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Michael Grando, portrayal of Pierrot in June 2017 at a full lighting of WaterFire Providence. (Photograph by WaterFire Volunteer Photographer Laura Paton)

Remembering Michael Grando

(August 18, 1942 – January 15, 2024)

Michael Grando was one of WaterFire’s great grand stars, albeit a quiet one [indeed silent!]. Michael was with us going back to WaterFire’s earliest beginnings way back in the mists of time, some 30 long years ago. This ur-memory is deeply appropriate as Michael’s role at WaterFire was continuing and expanding upon a four-hundred year tradition of theatre – with his portrayal of Pierrot, one of the classic stock characters of the Italian Commedia Dell’Arte, specifically the French version of Pierrot that goes back to Molière.

Pierrot was the sad clown in white satin, the perpetual optimist who was always hopeful, but always hopelessly too shy to step forward. At WaterFire Michael graced nearly every lighting with his silent figure standing awkwardly and forlornly in the bow of his vessel, piloted by his lifelong friend Dan. Pierrot traditionally never quite got the flower to his beloved, or if he did its stem was now broken, or it was withered down to having a single bent petal. Michael was deft and triumphant at aiming his gift right for our hearts.

Michael was a gentleman, with all the old school grace of that word. A scholar who studied the ancient art of Mime directly with the great Marcel Marceau in Paris. Michael was a gifted teacher, a historian of theatre and masks, a world traveler who loved his home of Rhode Island dearly, a gifted conversationalist – like most mimes – who also knew the expressive power of conversing with the body, the face, the hand, and even just a single finger. Michael was a superb actor, a magician, a brilliant silversmith and jeweler and a creative artist.

“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

Quote from “The People of WaterFire” a portrait story series, interviews and photographs by Erin X. Smithers. Read full story here.
2003 WaterFire Providence Season. (Videography and editing by Thomas Payne)

Michael cherished WaterFire and eagerly looked forward to joining us each night where he would glide across the still, dark water to silently emerge from the fires and sparks to surprise an unexpecting stranger with the gift of a flower. He spoke of entering a trance at WaterFire as he melded with the music and the atmosphere and became entirely a part of the artwork. He said that those hours on the water in a whirling world of art sustained him. Michael so bonded with his role on the water that he created a series of films that extended his WaterFire persona into new forms, including “The Phantom Boatman”.

All of us will remember Michael at WaterFire and while we will miss his presence, we will work to continue his mission. Michael reached out to us all to share his gift of a red carnation to encourage each of us to reach forth and grab the beauty of the world as we step into the bounty of life. We can best honor and remember our friend Michael by continuing to carry forward his message of hope, love, beauty, generosity, and courage.

The community is welcome to the June 1, 2024 WaterFire lighting for a special program celebrating Michael Grando.

Barnaby Evans 
and the entire WaterFire team Obituary Obituary

Providence Journal article, Longtime WaterFire mime Michael Grando, student of Marcel Marceau, dies at 81

2 thoughts on “Remembering Michael Grando”

  1. This video just gives a small glimpse to many of Mikes talents. He is such and artist in so many ways.
    He will be deeply missed by many of his 1 Nations friends. R.I.P. Mike and safe journey to the other side ……

  2. Providencians may know Micheal Grando from his years appearing at WaterFire, and him giving out the white flowers to people along the shore. He had a long and tremendous career as a mime, performing at a variety of such venues as the Electric Circus in NYCity and on the television program “Captain Kangaroo”, and teaching mime at Roger Williams College. We were very lucky to have him. Micheal, may I give you a flower?

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