Preparing for a photo shoot backstage at Waterman Theatre, Hollywood stuntwoman Joanna Shelmidine ’89 starts pulling gear out of her stunt bag — fireproof clothing, hip and back pads, body harness … and a little box, like a child’s pencil case, full of matchbox cars. There are a sports car, ambulance, motorcycle, three tiny cop cars and more, stashed alongside a few pieces of colored chalk. “Oh those?” she says with grin. “We use them when planning out a driving stunt.” The stunt coordinator and stunt drivers get on hands and knees with the director to chalk out the scene on the pavement (or more often now, using a printout from Google maps), simulating the action with the miniature vehicles — over and over again — to be sure that everyone understands the shot so they can be in the right place at the right time and execute the stunt safely and precisely, she explains. “We want to be all on the same page, no surprises,” she says.
The planning, the tiny cars and the protective gear in that duffel bag sum up the stunt world according to Shelmidine. “It’s not about being a daredevil. It’s not about facing down fear,” she says emphatically. “It’s about precision and safety.”
As she dons those gloves – which she wears in honor of the famous stuntman who previously owned them – along with the pads and harnesses, we watch a magical transformation. Petite and lovely, with flowing dark locks, a dazzling smile and the body of an athlete, here Shelmidine is in her comfort zone and her comfort zone is action. She slips in protective pads under her clothing to cushion the falls, dive rolls and even car hits. She laces up the stiff leather ankle boots with traction soles that help her run, dodge and land on her feet.
One look at her IMDB entry and you know why she needs the gear. Her resume bullets include crashing a Jeep Wagoneer into an RV, getting chased by bulls, driving as a
NYC cop and falling into a hole. For the HBO series “The Sopranos,” she performed fire stunts, fights and a near miss with a car.
Her most recent work was in CBS’s “Blue Bloods” and Fox’s “The Following” starring Kevin Bacon. She took a hit directly from Bacon in the seventh episode of this season, “Let Me Go,” and has a close encounter with him in the upcoming episode, “The End is Near.”
Unlike the stars of the movies she works on, it’s never “about” Shelmidine. She’s hesitant to have the camera focus on her face today, because in the movies, it rarely does. As a stunt double for famous actresses like America Ferrera in “Ugly Betty,” Hilary Duff in “Greta” and Cathy Cahlin Ryan in the FX show “Justified,” Shelmidine is anonymous. A shape-shifter, she was transformed into an Afghani woman for “Charlie Wilson’s War”, an Asian lady for Jet Li’s “The One” and a young boy for “Rocket Science.”
Even as she performs the most intricate stunts, simulating death-defying action, she must be careful to obscure her face from the lens. She may have to snap her head away from the camera at a key moment, or flip her shoulder-length brunette hair across her face at just the right time.
Her resume includes her height, weight, inseam, and shoe and dress sizes, so stunt coordinators and directors can pair her with actresses of similar size and shape. The wardrobe department prepares identical clothing for the star and Shelmidine, and in her case, multiple sets of the same outfit since they often get dirty, torn or burned in the course of performing multiple takes of the action.
There’s a lot of acting included with the action. “My whole goal is to get my body, whether in a fire, fight or punch, in the way an actress would do it, not an athlete,” Shelmidine explains. “So that it will look like the actress did it, not Joanna Shelmidine, the stuntwoman.”
In the editing, the footage of the stunt gets chopped up, and scenes with the actress’s face added, thereby adding to the anonymity of the stunt performer.
But that’s all OK. She’s not in it for the glory, Shelmidine assures us. “[Stunt work] is a lot less about bravery or being bold,” she says. “It’s more about being precise, professional, showing up the right size and on time. Make sure your pads don’t show, your face isn’t revealed in the frame and you hit your mark.”
A stunt person may have to do a stunt several times in a scene where five cameras are getting the shot from four different angles plus a master. “You have to land in the right spot for all five cameras to capture the stunt. If you fall out of your frame line, they can’t use that footage any more, costing production time and money.”
