Theatrical couple holds tightly to what is important

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 13 2012 3:35 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Jan Shelton Hunsaker and her husband, Andy, have a few rules about what they do and do not do in front of their cast members and students as they move about directing, teaching and acting in productions all around Utah.

They never roll their eyes, chuckle derisively at one another's suggestions or upstage one another — even when they don't agree with whatever direction has been given.

"We stick together. It's like parenting. We never bump in front of the kids and we never say negative things in front of them. That's a hard and fast rule," explains Jan Hunsaker

They also take turns being the "lead" and or/the supporting member of the family but they stop short of keeping score.

"We don't worry about whose turn it is. We don't keep track; you can't," said Andy Hunsaker. "We're very positive about who each other is."

They also have a motto on the wall at home: "Leave your ego at the door!"

For the Hunsakers, it works to have rules as they are both involved in drama in their work and their play and they know the demands on their time and emotions will always be great.

Jan Shelton Hunsaker has been directing and teaching drama for 22 years, starting out in her hometown of Lehi, taking her award-winning casts overseas to the prestigious Fringe Festival and working all around Utah County in all aspects of theater.

She taught at Mountain Ridge Junior High School while her future husband taught at American Fork Junior High.

They've both been involved in community theater.

"Community theater raised us both, so we feel passionate about it. It's important," Jan said.

She's currently the artistic director of the production of "Legally Blonde, The Musical" at the acting school where she and Andy have landed since their departure from Tuacahn.

Andy Hunsaker is a comedic actor who has his equity status and teaches at Pioneer High School as well as the Salt Lake School of the Performing Arts. (He's currently Edna by invitation and special permission at Olympus High School in "Hairspray" and he'll be doing "Tuna Christmas" for SLSPA in December, directed by Jan.)

He is the state Thespian Director for the Educational Theatre Association for all of Utah.

In 2011, Jan Hunsaker won the National Theatre Educators Hall of Fame Award (Lifetime Achievement) with five other teachers in the nation.

Both teach drama at the Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts charter school.

Sheldon Worthington, principal of the SLSPA, calls the Hunsakers the "dynamic duo, the superheroes of the high school theater world.

"Everywhere they go, performing arts success follows," added Worthington.

They married a year after they started working together in St. George at the Tuacahn Center for the Arts.

"We were two Utah County kids away from home," laughs Jan. "We'd have production meetings in the car on our way to work. He was going to SUU and I was at Tuacahn. A year later, we were married."

They know the odds are against them and they want to buck those odds.

"If one puts in a 16-hour day, we both do," Jan said. "So when you get home, who does the laundry? Who cooks? Who does the dishes?

"Theater is our master," Jan said. "What saves us is our Sundays. We get a chance to put things into proper perspective. We're each other's mentor, directors, actors, but spouses first of all."

They're dedicated to theater and to sharing their talents with others, but they're also dedicated to making each other happy.

Jan was 41 when she married Andy, who is 14 years younger. She waited until she was sure she had found what she wanted in a husband, someone who could make her laugh and who would marry her in the LDS temple.

Andy says, "If I wasn't married to Jan, my wife would be really jealous because she and I are best friends."

As a couple, the two face major challenges in addition to both being involved in drama.

They have the age difference to deal with as well as infertility. They lost a newborn son several years ago just minutes after birth.

But they're far from discouraged or bitter. In fact, they are upbeat, open and generous with advice and friendship. They're focused on each other and what they can contribute to the world.

"Our situation is unique in the LDS Church. I'm hoping my issues with infertility and being single for so long can inspire others to reach toward education and a higher power, whatever that may be, and remind us all to teach our kids, and other people's kids, to do the same," Jan writes on her blog, other-peoples-kids.blogspot.com.

"I think what we have is just great," Andy said. "We have two creative minds here. She's a director. I'm an actor. She's an artistic director. I'm a teacher. It's sort of the natural order of things.

"We're best friends first and we're best friends at the end of the day."

If you go:

What: "Legally Blonde, The Musical"

Where: Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts, 2291 S. 2000 East

When: 7:30 p.m., Nov. 15-17

Cost: Tickets are $15 at the door or call 801-466-6700

Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with 35 years experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.

Email: haddoc@desnews.com

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