Everyone appreciates a pat on the back, but some forms of
recognition are more meaningful than others.
Ask the Rev. Shawn Clerkin, the Gannon University theatre
professor who was honored as Artist of the Year by Erie Arts and
Culture, the local arm of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.
With a 25-year career training the theater professionals of
tomorrow and a storied career in the Erie lyric and dramatic stage,
Clerkin was gratified to be honored by his peers.
But the award carried the name of the late Bruce Morton Wright,
the founder of the Erie Chamber Orchestra and a longtime colleague
of Clerkin's. More significantly, Wright and Clerkin maintained a
friendship that lasted to the beloved musician's final minutes.
Clerkin came to Gannon University from Elk County, Pa. as a
pre-med major and quickly became absorbed into the Erie theater
community as a student. "I was so impressed with the Erie Playhouse
and the Roadhouse Theater and their resources," He remembered. "And
I met and married Almi Clemente."
She's now the executive director of the Playhouse, a venue where
Clerkin has appeared in 76 productions since his 1982 debut,
including many of the greatest roles in musical theater. A
culmination of sorts came in 2012 when he portrayed the doomed,
heroic Jean Valjean in "Les Miserables," a role he will reprise
His teaching career has been equally rich and rewarding. One of
Clerkin's most beloved projects is the series of Shakespeare plays
that have been traditionally performed free of charge on an outdoor
stage on the Gannon campus during the summer. "My undergraduate
thesis was about [impresario Joseph] Papp, who believed strongly
that by exposing people to the classics, you not only preserve
them, but you continue a discourse," Clerkin explained. "So for 13
summers, we've done more than 20 productions. About 75 students
have been in that program and thousands of people have seen
Bringing art to the people was a touchstone of Bruce Morton
Wright's life and career. "He invited me to do my first opera in
1985, and out came this voice that I never thought I'd have,"
Clerkin remembered. "His path and my path has been beautifully
linked. Then to have this award named after him was incredibly