Today I learned that the world lost a great man. This was a man who exemplified what it was to be a teacher. He expected a great deal from his students, but he always gave so much more in return. Those of us he knew personally he pushed to greater heights, knowing what we were capable of. Some of us were led into careers in the performing arts, while others chose a different path. What we all shared though was a love for a man who gave so much of himself to the students and the craft of theater.
I first met Tom Marcello in 1994 when I auditioned for the part of Benjamin, the youngest son of Jacob, in a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Despite my high hopes, I didn’t get the part, but he found a use for me in the chorus along with a group of kids. It was a small part, but the small parts make the whole complete, and he made us all feel important while holding us to the same standards that he held the leads to.
I’d often heard him referred to as The Miracle Worker. The first production he produced as the director of what would become my high school was called just that: The Miracle Worker. Over the years he would become a miracle worker for hundreds, even thousands of kids who came through the doors of the Joseph Case High School auditorium. When things looked bleak because of financial constraints, money appeared as if out of nowhere. This was a man who had touched so many lives that alumni donated time, money, and energy so that the kids that came after them could have the same experience they did. The theater competition banners that line the walls of the auditorium are a testament to his many great works and sacrifices.
Banners only show so much though, because you had to see him as he was. He carried a towel with him to rehearsals because before too long he was sweating as if he was running an aerobics class. His dedication allowed him to keep pace with the youngest and fittest people that he lead, and they hung on his every word. Mr. Marcello’s personality had him rushing about, from the stage to wardrobe to props to the crew, and if you took the time to say his full name to get this excited man’s attention he might miss you. We shortened it to M so that we could get his attention and get out what we needed to say. At least that’s the story I heard, and like any mythic giant there are lots of versions to the epic saga such as this man was.
By the time I got to high school I had known M from a number of productions I had been involved with. I had the benefit of an surrogate older sister and a longtime friend of M’s that helped me find out about auditions for shows he was doing, or the productions of people he knew. He needed a younger person for a part in his own authored production of We Will Remember , a production about the Holocaust, and so I went out for it. It was interesting to be kid from the jr. high having a part in the high school production, and it opened a number of doors for me. M’s multiple connections had information about productions at Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, the Rhode Island School of Design, auditions in Boston in the theater district, and even a movie audition. Just having his name on my theater resume next to my head shot was enough to get consideration, but it also came with a great deal of expectation because anyone who worked with Tom Marcello was expected to do great things. And thanks to his guidance we did.
But none of this was ever about him. It was always about us. The sacrifices he made on our behalf were only ever closely duplicated by Brian McCann, his assistant and one of my English teachers who would later become vice-principal and principal of the high school. He worked himself into such a fervor on a daily basis and it was all for our benefit. In class he told us that after a stressful day he’d take a stroll through Toys R Us and push buttons on display models. It soothed his mind and I think in many ways it reminded him that what he was doing was for us; all his many kids.
I strayed from theater a long time ago when I realized that not every director was Tom Marcello. I was quickly burnt out working under a different director with a different style and my life took a different course very quickly. I’ve missed the theater, but given the schedule of a paramedic it’s hard to make the time. I turned to writing when I was 25 for the creative outlet I was so desperately craving and it’s done the trick. But the influence of Tom Marcello isn’t something that just fades away when he leaves your everyday life. He’s the kind of man you carry with you everywhere you go and you know that he carries you as well.
I know many people in the coming days who will be reflecting, shedding tears, and telling amazing stories about a man we all knew and loved. While I won’t be able to attend any memorials or services, I will be there in spirit. It’s a sad thing that we sometimes only think of the people who’ve touched our lives when they’re no longer with us. Remembering people like Mr. Marcello allows us to recall why they were important to us in the first place. This in turn will help us to better ourselves so that we can share a little bit of his light with those who don’t have an M in their lives. Continuing your influence through others long after you’ve gone – that’s a miracle worker.