Theatre -- which Shipley founded with Wheeler and John Strawbridge -- offering memorable productions like Lion in Winter, the center has set a consistent, high standard for theater excellence.

He left the CAC in the spring of 2004.

Shipley set his historical epic on the family's 38-acre farm in Jessup. Set in 1887 Missouri, he tells the story of former Civil War officers -- one establishing a horse ranch and the other with a vendetta in what Shipley described as "a five-act Shakespearean tragedy."

He began by starting "a cowboy boot camp" on the homestead to assure that actors would appear comfortable on horseback. Shipley's wife and professional colleague, Pat, was recruited to serve as riding instructor and costumer, creating authentic-looking post-Civil War and Victorian era costumes.

Production manager Ruth Holmes, who first worked with Shipley shortly after the opening of Chesapeake Arts Center, now is a source of myriad detailed One-Eyed Horse information and serves as researcher, coordinator and photographer.

"Wayne has gone back to his roots at this farm where he's had horses all his life," Holmes said.

Most of the outdoor shooting on Shipley's family farm was completed by late November, and indoor bar scenes were nearing completion this month. Holmes said that other indoor scenes requiring an elegant historical mansion locale would have to wait until the Christmas decorations are removed from the Benson-Hammond House in Linthicum. Editing will follow in preparation for a DVD release.

In the meantime, Blob's Park in Jessup has been converted into the Lone Pine Saloon, complete with a long bar, gambling tables and stage show area. Conversations before a Dec. 12 wrap party revealed the rigorous creativity that constitutes life on a movie set. Everything seemed to be shot in no particular order with the scenes created and re-created with spoken dialogue and silently -- actors pantomiming or shouting. The process was done with two cameras; some takes were audio only for later dubbing.

A cast of about 50 supposed ruffians gathered to watch a saloon show, catcalling to the Amazing Renaldo (Steve Cohen), a magician, off-stage to bring on the singing LeMay sisters -- Andrea (Hall) and Gwen (Micci Samperi). It took about a dozen takes to satisfy Shipley, who seemed to displayed infinite patience, meticulous attention to detail and respectful good humor toward all cast members.

Appropriate for what Shipley has often described as a "collaborative project," that evening's activities included what seemed like a friendly reunion with ACT colleagues Strawbridge and Wheeler, who serve on cameras, production and as directors. Both said they were there to support Shipley.

At 9:15 p.m., Shipley announced it was time for the wrap party to begin, thanking the cast, saying he was grateful that "he had talent for finding people as crazy as I am."

Together these "crazies" might well create their own classic Western, which will preview on the big screen of a Baltimore theater in May.

Information: .com.

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