Theatre professional builds imagination through plays and books

Theatre professional builds imagination through plays and books

J. “Scott” McElheney, ’92, comes from a family of librarians. He grew up appreciating books and using his imagination when reading.

This love for the written word is evident in McElheney’s latest pursuit. After an accomplished career teaching at different universities, he recently opened Walls of Books Bookstore on North Columbia St. in Milledgeville. 

McElheney’s passion for theatre, journalism and reading led him down a colorful career path lasting nearly 25 years. He was a freelance lighting designer, high school theatre teacher, assistant professor of theatre at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and Middle Georgia State University and theatre technical director at Georgia Southwestern State University.

Through the years, he especially enjoyed “seeing the light bulb come on” students’ faces when they would understand a concept he taught them.

“I was teaching students who weren’t necessarily majoring in theatre,” McElheney said. “They were taking technical theatre classes, because they had to. Later on, these students discovered they enjoyed it, because I would work with them to understand these new ideas. And that was always a treat for me to see.”

McElheney majored in journalism at Georgia College and was editor of the Colonnade. But, he spent most of his time in the theatre. He was in the Drama Club, as well. 

“Georgia College’s Theatre program taught me problem-solving skills and how to work on a team. You’re one person on a grand scale, and you just can’t do everything yourself. You’ve got to rely on everybody else to make it work. So, we were a very tight-knit department.”
– Scott McElheney
  
Scott McElheney plays Rev. David Lee in "The Foreigner" during the fall quarter of 1990 at Georgia College.
Scott McElheney plays Rev. David Lee in "The Foreigner" during the fall quarter of 1990 at Georgia College.

Although the Theatre Department was small, the faculty were very student oriented. A lot of student labor went into building sets and that impressed McElheney. Students were encouraged to participate as early as freshmen year.

In this way, McElheney learned lighting design. He handled lighting for a couple of Georgia College productions. Teaching Assistant Peter Pauzé guided McElheney through his first shows, helping him lay a solid foundation in lighting design. Theatre Director David Moore instilled a good work ethic in him, as well.

“Georgia College’s Theatre program taught me problem-solving skills and how to work on a team,” he said. “You’re one person on a grand scale, and you just can’t do everything yourself. You’ve got to rely on everybody else to make it work. So, we were a very tight-knit department.”

McElheney enjoyed his time teaching theatre. But when his last three teaching positions folded due to limited student enrollment and budget cuts, he knew it was time to move on. After exploring other career opportunities and following the advice of his mother, McElheney opened his bookstore. 

Scott McElheney describes how working at the Colonnade helped set him up for success at the bookstore.

McElheney believes reading strengthens the imagination and is vital to success.

“I grew up in a house full of books,” he said. “There’s something about reading a book that’s such a joy. So, I knew this would be a great fit for me.”

“Reading helps with all sorts of different skillsets,” McElheney added. “The more you read, the more you’re going to learn and the better you’re going to communicate. It’s been proven that readers have a better vocabulary. They also tend to learn a little easier than people who don’t read.” 

Taking Dr. Bob Wilson’s history class reinforced McElheney’s love of reading.

“He turned this kid, who was interested in history, into a lifelong history buff,” McElheney said.

The way Wilson delivered lessons was intriguing too.

“Dr. Bob’s teaching method was very enjoyable,” he said. “It influenced me later on as a professor to try and keep my lessons in theatre light and pleasurable.”

Wilson also taught McElheney to think positively—something he practices every day at work.

“You never saw him have bad days,” he said. “So that had a great bearing on me. You can’t be in a bad mood, when you’re the face of the business.”

In addition, McElheney learned critical thinking skills from Pauzé and Moore, that have served him well in life and at work.  Instead of offering quick solutions, they made students think about problems and how to solve them on their own. 

This helped in theatre, where there are always last-minute problems that need to be solved. Even now, McElheney daily applies the problem-solving skills he learned from Georgia College.

“When I worked at UNC Wilmington, a very large institution with a well-funded theatre program, I still had to figure out how to roll things on the cheap and make them look nice,” he said. “I had to figure out how to work with the resources I had.”  

Scott McElheney with a book by Flannery O'Connor.
Scott McElheney with a book by Flannery O'Connor.

These same critical thinking skills also serve him well at the bookstore. His experience as a Georgia College student prepared him for business. He would encourage other alumni to take the leap. 

“I would say, ‘Take that chance,’” said McElheney. “I was always the kind of person who was so afraid to step out into the abyss, because I needed the job security. To a certain extent, that’s true. But, then the last three jobs I’ve had just proves what you think about may be a secure job today, may not necessarily be secure tomorrow.”

Owning his bookstore has brought refreshing new rewards, different from his theatre days.

“Once I got into the business, the security aspect eventually faded away. I have faith this business venture is going to work,” McElheney said. “It’s worked so far even during the pandemic. It looks like it’s going to be just fine.”

More information on Walls of Books and other alumni-owned businesses can be found on our searchable business directory: https://www.bobcatsforbusiness.com/.