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The People of WaterFire: Michael Grando

Silence is a source of Great Strength.
― Lao Tzu

So many of us have marveled at Michael’s performances on the flaming river over the years. In his portrayal of Pierrot (Pedrolino) from the Commedia del’arte, he is on a naive and everlasting quest to win the heart of a beautiful girl. It was never just a plain gesture handing out carnations with charming quotations; to Michael, every instance of these moments was joy and pride of service in art.

For those who don’t know them, Michael and his wife Pat are so pleasant and inspiring to speak with; the way they glanced and smiled each other during the shoot took me back to Leonard Cohen’s song “A Thousand Kisses Deep”.

Michael reflected on keeping the five virtues of life as joy, love, acceptance, blessing, and gratitude in mind and yet remaining creative, compassionate, and optimistic. When I asked him who had influenced him in life, Michael said he has been blessed by the guidance of so many highly evolved and loving Souls. He said his parents were the ones who grounded him in the importance of love and kindness and supported any creative effort he wished to learn and explore. It was his mother who recognized his talent to imitate anyone and communicate without words; in which later became the major professional focuses of his life. His brother, Richard, a gifted genius musician and painter, was his first mentor who guided him to an understanding of allied arts and their relevance to each other. Lawrence Benson and Ahmed Ben Driss El Yacoubi were among his mentors and teachers. He also mentioned Dr. Ross L. Hainline who introduced him to the work of Carl Gustav Jung and an insight into the Collective Unconscious and the realm of dreams.

Michael Grando Full Image (Photo by Erin X. Smithers)

It was a sentimental moment when Marcel Marceau’s name was raised. A teary eyed Michael placed his hand on his heart and spoke these words:

“Marcel was someone who led the way for me in re-establishing mime as the archetypal form of theater in a popular venue and encouraged me to be beautiful and fearless on the stage. Thanks to Papa Marceau for his generous friendship and masterful teaching and for our many joyous and treasured moments of intense conversation. He was brilliant and wonderful.”

– Michael Grando

Interview and photo by Erin X. Smithers – Photographer and Jazz enthusiast
A special thank you to The Providence Athenaem for letting us use their magnificent space!

Want more? Watch this beautiful black and white short film, The Phantom Boatman, by Michael Grando starring himself and a WaterFire lady, Bronwyn Dannenfelser.

About the author

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Over the last 10+ years, alongside some incredible co-workers and volunteers, I've worked to build the organization that WaterFire Providence is today. As Director of Creative Services, my team and I work on visual communications, graphic design, the visitor experience, merchandising as well as project management for programming at the WaterFire Arts Center. Being a part of the 'Rhode Island' experience for tens of thousands of people is incredible and I have an intense pride in place for both Downtown Providence and the Valley neighborhood.

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