Today, backstage at Waterman, this Hollywood fixture seems a little star-struck herself. Shelmidine hasn’t been back in Tyler Hall since graduating more than 20 years ago, and for her, this is where it all began. A visit as a high schooler to the Theatre Festival in April of her junior year convinced Shelmidine the theatre was her world and Oswego was the place to launch herself into it.
Standing on stage, looking out upon the rows of red theatre seats, she executes a small dance step. “That’s what I did in ‘Miracle on 34th Street,’ directed by [the late Professor Emerita] Rosemary Nesbitt,” she says with a shy smile. She fingers the curtain, points out rigging she climbed on as a student and reminisces for a moment about playing a role in “The Mikado” the summer after graduation, directed by Professor Emeritus Ron Medici and the late Professor Emeritus Jim Soluri. Professor of Theatre Mark Cole ’73 and Costume Shop Director Kitty Macey stop by for hugs and memories. “These Oswego professors prepared me for the realization of life in the entertainment industry — which can be tough. The things they said and did encouraged me on,” says Shelmidine.
Then the moment is over and it’s down to work for Shelmidine.
1 and 2 doubling Aleksa Palladino in “The Huntress,”3 doubling Ellyse Deanna in a SOBE energy drink commercial, 4 doubling Pamela Adlon in “Wedding Bells,” 5 doubling, Anna Belknap in “Medical Investigations” 6 doubling Annabella Sciorra in “The Sopranos” 7 doubling Reece Thompson in “Rocket Science” and 8 doubling Hillary Duff in “Greta.”
Precision is Key
Even as the photographer readies the lighting and the art director positions props, Shelmidine is talking animatedly about the stunt we will simulate for the photo. “Where do you want me?” She calls out to the photographer. “What do you think of this move?” as she kicks one jeans-clad leg above her head while hanging onto the rigging ropes, a ballerina with biceps.
She’s in her element now. In her world, the director tells the stunt coordinator precisely where the action has to land, to fit into the shot he or she envisions for the movie or TV show under production.
Shelmidine tells of one memorable stunt for the television show, “Mercy.” “There was a fight scene with another woman in a hospital,” she recalls. “They said to break everything in the room. I happened to catch a stuffed frog; it flew over the bed and landed in front of the camera. They asked me if I could do it again. So there I was, smashing a glass picture frame with my head, and I had to scoop up the frog without looking like I was doing it and have it land the same way it did when I did it by accident.”
Shelmidine specializes in fights, fires and falls, as well as driving. Her gear bag also includes a set of tools, a shop rag and some sandpaper. She is so committed to safety and precision, Shelmidine likes to set up her own cars for stunts. She makes sure the brakes are in working order, tests the vehicle to get a feel for how it performs in the maneuvers she will make. The sandpaper? That’s to clean the dust from the brakes so they can lock up when she takes the car into a slide.
A theatre and psychology major at Oswego, she auditioned at Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla., shortly after graduation. Her first big break came unexpectedly. The theme park needed an actress to fire a gun. “Growing up in Lorraine, N.Y., I knew a lot about shooting. My dad went hunting; I wasn’t afraid of it,” she recalls. “At least I didn’t break a fingernail like the other girl.” She got the job and spent her days working the Dynamitic Nights Lagoon Show, riding around in a boat and shooting the bad guys. “On off days, I’d be the bad guy,” she says with laugh. She hid in a trawler while shots and flames exploded around her. Later they asked if she would leap off the top of the exploding trawler into the lagoon. Of course, she said yes, and the rest is history.
She snagged a gig in Tampa performing a stunt with Burt Reynolds, earned her Screen Actors Guild card and headed for Hollywood.
Making of a Stuntwoman
There she spent time learning the stunt trade from other stunt performers and coordinators, studying martial arts like Hap ki do and Tae kwon do and practicing rock climbing, rappelling, fire stunts and jumping from high fall towers.
