From Iraq to Broadway: Marsh shares his accounts of being in the military and in the art world
University professor Sean Alan Marsh has held many positions in his lifetime. Marsh was a member of the military, maintained a thirst for educating young professionals and found time to create works of film, theatre and literature.
Marsh has recently relinquished one of those roles. He retired from the army after 24 years as a sergeant in late March 2017.
After enlisting in the military when he was about 19, Marsh made the decision to study at the university, eventually becoming an educator. His desire to be in the military was fueled because of his interest in academic study and because his father was a Korean and Vietnam War veteran.
“I kind of washed up on shore here a long time ago, never really left,” said Marsh. “I think I started school here in ‘78 or something. My first degree was in psychology. I decided to pursue what I loved, which is the English language and writing. I teach 101, 102 and World Lit. I have taught library science and children’s lit.”
Marsh recalled becoming an instructor at the university during 1999. Although he admits that life as a university professor and sergeant were different, he finds what he considers an important similarity between the two roles.
“I would say that the military helped me in that you should develop a certain standard of expectations for your students and, of course, give it back to them,” said Marsh. “And that’s why in the classroom, I love my students, but we’re formal. I think if you’re consistent, people appreciate it.”
Marsh admits that his love for the arts spewed from his enjoyment of storytelling, writing and filmmaking. In addition to Marsh’s “Knights of the Square Table,” which reached Broadway, he has collaborated with former Head of the Dance Department Dr. Martie Fellom on multiple projects. The two even created a film festival called JamFest that occurred on campus.
Marsh believes that he and Fellom’s combination of talents have contributed to them working well together, especially because they have been recognized for winning numerous awards such as the Bronze Remi Award in 2006 and Silver Remi Award in 2009. Both awards were won at Worldfest-Houston, the Houston International Film Festival.
“She likes to do this interpretive style of dance, and for me, I like the structure of a story,” said Marsh. “When I offered to write a story for whatever, it just never stopped. I like to create stories and Martie likes to use them as framework for the dance.”
Fellom describes Marsh as a great collaborator and patient man. She worked with him on the films “Rabbit Moon” in 2009, “Wild Kingdom” in 2005, “Wish” in 2002, “The Firefly Club” in 2006, and dance productions “Rapunzel” in 2004, “Sleepwalker Nocturne” in 2002, “The Unicorn” in 2000 and “The Water Maiden” in 1999. Fellom admitted that she enjoys working with Marsh because of the depth and details of characters that he creates and explained that he admitted that his work served as therapy for him after he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“There is tenderness, important life lessons, connections between humans and with other creatures,” said Fellom. “For example, in his retelling of ‘Rapunzel,’ the long hair represented the false friends that she had, and as she shortened her hair throughout the story, Rapunzel was becoming her own person. In ‘The Firebird,’ originally a Russian fairytale, Alan retold the story using societies of birds, replete with each species’ unique characteristics. In ‘Rabbit Moon,’ Alan explored the ideas of how people in life collect scars, some visible, many invisible. Also the notion of loyalty is explored as it is in many of his works. In ‘The Firefly Club,’ he journeyed into the world of nature and things unknown, eventually showing how all living beings are connected often in ways beyond understanding.”
Although all aspects of his life in the military have been less than pleasant, Marsh shared the changes that he has seen in the way that servicemen are recognized today.
“I’m very proud of what I’ve done in the military,” said Marsh. “A lot of people wouldn’t do what I have done. The weird thing is, when I was in the first time, when I was 19 to 22, we were often ridiculed for being in the military. People would spit on us, they would call us baby killers, and I had that happen to me. What you see now is a reaction to what happened back then. So now, if I’m in my uniform and you know, I’m only going to wear it like one more time for a retirement ceremony, people will come up and shake my hand and thank me for my service.”
Marsh reflected on how he viewed his role in the military versus how society views servicemen.
“I’m very proud of my service in the military,” said Marsh. “In another aspect, what the military is called to do is often unpleasant. It’s like we’re garbage men. We do a job that’s vital, that no one else wants to do, but it’s still vital.”
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