Attorney is Renaisance woman

 by Paul Janczewski

Legal News
For her day job, Shannon M. Pawley spends her time collecting debts owed to her clients.
But for a magical period during late summer and early fall, Pawley collects smiles, and creates memories, for those who visit the Michigan Renaissance Festival.
The festival, held in the make-believe village of Holly Grove in northern Oakland County, successfully recreates a 16th century village, complete with a queen and her court, knights jousting, rouges seeking females and wenches on the prowl for men.
Pawley, 36, of Troy, transforms herself into Duchess Margaret Audley of Norfolk, a member of the royal court for the festival, which runs roughly from late August through early October on weekends. It’s a role Pawley has developed through her lifelong interest in theater and a desire to seek attention while spreading happiness through make-believe.
“It’s the fun of being somebody different,” she said. “It’s the chance to use your imagination and the opportunity to make other people happy.”
Pawley’s journey to attorney and actress began in Norfolk, Va., where she was born. She attended a magnet school of the arts, going to high school half the day, studying one of the arts the other half. Pawley chose theater.
But her parents also stressed education, and having Shannon and her sister become well-rounded adults. On weekends, the family took trips to cultural and historical places, like museums, zoos, cultural festivals and the Smithsonian.
During her junior year, while serving as a Con-
gressional Page for the House of Representatives, Pawley heard U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor speak, and Pawley decided law was her future. “It was astounding to see such a strong woman,” Pawley said. 
Pawley went to North Carolina Wesleyan College, graduating with a degree in history and psychology in 1995. Along the way, she met her husband Wayne, stationed on a submarine in Norfolk while serving a stint in the Navy. The couple now lives in Troy with their two dogs.
Her husband was from Waterford, so they decided to come back to Michigan for what they believed would be only a few years while she attended law school at Michigan State University. Pawley said she was able to breeze through high school and college without really knowing how to study, but her first semester there “was a slap in the face with reality.”
But she persevered and got her law degree in 1999. And after passing – she said it was more like surviving – the state bar exam Pawley said she had no desire to leave Michigan and take another state bar test in Virginia. Pawley had clerked at a law firm and found tax courses and work to her liking. She took a job at Kemp Klein in 2000, doing taxation, estate planning, commercial litigation and creditor rights, among other duties.
In 2005, Pawley was hired by Zwicker and Associates in Troy as managing attorney for litigation operations in Michigan, and this year was promoted to assistant vice president of litigation operations. The firm handles national banking organizations, blue chip companies and federal student loan organizations.
In 2006, Pawley received her master’s degree in taxation from Wayne State Law School.
Although being a debt collector can be stressful, Pawley said she tries to treat people as she would like someone treating her mother.
“I try to help them, but I have my client’s best interests in mind,” she said.  While she can’t give debtors legal advice, she does try to answer their questions and create an amiable relationship. “I don’t want someone leaving that situation thinking they’ve been had or fast-talked,” she said. 
Pawley’s love of theater took a back seat while she went through law school and early on in her legal career. 
“My Dad has determined my whole interest in being an attorney is because I like to hear myself talk,” she said.
Pawley got back into performing in 2001 at the Renaissance Festival, and decided to become Duchess Margaret Audley, a real person who held the train of Queen Elizabeth I at her coronation. During that season, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 caused a debate on whether the show should go on.  “But people came and were so very happy that we were open,” she said.
Her character has evolved and grown over the years. The act now includes husband Wayne, who portrays Thomas Howard, who was married to Duchess Audley.
At first, her conservative husband was not as up for it as she was. “I am a very extroverted person,” Pawley says. The first year, he came a few times, but slowly grew to enjoy it.  “Now, he has no trouble wearing poofy pants and an ostentatious feathered hat.”
The key for anyone in acting, Pawley said, “is to suspend belief and immerse yourself in make-believe.”
“You can’t be too self-conscious or concerned about what people may think. If you don’t believe it yourself your doubt shows through.”
At the festival, many patrons also come dressed in character. It’s full immersion, for those who come to suspend belief for a few hours. 
“People come to interact and to experience, and it’s fabulous,” Pawley said. And the thrill comes when “you know you’ve touched someone.”
“It makes you feel really good. I love the excitement that you see.”
Pawley said her travel for work prohibits the time commitment required for community theater, and for now she is content with playing Duchess Audley. But her work in theater over the years has benefited her law practice, too, in posture, projecting her voice, proper enunciation and thinking on her feet.
Pawley said the players make a small stipend for their work, but she spends that on items she gives to children through her role on the Queen’s court.
“What you get out of it goes well beyond anything,” she said.