One of her biggest loves is cars, and she honed her skills by working at the Rick Seamans Motion Picture Driving Clinic, two seasons on the pit crew at Scott Brothers Racing Team, a season building cars for the TV reality show “Fear Factor” and currently aligns herself with the Drivers East stunt team in New York City. Her motorcycle skills helped her land two national commercials for Suzuki and a doubling gig as America Ferrera in “Ugly Betty.”
She does credit Oswego with some of her driving skills, though. “I had lots of practice driving my Ford LTD on the snow,” she says with a laugh.
Shelmidine explains that fire is a “mind game,” which slows down time for her. “On the outside you are acting like a crazy woman, and inside [you are] Zen with the world,” is how she explains it.
She recalls her favorite class, although she didn’t know at the time it would serve her so well in her career: “Bodily Movement” with Theatre Professor Emeritus Ron Medici. “We memorized movement, and in our last final, I memorized movement around the dance studio,” she says. “If anything, that class is what my career became.
“Now, I look at an actress and right away start imitating her movement, so when I’m in the middle of my stunt my body emulates hers.”
In addition to her mentors in the theatre department, psychology professor Dave Sargent, Shelmidine’s adviser, helped her through trying times and gave her a lot of confidence in her choices.
Another Oswego influence was her work-study job in the Alumni Relations Office. Shelmidine credits the alumni staff for teaching her to be a professional, independent woman, advice that helped her in temp jobs when just starting out and now in organizing her stunt career. She fondly recalls being the Reunion coordinator, appropriately organizing the Road Rally, and helping with alumni programs, which instilled in her the value of giving back. She is looking forward to returning to campus to lecture in classes and workshops for current students.
It’s Shelmidine’s way of repaying Oswego for the start to her career. Looking out from the stage in Waterman Theatre, the no-nonsense, athletic stuntwoman gets a bit of a wistful look in her eye. “I’m just so thrilled to have it come full circle,” she says.
- Michele Reed
Each week, La Rae M. Martin-Coore ’99 is used to getting a few glances when she cruises the grocery aisles with her husband, son and three carts in tow.
They’re shopping for their extended family, the six New York City teens who live with them in Manlius.
The girls are enrolled in the A Better Chance, or ABC, program at Fayetteville-Manlius High School. The nationwide initiative brings bright inner city youth to high-achieving school districts to give them a different perspective while preparing for college and career.
ABC, one of two in the state, has been a part of the community for nearly 40 years. Martin-Coore took over as resident director last fall and made quite a commitment. As part of the position, she and her family moved into the ABC house in Manlius.
“The way a family operates, that’s very much the way we operate,” Martin-Coore said.
She is a mentor, counselor and, in many respects, mother to these teens. On any given night, the house is buzzing with activity — the stairs creak with frequent commuters running up and down, cell phones vibrate with text message alerts and gatherings in the kitchen or at the dinner table fuel constant conversation.
“I have a passion for working with young people, young women in particular,” says Martin-Coore, who also works as the academic coordinator for Le Moyne College’s Higher Education Preparation/Upward Bound Program. As a high schooler at Nottingham in Syracuse, Martin-Coore was herself a participant at Le Moyne before heading to SUNY Morrisville and eventually to Oswego.
“I like to help students achieve with the same opportunities that I have had in my life,” says Martin-Coore, who at Oswego was very active in ALANA and the Black Student Union — the community service projects, in particular.
Helping Students Succeed
Like Upward Bound, ABC focuses on getting talented students ready for college. The teens must meet high academic standards to qualify.
“This is just another experience for the students to have,” Martin-Coore says. “You get to learn about people from all walks of life and get along with all different people.
“That’s the college experience … and colleges recognize that too,” she says. “It sets you apart.”
