Marilouise “Mel” Michel, a beloved Clarion University theatre professor for 29 years, passed away Sept. 24, just a few weeks before her 57th birthday.
Michel was known for her devotion to family, friends, students, the community and her craft. Her top priority was her children, Emily and Marshall.
"I have seldom, in my life, come across someone as vibrant, full of energy, enthusiastic, excited about her job, her students, people around her, the Clarion community, yoga and the world at large as Mel was," said Elisabeth Sauvage-Callaghan, associate professor of modern languages at Clarion."
She was an integral member of the theatre faculty and was instrumental in beginning Clarion's Bachelor of Fine Arts in musical theatre degree. She developed numerous courses and was active in researching a connection she realized existed between yoga and acting. In 2013 and 2016, she taught Yoga for Actors at St. Petersburg (Russia) State Theatre Arts Academy.
Since Michel's passing, various alumni have expressed their love for her and have shared how she influenced their lives.
"What an outpour of love for someone whom all of her ex-students acknowledge made them feel like family, but also constantly challenged them and mentored them through their college years and beyond," Sauvage-Callaghan said.
Dr. Robert Levy, a theatre colleague who recruited Michel after meeting her at a conference, said students often left her classes grumbling about her, then thanked her the next day. In fact, her former students remember her toughness and high expectations and are grateful for them.
"There are, admittedly, a lot of times Mel and I clashed," DJ Silvis, a former student who is now a playwright in Toronto, posted on Facebook. "Two of the best experiences in my 30 years of doing theatre were with her – both times she cast me in roles I didn't think I had in me. Both times were one-of-a-kind experiences."
Levy said he and Michel sometimes differed in their artistic vision, but they respected each other's work. "I acted for her, and she acted for me. It was an honor and privilege to be able to work with someone as fiercely talented as Mel."
He cited as her greatest impact at Clarion her training of students who have graduated and gone on to careers (in theatre) or who are using the training in everyday life. She directed countless productions in theatre and dance.
"Productions are very much a part of the education," Levy said. "Theatre is the ultimate high-impact practice. It's a collaborative art form, and you set all differences at the door."
"Teachers like Mel mean so much," said alumna Annie Zannetti. "They shape who we are, they have a profound and lasting impact on so many lives, and in this way, they live forever."
Michel also lives on through her spirit of giving, including donating half of her liver last year to a Clarion alumna whom she didn't know personally, but who was a friend of a friend.
In a blog entry dated July 25, 2017, Michel wrote:
"In February I responded to a friend's post on Facebook for a friend of hers who needed a living liver donor. What followed was a whirlwind of tests, paperwork and trips to the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, a good five-hour drive each time. And yep, on June 6th, I donated 60 percent of my liver to my now dear friend Tammy. I remember taking a deep breath back at the end of February when I first typed, 'Um, I'm O positive' in response to the initial posting."
In addition to her career in theatre education, Michel was a certified yoga instructor and a life coach. She had a gift for examining situations to learn from them.
Her blog entry on New Year's Eve in 2016 focused on body image and the power of speaking
one's truth and loving oneself.
"I said (out loud) 'To give myself a break and stop judging myself every time I see a mirror or a window reflection or a photo. To really and truly be OK with my appearance. To use my reflection as a tool to see if my clothes or hair are askew, or if I have something in my teeth rather than to beat myself up.' And now, months later, I realize there was magic in the saying of those words out loud. I have had more peace with myself than I ever ever imagined. It's been amazing. ... deep in my heart I am OK with the 55-year-old face and body I see."
A memorial service will be held at 3:30 p.m. Friday in Hart Chapel, Clarion University. The community is welcome. Memorial donations are being accepted to establish a scholarship for students in performing arts. Send checks made payable to Clarion University Foundation, Inc., with "Mel Michel" in the memo line to: Clarion University Foundation, Inc., 840 Wood St., Clarion, PA 16214.