Even the youngest in the house, freshman Tanaja Stephenson of Brooklyn, has college plans. “I like that I’m being challenged more than I would at home,” she says over a plate of chicken riggies with her housemates.
Many in this group of six, like junior Sara Elzeini of the Bronx, have aspirations to enter the medical field.
“I think it might be hard for some kids to go away to school,” says Elzeini, vice president of her class at Fayetteville-Manlius and a part-time swim instructor at the YMCA. “I feel like it won’t be a shock to me to go to college.”
The teens split up household chores and handle their own, like laundry, says Martin-Coore, who lives in the home with her husband, Zaire M. Coore ’98, and son, Zaire J. Coore.
Students spend all four years of high school at their ABC destination.
“You get to connect with people you would otherwise never have met,” said sophomore Kesi Rivera of Harlem. “This program opens a lot of doors.”
Martin-Coore hopes to one day open her own leadership academy for young women of color.
“I’m showing them who they can possibly become,” she says. “I know when I do that, I’m going to be blessed.
“It’s about being happy.”
There is beauty in their decay.
In rusty brilliance, the remnants remind passersby there was life here. There was commerce, there were castle homes, there was economic might in the Empire State.
Robert Yasinsac ’99 has done his best to capture it before these abandoned buildings disappear.
He concentrates his urban exploration on the Hudson Valley, where factory ruins and grand mansions are left for dead. With his camera, Yasinsac brings history to life.
“There’s a lot of change happening out there right now,” says Yasinsac. Long-neglected riverfronts welcome new development like condominiums. At the same time humble, but historical, structures are swept away.
“I think we’re at a time when these are the last buildings that are still standing,” says Yasinsac, a history and anthropology major who has spent the better part of two decades capturing the ghostly remains of Upstate New York. “I am documenting what is still here. I’ve got all these pictures of places that aren’t around anymore.”
The Tarrytown native cannot restore these brick-and-mortar gems he first discovered on grade-school class walks around his hometown. In attempting to highlight the hidden dignity of faded façades and disintegrating interiors, Yasinsac also hopes to inspire restoration and save them.
A growing number of urban explorers have taken to cities and towns, posting discoveries on the Web as Yasinsac and his partner in photography Tom Rinaldi do at hudsonvalleyruins.org. It’s a promising phenomenon to Yasinsac, who works as historian at the Phillipsburg Manor historic site in Sleepy Hollow.
“Hopefully the more people [who are] involved and have even a casual interest, the more will get saved,” he says.
Photographs by Robert Yasinsac ’99
Words by Shane M. Liebler
Dr. Barbara Palmer Shineman ’65, M ’71, professor emerita of education, sifts through memorabilia of her late husband, Dr. Richard S. Shineman. She finds a card their granddaughter Megan gave Dick for his birthday one year. It reads, “The man who reaches for his star is admired, but the man who helps others reach theirs is loved.”
When your résumé includes experiences like standing atop Piez Hall measuring the wind speed as the Blizzard of ’77 rolls in off Lake Ontario, where else would your career take you but before the cameras of The Weather Channel as the Winter Weather Expert?
In the fall, art department alumni spanning four decades shared their work and their stories in a special exhibit at Tyler Hall.
Bob Moritz ’85, chairman and senior U. S. partner of the Big 4 accounting firm PwC, pulled into Oswego April 16 to pick up the Beta Gamma Sigma business honor society honorary member award on his way back to New York from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions in Cleveland, where he was thrilled to see Green Day honored.
From Wall Street to Silicon Valley and from the nation’s capital to Main Street USA, accomplished graduates of Oswego’s School of Business make a name for themselves and their alma mater.
When Marianne Matuzic Myles ’75 left her home near Buffalo to come to Oswego after high school, she was “a bit scared as all freshmen are” of moving so far from home and not knowing anyone.
The road to managing money responsibly, saving financial sanity and making the most of what you have runs through aisle 7. And Lauren Cobello Greutman ’03 can be your guide.